Health officials: COVID-19 Delta strain confirmed
With the Delta variant now the dominant COVID strain in the U.S. and virus cases beginning to increase, Navajo Nation continues its mask mandate.
States surrounding the Navajo Nation have lax COVID-19 mandates except for the Navajo Nation, where masks are mandatory, and encouragement to practice social distancing and vaccines echoes from tribal leaders.
So far 11 Delta/Epsilon variant cases were confirmed and nine cases of Delta, 114 of Alpha, four of Gamma, 20 of Epsilon and five Beta/Gamma.
“COVID-19 has changed into these variants,” President Jonathan Nez said during his town hall on Tuesday. “Contact tracers are saying Navajos going off the Nation, maybe not wearing masks…catch that virus and you’re bringing it back (to) Navajo.”
On July 7, the highest number of COVID-19 cases on the Nation in a while was reported with 24 cases in 24 hours. This uptick was because of a family cluster related to recent travel to Las Vegas, according to the Navajo Department of Health.
But other travel to cities such as Phoenix and states like Utah have all been reported as reasons for Navajo cases.
As of Tuesday, there were six new cases and no new deaths. So far there a total of 31,107 confirmed cases and 1,361 deaths.
Nez said, “I know there might be peer pressure off the Navajo Nation when you see everybody not wearing masks. You might feel ashamed or embarrassed not to wear your mask. But I say let it be. They’re not going to know who you are anyways because you’ve got a mask on.”
Jill Jim, director of the Navajo Department of Health, explained that cluster cases found by contact tracers are a concern. She said in May there were 41 cases and, of this, 26 were from family gatherings.
She said to make sure that gatherings have a 25-person limit and everyone social distances and wears masks.
“Gatherings are still dominantly supporting the numbers,” Jim said. “The only way those gatherings are happening, of course, someone went off the reservation and came back, too. It’s not like we are spreading it within the Navajo Nation, our numbers are so low. Wear your masks.”
Capt. Brian Johnson, acting director for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said service units still offer COVID-19 tests. These tests not only determine whether a person has COVID or not, but it also gives health professionals information on the status of the virus on Navajo.
“It helps us understand what does the disease looks like here on the Navajo Nation,” Johnson said. “Where are we seeing the transmission of the disease and then we are able to work toward snuffing that out.”
When it comes to vaccination across Indian Country, 1.7 million doses have been distributed through the Indian Health Service. In the Navajo Nation, about 70% have received one dose of the vaccine and 63% are fully vaccinated.
Del Yazzie, with the Navajo Epidemiology Center, said from July 2 to July 8, there were 70 cases, which the Nation hasn’t seen in about three or four months.
“The more people we have vaccinated the less likely this disease will continue to transmit itself or propagate itself to others,” Johnson added.