Navajo Nation: Where COVID-19 claims whole families

Posted on: May 20th, 2020 by ABC News No Comments


(GALLUP, N.M.) — It felt like haunted ground. The only sounds left at the traditional Najavo hut were the notes of the wind chimes and the whines of the puppies.

COVID-19 had taken away the 11 family members who had lived in this dwelling. Three generations of the Scott family were living on its dirt floors, huddled around its wood stove and sleeping heaped on the jumble of bedding — or when it was too cold, in the rusting Durango outside.

Of those 11, eight have contracted COVID-19, several have been hospitalized and two are dead. Dorothy Scott told ABC News she was standing over the open grave of her son, Bobby Jr., on May 8 when her grandchildren called from the hut: “Grandpa’s not breathing, there are flies around his mouth.” Bobby Sr., the 6’4 former Navajo Ranger, was splayed out on the only bed in the hut.

Does the Navajo Nation have the highest COVID-19 rates in the country? Maybe. Dominick Clichee, an epidemiologist at Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, said it certainly is the highest. What seems certain is that there are more COVID-19 cases per capita here than in New York or New Jersey, and the peak is nearly a month away. Hospitals are at capacity and some are overwhelmed. That happens easily in place that is larger than West Virginia.

The efforts to mitigate the damage are enormous. This place has by far the most strict closure laws in the nation: a 57-hour weekend lockdown, curfew every night, closure of nonessential businesses and a $1,000 fine for violating those ordinances.

The Scott family is now fractured — split up in one of the four motels functioning in Gallup, New Mexico, as respiratory shelters. People here are strictly confined to their rooms, and because of that strict isolation, matriarch Dorothy hadn’t seen her daughter Darcy in about a week and Darcy hasn’t seen her 3-year-old, Cayden, in a week. We were there for their first desperate hug in days. Their doctor, Aylin Uluc, who just got back from a stint in Liberia, said she’d never imagined she’d be practicing motel room medicine in America.

What’s unites the Navajo Nation to the Bronx and Chicago’s South Side and other hard-hit communities? Poverty.

And that’s what the Scott family will be left with — crushing poverty. When they are released from the motel, they might go back to living in their “ride,” a beat-up Durango. Or maybe somewhere else. Right now, they don’t know.

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