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West sees COVID-19 surge: With holidays approaching, vaccinations urged

West sees COVID-19 surge:  With holidays approaching, vaccinations urged


COVID-19 cases are surging wildly in the Mountain West region once again leaving uncertainty as to what will transpire through the holidays and how that will impact travel and family gatherings.

Although the rate of U.S. hospitalizations and deaths have declined overall due to the rollout of vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports community transmission is “high” in 41 states, with over 70,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths still being reported daily.

Health experts nationwide are saying it’s not too late to get a vaccination and are recommending eligible vaccinated individuals get booster shots to fortify immunity.

“We need more of our Navajo Nation residents to get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before the holiday season,” President Jonathan Nez said during a town hall Tuesday. “If you haven’t already received the COVID-19 vaccine, we strongly urge you to do so to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and others.”

According to the COVID Act Now website, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah’s risk levels are “very high” with New Mexico ranked 5th in the nation for highest cases per capita despite having 62% of its population fully vaccinated and an indoor mask mandate.

On Tuesday, the state of Arizona reported 3,118 new cases, Utah reported 1,558 cases, and New Mexico reported 1,137 cases.

High case numbers have been reported in the counties that surround the Navajo Nation, such as San Juan County and McKinley County, which puts the Navajo Nation at greater risk.

On Tuesday, the Navajo Department of Health reported 41 new cases for the Nation. The total number of deaths is now at 1,499, which does not include off-reservation fatalities.

Based on cases reported on the Nation from Oct. 22 to Nov. 4, the Navajo Department of Health issued a health advisory notice to 56 chapters for the uncontrolled spread of the virus.

“Our neighboring states are impacting the Navajo Nation,” said Dr. Puthiery Va from the Chinle Service Unit. “Community transition is high. The surge is fueled by the Delta variant, which is fast and efficient and can spread so easily compared to other variants.”

Other factors fueling the surge include people spending more time inside as the weather becomes colder, or becoming complacent with COVID-19 prevention measures, and waning vaccine immunity.

Nez urged everyone not to let up on safety protocols.

“Let’s continue to be strong and let everyone know that what’s different from last year is that we have the vaccine,” he said. “Vaccination is very important, especially for those who are most vulnerable. We have to be very careful, take precautions, wear masks in public, get fully vaccinated, and limit traveling off the Navajo Nation. We all have to do our part to push back on COVID-19.”

Nation 57% fully vaccinated

According to the Navajo Department of Health website, 70% of the eligible population on Navajo (12 years and up) has been fully vaccinated, but only 57% of the total Navajo population has been fully vaccinated.

Va said with over 40% of the Navajo population still vulnerable to severe disease if they were to contract COVID-19, it is important for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

According to the CDC, vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death, even if one has had COVID-19 illness in the past.

About 90% of people nationwide who are getting hospitalized and dying from are unvaccinated.

Now that the Pfizer vaccine is approved and available for children ages5 to 11, Va recommends they get vaccinated too because children can get severe disease and pass it on to loved ones.

“COVID-19 vaccines for individuals five years and older are widely available at health-care facilities across the Navajo Nation,” Nez said.

Special community vaccination events have also been happening across the Nation, he said.

Va also said boosters are needed for all three vaccines, the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, because the vaccines wane in efficacy, meaning antibody levels among vaccinated individuals steadily decline, which increases the risk of breakthrough infections.

Currently people are eligible for a Pfizer or Moderna booster at least six months after completing the primary vaccination. These 65 years or older, age 18 and older, those living in long-term care settings, have underlying medical conditions, or live in a high-risk setting.

“It’s very important to get the booster, or the third shot, ” Nez said.

For the J & J vaccine, people aged 18 or older are eligible for a booster at least two months after their shot. It is expected that booster shots will be available to the broader population soon.

On Tuesday Pfizer-BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize their COVID-19 booster shot for all people 18 and older based on the results of a study that showed vaccine efficacy of 95% or greater for people receiving the booster.

“It’s important that you reach out to your local health-care facility because they have the most up-to-date information on supplies as well as any scheduled booster vaccinations and two-dose series vaccinations,” said Capt. Brian Johnson, acting director for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

“Individuals out there who remain unvaccinated, we highly encourage that you consider and become vaccinated,”he said. “It’s so critical at this juncture in the pandemic.”

Stay home if you’re sick

In the meantime, Va said masking indoors is highly recommended as well as outdoors if people are gathering in large groups.

With the holidays approaching, Va said it is important to also continue social distancing, ensuring proper ventilation indoors, such as keeping doors and windows open, consider getting tested before meeting up with family and not to attend gatherings if you are symptomatic.

“That can play a role in keeping your family safe,” she said.

Navajo Nation Department of Health Director Jill Jim emphasized if one feels sick, to please stay home.

“We want everyone to be protected as we go into the holiday,” Jim said. “I know our numbers are really high. It’s discouraging.”

She said any future lockdown decisions would be largely based on whether the Navajo area health-care facilities are getting overwhelmed or not. Currently the ICU occupancy rate is at the threshold level of 80%, per the Navajo Epidemiology Center.

“None of them have enough resources and health-care professionals are also burned out,” she said.

Jim added that there are no longer quarantine sites operating such as hotels that were formerly being used to help isolate sick patients so people should stock up on supplies at home.

“As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s crucial that our Navajo people continue to support one another and help to inform your loved ones about the importance of taking precautions and limiting in-person gatherings,” Vice President Lizer said Tuesday.

“Far too many of our people have contracted COVID-19 because of in-person gatherings where people let their guard down around family members,” he said.

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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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