With more confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other part of the country, New York has been thought of as the epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic since the onset of the outbreak, but the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the U.S., is reporting a more alarming per-capita infection rate across its 27,000+ square miles of land in the Southwestern United States.
As of May 18, there were 4,071 positive cases of COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation, according to the Navajo Department of Health. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, there were 173,667 individuals living in Navajo Nation. Using that 2010 population number, the Navajo Nation would have a COVID-19 infection rate of 2.34%.
While 2.34% may not sound like a high percentage, it’s still significantly higher than New York City’s present per-capita infection rate.
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As of May 19, there were 191,650 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City, according to May 19 data from the New York City Health Department. In 2018, the city had an estimated population of 8,398,748, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, which would render an infection rate of roughly 2.28%.
Although New York health organizations and resources are being strained amid the pandemic, they generally are still more abundant than those in the Navajo Nation. According to UCLA Health, care is provided by the Navajo Area Indian Health Service (NAIHS) “through inpatient, outpatient contract, and community health programs centered around 6 hospitals, 7 health centers, and 15 health stations.”
Multiple public health orders have already been implemented in the Navajo Nation amid the pandemic. On April 17, an emergency order mandated the use of masks while in public, and that the public should only leave their homes or residences if absolutely necessary. A March 29 emergency order implemented a strict 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew while also extending the stay-at-home order, with exceptions in place for essential workers.
The COVID-19 struggles facing the Navajo Nation echo those of other minority groups across the country, individuals often of a lower income bracket and frequently working in jobs that are deemed essential where they face a higher risk of infection, and persons who may not have as robust access to health care services.
Although new data is emerging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that “current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.”
Disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates among minorities and poorer individuals are also being reported across the world. In Mumbai, for example, some restrictions on manufacturing, agriculture and self-employment were lifted May 4 to ease the burden on the poor and informal sector workers who comprise the majority of India’s workforce.
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In New York City in particular, COVID-19 death rates for Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals “were substantially higher than that of white (45.2) or Asian (34.5) persons,” the CDC noted.
In the U.S., public health officials, including the NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, have reiterated the risks of reopening areas too soon, warning of potentially higher infection rates.
As of May 19, there were more than 1.5 million confirmed cases, 91,000 deaths and 283,000 recoveries from COVID-19 in the U.S. Across the world, there were more than 4.8 million confirmed cases, 322,000 deaths and 1.6 million recoveries.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.