The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 on the Jicarilla Apache Nation and in surrounding communities increased sharply last week.
As of July 21, 4,677 tests were conducted on the Nation, 177 people had tested positive, 101 recovered, 16 were hospitalized and two people died, according to a media release from Nation President Darrell Paiz.
It is not clear, however, whether those numbers represent only enrolled tribal members, or whether tribal leadership is also counting tribal workforce–which includes non-tribal members from surrounding communities–in the total tally.
Tribal member Jennifer Muskrat-Velarde wrote in a July 20 Facebook post that the numbers include tribal workforce, and that mostly workers have been tested, multiple times over.
A map that displays case count by zip code on the Department of Health website as of Tuesday showed 187 cases for the 87528 zip code, which contains part of the Nation and some non-tribal areas, and 128 cases for the 87013 zip code, which also contains part of the Nation as well as non-tribal areas.
Muskrat-Velarde described the outbreak as region-wide in a July 20 Facebook livestream.
“When one person gets sick it infects us, it’s like the right hand to the left, it infects us all,” she said.
Paiz did not return a call before press time requesting more information about the surge in cases.
The Indian Health Service Jicarilla Service Unit is testing community members three days a week and collaborating with the Nation to implement testing of inmates, detention officers, Emergency Medical Service and other first responders, Indian Health Service Public Affairs Specialist Jennifer Reeder wrote in a Tuesday email.
The Unit is also providing nursing assessments of symptoms, as well as bags that include printed information, thermometers, face masks and other items to those who test positives, she wrote.
Public health nurses from the Service are helping to coordinate placement of COVID-19 positive patients into facilities for isolation and detoxification if needed, she wrote.
She wrote that she is not aware of any shortage of medical resources to date and that currently inpatient beds are available to patients who might need a higher level of care.
Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said in a Monday phone call that the County is available to assist the Nation in whichever way may be needed, but that County officials will not step in unless tribal leadership asks them to.
“I think it’s important to respect their sovereignty,” she said.
The New Mexico Department of Health is assisting with providing testing and with case investigations and contact tracing on the Nation, Department of Health Media Manager David Morgan wrote.
In coordination with the Jicarilla Service Unit, Paiz issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect Sunday evening and lasts till August 10, requiring that everyone remain in their houses, except for essential workers and livestock owners.
The Department of Health will not be conducting tests during this stretch, as Paiz does not want people entering the reservation.
People who must leave the Nation for essential work will have to obtain a special badge, as will livestock owners who must leave their houses to tend to their animals. People otherwise moving around the community will not need badges.
Livestock owners will be able to take care of their livestock from the hours of 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will need to check out the badges from tribal leadership, which has caused some alarm.
Muskrat-Velarde wrote in a July 20 post that the animals do not operate on the same time frame and need care beyond the hours listed in the order.
The livestock owners will have to have to drive long distances to pick up the badges and will have to come into contact with others when they do, she wrote.
Muskrat-Velarde also expressed concern about how people on the Nation will endure the stay-at-home order without basic infrastructure or resources.
In the July 20 Facebook Livestream, she said that several Nation residents do not have running water or electricity at home and must travel to distant communities for food.
She helped organize a food and supplies distribution effort for the lockdown, according to her Facebook.
And through the state’s emergency support function, state workers delivered 2,000 boxes of food to the Nation on Monday and Tuesday, Morgan wrote.
On Thursdays, Nation members will be able to leave the reservation without a badge to pick up essential supplies.
Muskrat-Velarde wrote that this aspect of the order increases “the chances of human to human contact (and transmission) by having everyone come out on the same day.”
State Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, whose district includes the Jicarilla Apache Nation, said Nation members often live at least an hour away from grocery stores, doctors and businesses where they pay their bills.
The lack of reliable internet infrastructure means that while staying home people will not be able to pay their bills online or use telehealth or fill prescriptions.
“They then are forced to move and go into the neighboring towns to take care of business,” he said.
The COVID-19 crisis reveals inequities that were present long before the virus struck, he said.
“I think it mirrors a lot of the discrepancies that are clearly visible outside of a COVID-time,” Lente said. “The areas in the state that are very old and historic don’t have the infrastructure that other parts of our state do, nor do they have that capacity for financial buying power, meaning that the people that have been pushed back for so long and neglected for so long are now feeling the brunt of the COVID crisis and it’s on full display for the world to see unfortunately.”
Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by the virus: while Native Americans make up about 10 percent of the state’s population, about 40 percent of the people who have tested positive for the virus in the state are Native, according to data from the Department of Health.
“There’s not a reason why now we should not make it a point that after COVID we’ve learned something, so at this point forward we can make sure these communities have the infrastructure they need and the services they require to make sure that they are not one forced to suffer the way that they are during COVID, but also two, outside of COVID, that they have the same type of abilities that every other part of the state likely has,” Lente said.