Health officials: Family gatherings contribute greatly to COVID-19 spread on Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Health officials on the Navajo Nation continue to warn residents that family gatherings remain the primary driver of COVID-19 infections.

Officials from hospitals and health agencies shared the information during an online update about the virus on Oct. 12.

Dr. Sophina Calderon, deputy chief of staff with Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation in Arizona, said based on information from the hospital's contact tracers, family clusters contribute to the rise in COVID-19 infections.

"Most of our cases still are coming from multiple households gathering for whatever reason and eating in an enclosed space," Calderon said. "Just be very cautious and aware, especially families who have a mixed status of vaccinated versus unvaccinated."

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Dr. Sophina Calderon, deputy chief of staff with Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, talks about the hospital's vaccination rate on Oct. 12 during an update about COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation.

The warning comes a day after the Navajo Department of Health placed 33 communities under a health advisory notice due to high risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission.

Communities placed on the advisory were evaluated based on cases from Sept. 24 to Oct. 7, according to the department.

Locally, the communities of Sanostee, Sheep Springs, Shiprock, Two Grey Hills and Upper Fruitland were listed.

Rounding out the advisory are Baca-Prewitt, Birdsprings, Cameron, Chinle, Church Rock, Coyote Canyon, Ganado, Houck, Indian Wells, Iyanbito, Kaibeto, Kayenta, Leupp, Lupton, Manuelito, Nageezi, Piñon, Red Valley, Rock Springs, St. Michaels, Teec Nos Pos, Teesto, Thoreau, Tohatchi, Tonalea, Tsayatoh, Tselani-Cottonwood and Tuba City.

During an update on Oct. 12, the Navajo Epidemiology Center reported 13 communities have consistently been under advisory since late August.

Del Yazzie, an epidemiologist with the center, explained that commonalities among the communities are land size, population and location.

Most are along major roads or highways, are high traffic areas or located near border towns, Yazzie said.

This slide shown on Oct. 12 by the Navajo Epidemiology Center names communities that have consistently been under a health advisory notice for COVID-19 transmission.

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The chart that Yazzie showed during the update listed Baca-Prewitt, Chinle, Crownpoint, Ganado, Indian Wells, Kaibeto, Leupp, Rock Springs, Sheep Springs, Shiprock, Tonalea, Tsayatoh and Upper Fruitland as the 13 communities.

Joining the discussion this week were personnel from the New Mexico Department of Health who provided updates about the state's response to the virus.

Dr. Miranda Durham, medical director for the department's northwest region, said New Mexico is seeing a slight uptick in positivity rates after experiencing a downward trend in recent weeks.

She added that the department is implementing a school testing program which is available to all schools in the state, including those controlled by tribes and under the Bureau of Indian Education.

New Mexico requires teachers be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo testing each week, she explained.

The state has contracted Premier Medical Group to administer tests.

Dr. Miranda Durham, a medical director with the New Mexico Department of Health, talks about the state's response to COVID-19 during an update about the virus on Oct. 12.

Durham said the department anticipates new recommendations regarding booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee meets next week.

They also anticipate receiving federal recommendations next month about COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11, she 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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