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White Mountain Apache Tribe takes precautions, looks to Navajo Nation amid COVID-19

White Mountain Apache Tribe coronavirus
Posted at 8:00 PM, Apr 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-19 14:43:05-04

PINETOP-LAKESIDE, AZ — The White Mountain Apache Tribe is trying to fend off an increasing number of coronavirus cases in the community, south of Pinetop.

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As of Saturday, tribal officials reported 41 positive cases, with 88 others coming back negative. Nearly a third of the tests that have come back have returned a positive result, while the statewide number is slightly below 10%.

"It's a big concern for our tribal members," said Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood. "We have a very tight-knit community."

Signs are now posted throughout the Whiteriver community to warn of the virus and to encourage people to take precautions.

"In that time we hit the first positive we immediately initiated more proactive opportunities to create more social distancing," Lee-Gatewood said.

The tribe implemented several preventative measures, including a nightly curfew that runs from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. They are also keeping an eye on Navajo Nation, which has been hit with more than a thousand cases and dozens of deaths.

"We do watch what they are doing and how they communicate what they are doing, and learning from them what's working and what's not is going to help the other communities elsewhere," Lee-Gatewood said.

Lee-Gatewood told ABC15 the tribe has a limited number of tests and also needs more personal protective equipment.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe is now battling the coronavirus just weeks after the community was devastated by the shooting death of White Mountain Apache Police Officer David Kellywood.

"It was a tragic loss and now to have COVID-19 at your door and we're dealing with that, it's been one right after the other," Lee-Gatewood said. "It's a big hit."

There are some positive takeaways from the data, as tribal officials say the community has not yet had a death due to COVID-19, and of the 41 confirmed cases, 24 have recovered.