Navajo Nation Council approves emergency funding for COVID-19 response

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council has authorized $4 million in emergency funding to cover costs associated with the COVID-19 response on the reservation.

The amount will go to the Navajo Department of Health to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to deliver essential resources and equipment to health care experts and emergency response workers, according to a press release from the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President.

The tribe had 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 21.

Navajo Area Indian Health Service Director Roselyn Tso talked about the medical supply shortage in a report to the tribal council after the emergency legislation passed on March 20. It was later signed by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

"At this point, we have less than 30 days' worth of supplies and, of course, this is going to change depending on the number of positive cases that we have in our facilities," Tso said. A livestream of the special session was broadcast by the speaker's office.

She said employees have completed inventories for medical supplies at the Gallup Regional Supply Service Center, which serves 35 health care facilities located inside and outside the Navajo Area IHS.

Employees are distributing a minimum number of supplies based on need and have limited providing personal protective equipment to police officers, emergency medical services workers and community health representatives, she said.

The Indian Health Service is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sherri Helton, emergency management coordinator for Navajo Area IHS, named 16 items, including assorted N95 masks, disinfecting wipes and nasopharyngeal swabs, that are in low supply or unavailable at the supply service center.

Helton added requests have been submitted to the New Mexico Department of Health to receive supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile and to the tribe to order items from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The Arizona Republic reported that members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged the Trump administration on March 20 to provide $120 million in emergency aid to the IHS to respond to the coronavirus.

While there are confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation, Tso said as of March 20 there were more than 100 pending cases, meaning test results have not been received.

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The public health emergency order issued by the tribe's health department on March 19 states that seven of the confirmed cases are from Chilchinbeto, Arizona.

More details were released by the tribal president's office the evening of March 21.

"I will say with regards to age though, of the 14 cases that we have, there's some that are under 12-years-old," Tso said.

Brian Johnson, deputy director for Navajo Area IHS, spoke briefly about rumors of a death from COVID-19 on the reservation.

"I can say from the federal Indian Health Service side, we are not aware of any deaths at this point. There's no deaths related to COVID that we're aware of and we're tracking this as closely as we can," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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