ICU Beds Nearing Capacity On Navajo Nation As Virus Surges

Dec 7, 2020, 10:35 AM | Updated: 3:28 pm
FILE: An American flag with an image of Native American on it is attached to a fence outside a home...
FILE: An American flag with an image of Native American on it is attached to a fence outside a home in the East To'Hajiilee housing community in To'Hajiilee Indian Reservation (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo Nation officials say nearly all intensive care unit beds on the reservation are being used.

COVID-19 cases are surging and officials warned the tribe is nearing a point where health care workers will have to make difficult decisions about providing care with limited hospital resources.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said there are few options to transport patients to other regional hospitals that are near full capacity.

The tribe has extended its stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the virus. Officials reported 177 additional COVID-19 cases and no deaths related to the virus as of Sunday.

The Navajo Nation is in the Four Corners area and part of it is located in Utah’s San Juan County. 

Officials announced a new alternative care site to be used as a place where people can quarantine after they test positive for COVID-19. The site is opening as a partnership with PAE and AMI companies. 

A news release said the Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center established the Alternative Care Site at Chinle, Arizona. It will work in conjunction with isolation hotels in Gallup and Farmington, New Mexico. Other sites will open soon in Tuba City and Holbrook, Arizona.  

People who do not require intensive medical care can go to the Chinle location to be monitored by doctors and nurses. The isolation hotels will observe and monitor COVID-19 patients.  People who are waiting for test results can also quarantine at the isolation hotel sites. 

“We have to consider all options to help our health care workers and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you’re positive for COVID-19 and don’t want to risk spreading the virus to those that live under the same roof as you, please strongly consider self-isolating at one of these hotel isolation sites,” said Nez.

People who want to stay at an isolation hotel need a referral from a clinician, public health nurse, community health representative or social worker. 

“Isolation is key to slowing down the spread of COVID-19 in our homes and communities. The Health Command Operations Center, PAE, and AMI have worked to make the isolation sites as comfortable and accommodating as possible. We certainly need more people to volunteer to be isolated due to the overwhelming of our hospital facilities on the Navajo Nation,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.

“As we continue to experience bed capacity concerns, we must make available safe isolation options for those living in multigenerational homes, living with a person with underlying health conditions, sharing a room and bathroom,” said Dr. Jill Jim, Navajo Department of Health Executive Director. “We must do all we can do to protect our health care workers, high risk families, and especially our elders.”  

Dr. Jim was recently appointed to the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Advisory Board.  

Other information for staying at one of the alternative care sites: 

  • Follow isolation guidelines, which include fulfilling the recommended duration of self-isolation. 7-10 days for isolation and to quarantine 1-2 days while awaiting test results
  • Understand that you may need to be transferred to a hospital or other facility where medical care is available if symptoms escalate
  • Be respectful of other guests and staff members
  • Understand there will be no visitors allowed and there is security on-site 24/7
  • If you choose to leave, you acknowledge that you may be contagious and may be able to infect other people. At this point we would request that the guest complete an Against Medical Advice (AMA) form, and an update will be given to Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center (NNHCOC) and their referring provider.

Common amenities include meals, television, daily checkups and telemedicine calls with referring provider or case manager. The Chinle site also provides access to Netflix and outdoor space to communicate with family members. Officials also recommend bringing the following items to maximize personal comfort, but are not required:

  • Basic personal hygiene products will be available on site 
  • Comfortable Clothing/sleepwear
  • Shoes/sneakers/slippers/Jacket
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
  • Deodorant
  • Soap, shampoo, conditioner
  • Feminine hygiene
  • Makeup, makeup remover
  • Shaving supplies
  • Skin products
  • Brush, comb, hair products
  • Nail supplies/tweezers
  • Glasses, contact lenses, supplies
  • Containers for contacts/dentures
  • Cell phone and charging cables
  • Laptop/iPad/e-reader and chargers
  • Books/magazines/cards
  • Pen/paper
  • Snacks/Drinks

Navajo Department of Health also announced free testing sites for COVID-19. For the month of December, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (MST) on the following days and locations: 

  • Mondays: Kayenta Chapter and Tuba City Chapter
  • Tuesdays: Chinle Chapter
  • Wednesdays: Dilkon Chapter and St. Michaels Chapter
  • Thursdays: Crownpoint Chapter and Shiprock Chapter 

What you need to know prior to attending the drive-thru:  

  • Complete testing form before or at testing site  
  • Stay in your car when you arrive  
  • A testing team member will collect sample  
  • Individuals testing POSITIVE will be notified between 2-3 days of test results  
  • All test results will be shared with the local health facility for contact tracing  
  • Please answer your phone calls, results will not be left on voicemail or text  
  • Contact the Coordination Center at 1-844-935-3932 for results and information on Nation COVID-19 isolation and quarantine resources  
  • Schedule is subject to change due to weather 
  • For questions, contact the Health Command Operations Center: (928) 871-7014  

     Navajo Area IHS also continues to offer COVID-19 testing at each of their service units. For more information, including helpful prevention tips, and resources to help stop the spread of COVID-19, visit the Navajo Department of Health’s COVID-19 website: For COVID-19 related questions and information, call (928) 871-7014.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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ICU Beds Nearing Capacity On Navajo Nation As Virus Surges