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Congress to investigate PPE shipments sent to the Navajo Nation

Navajo Nation
Posted at 5:57 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 18:32:26-04

NAVAJO NATION, AZ — On the Navajo Nation, nearly everyone wears a mask.

"I'm thinking to myself what if these masks were outdated, expired or not even functioning," said Arizona State Representative Arlando Teller, (D) Chinle.

He says he thinks about that often. After learning nearly 250,000 breathing masks delivered to the Navajo Nation earlier this month may not be suitable for medical use, another 130,000 masks are considered questionable because the serial number on package is different from the one on the box.

"You can't treat our Navajo Nation this way right now. This is the most dire situation," Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego (D) Phoenix said. "We need all hands on deck. Not this amateur hour we see happening."

Tuesday, Gallego joined a number of Democrats on the House Oversight Committee in calling for an investigation.

The company who supplied the PPE to the Navajo Nation is owned by Josh Fuentes, a former deputy chief of staff for President Trump. According to the online investigative news journal ProPublica, Fuentes won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic. "How did this person with no experience in production or delivery of PPE get a government contract," Gallego said before adding, "How did we let this person get a government contract and deliver faulty product to the Navajo Nation?"

State Representative Teller says he is receiving calls from medical providers worried they are running dangerously low on PPE. "A medical center in Ft. Defiance has called and said we are on the last 500 gowns, we are on the last 10,000 masks, help us," Teller said.

Gallego says he doesn't know how quickly the federal government can respond. But State Health Department and the Arizona National Guard have been helping fill the gaps since the COVID-19 virus exploded on the Navajo Nation in March. Both agencies said Wednesday they will continue to respond when asked.