COVID numbers hit new low; home testing available soon
A news release from the president’s office reported Tuesday the Navajo Nation had zero new COVID-19 cases and no new reported deaths.
The math didn’t quite add up, however, since subtracting Monday’s case total of 30,467 from Tuesday’s total of 30,470 yields three new cases.
The Navajo Nation Department of Health, when alerted to the discrepancy, transferred the call to the Health Command Operations Center, who also could not supply an explanation and said they would obtain information from the Navajo Nation Epidemiology Center. No answer was forthcoming by press time.
In any case, either zero – or three – new cases is the lowest total in a long time. The last time Navajo Nation had zero cases was in March and before that it was in September before vaccinations were made available.
“I truly believe it’s because of the vaccination,” said President Jonathan Nez during Tuesday evening’s town hall as he explained a chart showing the case number progression.
“We are going to (put) an emphasis on vaccination again,” he said. “I know people are either vaccinated, or they’re still on the fence. You see the numbers and it shows vaccination does work.”
So far, Navajo has had a total of 247,265 vaccine doses distributed; 216,293 total doses administered; and 94,833 people have received two doses.
Nez said the more Navajo can get vaccinated, the quicker the Nation can get to herd immunity, which would mean a clear path to reopening businesses.
The executive branch has reopened tribal parks to Navajo Nation residents only but last week a resolution was dropped by Council to reopen tribal parks completely because Navajo vendors depend on tourism revenue.
“What we want to do is get to 75 percent (vaccinated) to get us close to herd immunity,” said Nez. “That’s not too far off. I encourage our Navajo people to get vaccinated.
“If we get to 75 percent or higher we can reopen our Nation to our visitors,” he said, “so we can begin our economy because we’ll be protected.”
Capt. Brian Johnson, acting deputy director for Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said Navajo’s low case numbers are because of the leadership partnering throughout the local region and working with the people.
“Without everyone’s help this would not have been possible to be at this point during the pandemic,” said Johnson. “We are presently standing at the yellow phase … it lessens the restrictions that we’ve seen. It gives us more opportunity to be out and about … but we do this in a smart way.”
Johnson said large groups should still be avoided if a person can help it and everyone should continue to stay home if possible.
The increase in cases just a few days ago, Johnson said, is an indicator that Navajo Nation shouldn’t let up on it efforts.
“While we are doing well in terms of the overall decreases in COVID-19 cases, those are stark reminders things can change quickly,” said Johnson. “We’ve come so far in the last several months as a team … it’s important we continue, watch, and monitor, and be smart on how we are moving forward.”
Also emphasizing the need for people to get vaccinated, Johnson noted that the IHS has resumed the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was put on pause after reports of a few people who had blood clots after receiving it.
“Here on the Navajo Nation we have received about 4,600 doses of Johnson and Johnson and approximately 2,900 have been administered,” said Johnson. “That includes both public and our employees. We are unaware of any negative reaction along those lines here. We still consider all the vaccines safe and effective.”
Dr. Amanda Burrage, with the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, said 17 chapters saw an increase in cases, and many of those are clusters stemming from family gatherings.
In Tuba City, Burrage said most of the cases involve unvaccinated people.
“We are seeing the spread in unvaccinated people,” said Burrage. “Some are ineligible children. Actually the majority is from people who could receive the vaccine but for some reason haven’t been able to get the vaccine yet. It’s important to get vaccinated.”
Vaccines are obviously important, but testing is available and just as important to detect infection, as it allows for isolation to stop the spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Laura Hammitt, with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.
Aside from diagnostic testing for people who are sick or exposed to COVID-19, Hammitt said regularly scheduled testing for asymptomatic people and high priority groups is important to stop the spread. A home test kit that can be used for testing will soon be rolled out in the service units.
“This is a test that can be performed at home,” said Hammitt. “It requires people to have a smart phone and internet access, but can be performed in the home setting and provide results in 15 minutes.”