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‘No peace of mind’: Informal survey shows fear, anxiety due to coronavirus

‘No peace of mind’:  Informal survey shows fear, anxiety due to coronavirus

Editor’s note: The identity of people who post on Facebook cannot be verified so the names or other identifying terms or letters are left as they were submitted.

WINDOW ROCK

No matter how you slice it, COVID-19 and its impacts are still taking a toll and disrupting the daily lives of Diné people in a variety of ways.

In an informal online Facebook survey, many Diné shared with the Navajo Times their compliance with the prevention measures but the unknowns and uncertainties around COVID-19 are causing fear and anxiety reminiscent of early 2020.

“It’s stressful,” said Gen Benally. “Stress can lead to anxiety and depression. There is no peace of mind.”

“I’m a health-care worker at a small clinic on the Navajo Nation and it sucks!,” said Bee Yazzie. “I’m tired and I’m frustrated!”

“It has been a rough time,” said an anonymous contributor. “This COVID is like a revolving door, the illness seems to come and go. How more to be safe? It is a vicious struggle!”

This week, as the Omicron variant continues to surge, President Jonathan Nez said the safest place to be is at home.

He urged everyone to wear two masks in public, limit travel, avoid gatherings, and get fully vaccinated.

“Our case numbers have been very high recently, but the number of hospitalizations has not surged and the numbers of deaths has remained low,” said Nez. “This shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are highly-effective and that they are saving lives.”

In the online survey, Tony Abeyta said this year has been “the toughest.”

“Many of my close friends have gotten sick,” said Abeyta. “One almost died this month and missed Christmas and New Year’s while in the hospital and is still recovering slowly.”

Abeyta is seeing many of his older friends getting sick but because they are vaccinated, they are doing well, he said.

“I am so happy to have been vaccinated,” said Abeyta. “It has made it easier on me and I have been directly exposed to people in my immediate circle and I’ve been fine….”

He encouraged anyone holding out on getting vaccinated to just do it.

“If you don’t, you might never be the same again and battle issues with mental clarity and inflammation of your organs, making things tough on your loved ones,” said Abeyta. “It’s not worth it.”

‘No joke’

Sue Zee believes many people lack discipline as reflected in the high COVID numbers.

“Trust no one is still my motto!” said Zee. “We lack traditional teachings that emphasize the importance of respecting the space of others and to not be at unnecessary places. Mask up and respect everyone!”

Pris Hstn said she’s used to staying home a lot, and doing shopping and laundry once a week in one trip.

“Vaccinated as well but it’s scary because I have asthma,” she said. “I just lost a family member Sunday to COVID, it’s very sad because she was raising her grandkids.”

Carole Begaye and several others said the COVID virus is “no joke.”

“It does not care who you are,” said Begaye. “Being vaccinated is what keeps people from being on a ventilator or dying. Seeing the numbers rise daily shows that people are not taking the virus seriously and they are not being vigilant.”

Samantha Dean said she’s tired of “COVID-scares!”

“I’ve been tested about eight times in a span of eight months,” said Dean. “Stop being careless for the sake of the newborns and our elders.”

Dean said if you’re sick, you need to stay home.

“I’m not on the Navajo Reservation but we sort of went back to how we were cautious at the beginning when there was no vaccine,” said Kim Hehakasapa. “I’m not about to find out about Omicron.”

Gina Benally said her family stays home a lot and doesn’t invite people over.

“We wear masks when we go get groceries and sanitize our hands continually even at home,” said Benally. “We pay our bills online and use Amazon to order stuff we need.”

Frank Fowler Jr. said he’s staying away from crowded events and buying emergency supplies to prepare for an unknown future.

“Relatives, distant and close family members, have gone on due to Covid,” said Fowler. “It gets frustrating but we have to adapt to changing times.”

‘Crushing many hearts’

While hospitalizations in the Navajo area are holding steady at less than 80% bed occupancy, people are still getting infected and families are suffering.

“I just had been discharged from the medical center here in Fort Defiance, AZ,” said Dez Darius Barney. “Both vaccinated, mother and I had contracted the virus as we were admitted 11/27/21 for COVID-19. She was transported to the Phoenix Valley and I continued here in ICU. Unfortunately, she journeyed on 12/13/21.”

Barney said the virus damaged her lungs and the experience has changed her life.

“I have my work cut out for me along with time to recover to breathe normally,” she said.

“Our whole household had tested positive for Covid at beginning of 2022 (fine New Years!),” said one Diné woman, who is still recovering and wished to remain anonymous. “My husband is getting over the fevers and Covid pneumonia. Every day I cry, hurting. Why?”

Her sister and niece are still in the hospital in an induced coma and things are not looking good.

“It hurts us so much that now both doctors for my sister and niece have called for us to make decisions to take them off life support and let them pass peacefully sedated,” she said.

Another distraught mother said her infant contracted COVID-19 even though she herself did not have any symptoms.

“How is a parent to handle this when your baby catches the virus when you have been following all the guidelines?” she asked. “How do you protect a child from this virus? I feel so vulnerable and helpless. What do I do? What do I do?”

She said her heart dropped because when she was pregnant with the baby, she caught COVID pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for three weeks.

“Flashbacks to that time came rushing back,” she said. “At the same time, I gave it to my family and my mother passed away 12 days before my son was born.”

Pastor Irvinson Jones said the virus is “indeed crushing many hearts.”

“To date I’ve officiated many funerals, at least half were due to COVID, or those with COVID,” he said. “Others did recover, thankfully, due to prayers, good health, their youth, etc., though they are still dealing with the ongoing effects… may the Lord bless you all, and don’t let the fear of this control you, t’ááshoodí.”

Freedom of choice

Some described their experience of the more transmissible, less severe Omicron variant as mild.

“It’s like the common cold that mainly affects the nasal and throat area,” said Hyldah Wylsan. “Self-medicating and following CDC guidelines is what we are doing. We are all vaccinated plus one of us is boosted.”

“Second time having Covid, we are vaxxed,” said Roxanne Blair Parker. “This time more like a sinus cold.”

Kevin Johnson said natural immunity and building tolerance is “still a thing.”

“Got sick, family got sick, got over it,” he said.

Johnson said in an “age of fear,” media outlets and others are forcing people to comply or be labeled as evil and this is just crazy.

“Take precautions if you need to but don’t say everyone should get the shot, or everyone needs a mask,” said Johnson. “Freedom of choice is still a thing.”

Many Navajos expressed that they miss the life they used to know and seeing their friends and family.

Ella Begay said she misses traveling into town, having family events and dinners, spiritual ceremonies and praying together, and cheering on her grandchildren at basketball games.

“I somewhat understand Covid-19 viruses so I asked it to go back to its place in my prayers too because it’s alive,” said Begay.

Theresa Atakai said she misses her independence.

“I am an elderly with a lot of health problems,” said Atakai. “I miss going out to be among people, especially relatives, shaking hands or hugging. I miss family gatherings. I miss going out to eat, going to the movies, and shopping, leisurely or for grocery.”

Martha John said she has not seen her siblings since the pandemic started.

“Partially due to the Covid pandemic mandates and fear of virus,” said John. “I miss my family.”

Others say they refuse to succumb to fear and are still their living lives.

Aadrian Sandoval said even as a delivery driver in Albuquerque he hasn’t gotten sick from COVID once.

“I take precautions, fully vaccinated, and still go out and enjoy life,” said Aadrian Sandoval. “Concerts, movies, dinners.”

“We are not vaccinated and follow protocol guidelines,” said Rick Francis. “We are in our 60s. We don’t take unnecessary risks like big crowds. Aside from that we just live our lives and don’t allow fear to enter in.”

‘Every day is risky’

Many parents expressed concern about their children being exposed to COVID in school. Just last week, schools on the Navajo Nation were mandated to provide families the option of virtual or hybrid instruction.

“Children are returning to online class,” said one mom who wanted to remain anonymous. “It’s hard to having to explain to your kids what’s going on. We don’t know when this virus will go away …”

“I don’t want to send my kids to school,” said Eugenia Smith. “Parents please keep your children at home if they feel sick.”

“I just wish they would close down the schools for our children and grandchildren protection,” said Cindy Curley.

Several parents said it’s frustrating that their children have to physically go to school because they lack adequate internet service.

“Even the school hotspots don’t work,” said Shell Renee. “Every day is risky for us. I just hope and pray the virus goes away! I am grateful for all the help I received with food, vaccines, supplies, and monetary assistance.”

Clydena Jackson said she’s grateful her children’s school tests for COVID on a weekly basis.

“My kids have no choice but to go in person,” said Clydena Jackson. “We don’t have internet at home. I just stress to them about wearing their masks and social distancing.”

Jerri Morton said he kept his two school-age kids at home this week due to the uptick in COVID cases.

“My older child has multiple friends with Covid,” said Morton. “I work as a teacher, and half the staff was out, and many students are out with Covid.”

Morton said he lost two family members to COVID early last year.

“We are still reeling from this loss and trying to decide when and if, we will have a memorial service, but knowing some family members are antivaxxers and anti-maskers, this keeps us from scheduling a service.”

“Well, this world isn’t safe anymore… it’s scary!” said Jamie Charley. “I have my children all virtual learning. As hard or complicated it may be at times we managed for this long since Covid began.”

Charley said surprisingly her children are maintaining good grades and keeping on top of everything.

“I’m a teacher, and at first it was really scary, but now, we’re learning to live with it and we abide by CDC regulations,” said Karen Watchman-Tom.

Watchman-Tom said her students have been “amazing,” taking precautions and getting through it.

“I think as long as we take the necessary precautions, we can definitely learn to live with this virus,” she said.

“I say, keep washing your hands and sanitizing and eating nutritional food,” said mother Asdaa Dibelzhini. “Fruits and vegetables! Protein! Boost your immune system! Daily vitamins or supplements will certainly help too.”

‘Scary times’

However, some parents and grandparents said even with protective measures in place, their children brought COVID-19 home.

“Scary times, we are still behind locked gates,” said Vee Bahe. “Still, we got sick from a grandchild, who brought it home. He wasn’t even sick he had a slight headache. Still sheltering.”

Per Cee said even after taking every precaution to avoid getting COVID, her stepdaughter caught it.

“I work in a school and we don’t know who has Covid from day to day,” she said. “We wear our masks everywhere. We wash hands, we sanitize. Life with Covid is here to stay.”

Margaret Yazzie said her grandchild didn’t show any sign of illness but now she’s at home in isolation because kids within a 6-feet radius have tested positive.

“Even though we stay home that virus still managed to sneak into our home via school kids,” said Yazzie.

On the other hand, Yazzie believes lockdowns are not the answer, because they make you feel claustrophobic.

“It impacts us so much when were confined away from our loved ones, our communities – the economy has hit hard due to high prices, lack of supplies in stores,” said McGrath Perrantin.

She said her family had to move to Phoenix because it was just “too impossible to survive on the Rez.”

“The worst part of this pandemic that has affected my family is losing two sons and family members turn to alcohol and drugs because the stress is just too high to combat,” said Perrantin.

The restrictions and confinement of the pandemic has also caused domestic violence in many homes due to financial problems and trying make ends meet, she said.

“It’s almost like a punishment,” said Evi Walker. “Maybe we are to be retaught to respect and love one another. To me, it seems to relate to punishment for domestic violence. Wash our hands that hit with, cover our mouth from bad words, keep our distance to keep from fighting!”

Ophelia Spencer said the new Omicron variant is causing stress, starting with finding the correct mask and having to distance from her elderly mother on the reservation whom she calls every day with COVID-19 updates.

“I worry that other relatives in the area are not adhering to CDC orders and also not knowing this Omicron variant is more transmissible,” said Spencer.

She is concerned that not enough information is getting to Navajo elders on the reservation don’t understand English.

“Everyone’s going through hardship financially, mentally, and educationally,” said an anonymous contributor. “Mental illness awareness is hard for many of us to talk about. We don’t know if this virus will go away permanently or if it’ll keep mutating over and over.”

 As a public service, the Navajo Times is making all coverage of the coronavirus pandemic fully available on its website. Please support the Times by subscribing.

 How to protect yourself and others.

Why masks work. Which masks are best.

Resources for coronavirus assistance

  Vaccine information.


About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst has been with the Navajo Times since July of 2018, and covers our Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats. Prior to joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.

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