Biden authorizes disaster declaration for Navajo Nation over COVID-19
FARMINGTON — President Joe Biden has issued a major disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation over the coronavirus pandemic, a move that opens federal resources to sustain the tribe's ongoing response effort.
The declaration will support the tribe's response and recovery work through funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for medical staffing, vaccine support, supplies, equipment and personnel.
"I have authorized federal relief and recovery assistance in the affected area," Biden wrote in the letter to tribal President Jonathan Nez.
Biden made the approval on Feb. 2 and Navajo leaders were notified that day by FEMA acting administrator Robert J. Fenton.
"Today's major disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation affirms federal support to Navajo leaders and tribal members and the nation-nation partnership we value with the Navajo Nation," Fenton said on Feb. 2.
Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer submitted the request for federal assistance in December to then President Donald Trump.
The leaders stated that the COVID-19 situation had grown beyond the tribal government's resources and supplementary federal assistance was necessary to save lives and to protect public health.
Nez acknowledged Biden's action in remarks during an online town hall on Feb. 4.
"What this does is it helps bring in resources to the Navajo Nation. It brings in manpower so that we can get more people vaccinated," Nez said.
After cases of the virus were first reported in March 2020, the tribe has been providing aid to tribal members. In recent weeks, the focus has shifted to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccine distribution has been ramping up on the reservation through health care facilities operated by Indian Health Service and tribal organizations.
Nez explained the declaration will help the distribution by bringing resources like mobile units that can deliver vaccines to remote communities on the reservation.
A FEMA spokesperson said this is the first declaration due to the pandemic for a tribal nation located in the agency's Region 9.
Region 9 consists of 150 tribal nations as well as Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, three U.S. territories, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, according to the agency's website.
More COVID-19 news:
- COVID-19: Updates on coronavirus cases in northwest New Mexico and Navajo Nation
- Navajo Nation Council approves COVID-19 curfew fines to help public safety
- Bill expanding rural health tax credits during COVID-19 pandemic passes first committee
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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