Tribal nations could be 'wiped out' by coronavirus, governor warns

President reportedly says 'boy, that’s too bad for the Navajo nation' in response to Covid-19 outbreak in New Mexico

Chris Riotta
New York
Tuesday 31 March 2020 17:24 BST
Trump dismisses coronavirus testing problems in conference call

The Navajo Nation is facing “incredible spikes” of Covid-19 infections as the global coronavirus pandemic threatens to “wipe out” some tribal nations in New Mexico, the state’s governor reportedly warned Donald Trump earlier this week.

Governor Lujan Grisham (D—NM) told the president she was “very worried” about the rise in confirmed cases among New Mexico’s tribal populations during a phone call the White House conducted with the nation’s governors, according to ABC News.

The news outlet said it obtained a recording of the phone call, in which the governor reportedly said to Mr Trump: “We're seeing incredible spikes in the Navajo Nation, and this is going to be an issue where we're going to have to figure that out and think about maybe testing and surveillance opportunities.”

She went on to say that New Mexico has seen “a much higher hospital rate, a much younger hospital rate, a much quicker go-right-to-the-vent rate” for the state’s tribal populations, adding: “We’re seeing doubling in every day-and-a-half.”

Mr Trump reportedly responded: “Wow, that’s something.”

The presidents and governors spoke as states across the country reported a significant rise in cases of the novel virus, and the White House extended its self-isolation guidelines for an additional 30 days.

The nation’s death toll meanwhile doubled to more than 2,100 in a two-day period, as the White House coronavirus task force estimated anywhere from “100,000 to 200,000” deaths resulting from the pandemic.

Ms Lujan went on to warn Mr Trump that the virus “could wipe out those tribal nations” as it progresses through the state and transmissions continue to soar.

The Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service confirmed at least 128 cases and two deaths among its population of more than 250,000 in three states, ABC News reported.

She also told the president about a request she filed with the US Department of Defence for permission to use an Army combat medical vessel based in New Mexico to supplement the local hospital system amid the crisis.

“We’re gonna get you that hospital as quickly as we can,” Mr Trump reportedly responded.

“Boy, that’s too bad for the Navajo nation,” he added. “I’ve been hearing that.”

In a reservation-wide Shelter-in-Place order effective on 20 March, the Navajo Nation government said “Covid-19 has arrived on the Navajo Nation and the number of cases are increasing at a high rate across the Nation.”

The order continued: "The purpose of the closure is to allow the Navajo Nation as a whole to isolate and quarantine."

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