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New Mexico's governor warns tribal nations could be 'wiped out' by coronavirus

New York reports first coronavirus-related death in state
Posted at 8:52 AM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 11:52:38-04

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised alarms with President Donald Trump Monday about "incredible spikes" in coronavirus cases in Navajo Nation, warning that the virus could "wipe out" some tribal nations, according to a recording of a call between Trump and the nation's governors obtained by ABC News.

"I'm very worried, Mr. President," Governor Lujan Grisham said, as she followed up on a request she made to the Department of Defense last Wednesday for a 248-bed U.S. Army combat support hospital (CSH) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Grisham told Trump she had not yet received a response.

"We're seeing incredible spikes in the Navajo Nation, and this is going to be an issue where we're going to have to figure that out and think about maybe testing and surveillance opportunities," Grisham said.

"The rate of infection, at least on the New Mexico side — although we've got several Arizona residents in our hospitals — we're seeing a much higher hospital rate, a much younger hospital rate, a much quicker go-right-to-the-vent rate for this population. And we're seeing doubling in every day-and-a-half," she said.

Wow, that's something," the president replied.

She added: "And it could wipe out those tribal nations."

"We're gonna get you that hospital as quickly as we can," Trump said, while directing others in the Situation Room to look into the problem and rush work on the hospital. "Boy, that’s too bad for the Navajo nation – I've been hearing that."

As of Sunday, there were at least 128 cases and 2 deaths reported on the reservation, which has a population of over 250,000 and spans three states, according to the Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

The outbreak of the virus in the reservation is believed to have spread at an evangelical church rally in Chilchinbeto, Arizona, on March 7, according to a Los Angeles Times report. At least two Navajos have already died, the report said.

The Navajo Nation government declared a state of emergency on March 13, just one week later, before ultimately issuing a reservation-wide Shelter In Place order for all residents on March 20.

"In a short period of time, COVID-19 has arrived on the Navajo Nation and the number of cases are increasing at a high rate across the Nation," the order said. "The purpose of the closure is to allow the Navajo Nation as a whole to isolate and quarantine."

In her original request, Grisham wrote that the hospital was "urgently needed to support the State of New Mexico’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to overwhelm our existing medical treatment facilities and resources."