Americans across the country are stepping in to help, like the Florida woman who sent Navajo children 1,500 books

By Rachel DeSantis
June 11, 2020 03:49 PM
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A Navajo elder stands on his property
MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty

The members of Navajo Nation are continuing to fight an uphill battle against coronavirus, which has now killed more people in the native nation than it has in seven different states combined.

With 6,275 confirmed cases and 292 deaths attributed to the virus as of Thursday, according to the Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Nation has more than 3,613 cases per 100,000 people — a higher per-capita rate than anywhere in the U.S.

Compare that to the state of New York — which has 1,983 cases per 100,000 people, according to The New York Times — and it becomes clear why people across the United States have stepped in to help the Navajo people, who face a unique set of challenges.

The area, which straddles the borders of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, has just 12 health care facilities across 27,000 square miles, and many Navajo citizens suffer chronic health issues like diabetes, heart disease and obesity, according to NBC News, which puts those who contract coronavirus at a higher risk of severe illness, the CDC has said.

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Additionally, 30 to 40 percent of the population does not have access to running water, which can make preventative tasks like hand washing impossible, CNN reported.

Since confirming its first case in March, Navajo Nation has seen more cases than 12 different states, and more deaths than 15 different states.

Even so, President Jonathan Nez said his people have done well in terms of keeping the curve flat.

“We are maintaining a steady flattening of the curve in terms of new cases,” he told the Navajo Times. “We are beating the projections and we have to stay the course if we want to avoid a second wave of the virus and keep bringing our numbers down.”

President Jonathan Nez has his temperature checked
Sharon Chischilly/Getty

This past weekend was reportedly the first since the outbreak that Navajo Nation was not under lockdown, though government offices will remain closed until July 5.

As news of their struggles spread, so did the goodwill among those wanting to help; GoFundMe has seen many successful fundraisers aimed at raising money for Navajo Nation.

Its official COVID-19 relief fund raised more than $1.4 million on the platform to address immediate medical and community needs, and another fundraiser, which helped provide hot meals and emergency food baskets to elderly people in the community, raised nearly $50,000.

MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty

A group of eighth-grade students at the Waldorf School in Santa Fe, New Mexico also made headlines for donating the $2,800 they’d raised for a canceled year-end rafting trip. The students got in touch with Navajo leaders, and were able to provide things like essential baby items and non-perishable food, CNN reported.

Florida teacher Jennifer Frances, founder of traveling literacy nonprofit Bess the Book Bus, also stepped up to donate 1,500 books to Navajo children, the Washington Post reported.

“In the area where we live, we have one trading post and one store, one post office, a school and a health clinic. There is no place to buy a book,” Montezuma Creek Elementary teacher Charlene Poyer told the outlet. “So the surprise of receiving these books is the best thing that could have happened for our children right now.”

The Nation recently received $50 million in funds from the federal CARES Act, and officials are working to approve legislation that would help distribute services and equipment to things like water infrastructure projects, personal protective equipment and hazard pay for workers, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer reportedly added at a recent town hall that the community has already spent $1.6 million on funerals, and that the Navajo people have a responsibility to protect older and more vulnerable members of the community from the virus.

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been at least 2 million cases and 113,097 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.