The coronavirus pandemic is hitting the Navajo Nation particularly hard. As of Sunday, April 5, more than 300 tribal members had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than a dozen have died. The numbers continue to rise.

Health officials are bracing for more cases, even as much-needed supplies are starting to arrive. But Dr. Loretta Christensen, Chief Medical Officer with Navajo Indian Health Services, says many challenges remain.

Tribal health services has about 220 available beds, but only 13 of those are in intensive care units. There are also seven health care clinics. So, Christensen and other health officials have come up with a multi-tier plan to prepare for when that capacity is reached. It includes dedicating smaller units and clinics for inpatient care and outpatient facilities.

She adds that they typically send critical care patients to university hospitals, such as the one at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, but in this crisis, they have a finite capacity as well.

Radio and newspapers have also been important tools to address the lack of available water on tribal lands. Many wells are miles apart and shared by many families. Christensen says on-air forums and newspaper advertising have included ways to conserve resources, and still maintain safety.

Dr. Christensen also sees cause for hope, especially if Navajo Nation residents continue to follow recommended guidelines to slow the spread of the virus.

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Open Range News’ Mark Duggan is reporting on the impact of the coronavirus in the Four Corners region for KSUT Public Radio. The stories and audio here were previously aired and published by KSUT.

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