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Volunteers help Navajo Nation through health loopholes amid pandemic

Posted at 6:59 AM, May 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 09:59:51-04

NAVAJO NATION — More than 2,500 positive cases of COVID-19 and getting closer to a triple-digit death count, the Navajo Nation is in dire need of help. Fortunately, there's a collaborate effort by doctors to stop the spread, but there are still a few hurdles like insurance.

Volunteers with the non-profit ProtectAZ are trying to fill the gap and expand antigen testing, to detect current and past exposure, by partnering with NextGen. However, Doctor Tyler Southwell says in order for insurance to cover the costs, a doctor has to consult and order the tests.

There are not enough doctors to go around on the nation, creating a logistical issue, so they're using telemedicine to close the loophole.

Volunteer doctors in the Valley conduct a consultation over the phone and nurses on the other end administer the tests.

"Even if these patients are asymptomatic, they're very concerned about Covid. So we do a lot of education. And then when the test comes back, it's my responsibility to reach out to them to make sure they're OK," Said Dr. Southwell.

The group started with Navajo first responders and found telemedicine was a useful tool to expand testing.

"It's really hard to reach every single person and first responders are busy on the front lines. So to get them to come to the clinic one at a time is a lot less efficient than if I can do 80 in two days," said Dr. Southwell.

In two days, they were able to test about 150 Navajo first responders -- not quite half of the force -- with plans to keep going and test everyone.

Four first responders tested positive but showed no symptoms. They are now on a 14-day quarantine.