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Hard-Hit Navajo Nation May Have Passed Its COVID-19 Peak

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez speaking during a virtual town hall on Tuesday.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez speaking during a virtual town hall on Tuesday.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a virtual town hall Tuesday that the reservation hit its peak number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and emergency room visits a few weeks early thanks to social distancing and mask-wearing.

 Click 'play' to hear the audio version of this story.

That peak came in late April, not in mid-May as Indian Health Services had projected.

Nez credited social distancing, strict curfews and Navajo citizens' willingness to wear masks.

"You might be thinking, 'Well, I didn’t have that much to do with it.' Yes you did. If you’re wearing a mask, you’re a warrior," Nez said.

The Navajo Nation reported 157 deaths out of 4,689 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

If the reservation were a state, it'd have the highest amount of positive cases per capita in the country – but it also has the highest testing rate. All that testing means that people who don't need hospitalization are finding out they have the virus, staying home and slowing the spread, Nez said.

He is concerned about neighboring communities though.

“We have to also monitor the people around us, right?... Like this past weekend, Grand Canyon was open. I hope not to see a spike," he said.

One of the routes into the popular park is through Navajo lands. The Navajo Nation implemented a 57-hour curfew over Memorial Day weekend while part of the park was open.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.