Members of congress want answers on $3 million contract for possibly substandard masks for Navajo Nation

Members of Congress from New Mexico and Arizona sought answers about a $3 million contract given to a former White House staffer to supply masks to the Navajo Nation. The masks may be substandard, as the Navajo Nation deals with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country. “The IHS facilities serving the Tribe are in dire need of PPE to combat the virus and ensure medical personnel are protected from potential exposure,” the lawmakers wrote. “Accordingly, we’re also concerned by reports that the federal contract to supply PPE to the Navajo IHS Service Area was awarded to a company established by a former senior official in the White House with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience.”

Update: Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

The letter, led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, requests a number of answers from Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, the Director of the Indian Health Service. 

The Navajo Nation spreads across parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. As of Tuesday, Navajo Nation health officials had confirmed 4,842 COVID-19 cases and 158 deaths related to the disease.

The feds gave a former White House official $3 million to supply masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some may not work.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. A former White House aide 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. Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience. The IHS told ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use.

Groups rally outside Cibola County jail

Without intervention, as much as 100 percent of immigrants in detention centers could test positive for COVID-19 within the next 90 days and overwhelm state healthcare systems, according to a recent study. The study, produced by the Washington D.C., nonprofit advocacy group the Government Accountability Project, states that, optimistically, 72 percent could become infected with COVID-19 in immigrant detention facilities. The projected 100 percent reflects the pessimistic estimation, the study says. Those projections mean that state health care systems would be overwhelmed, the study reports. A group of advocacy organizations organized a rally, called “Free Them All Friday,” which consisted of about 30 cars that drove around the Cibola County Correctional Center, which holds immigrant detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Friday afternoon to try to bring attention to this problem.

Guv orders Gallup lockdown to slow COVID-19 spread

As cases continue to grow in McKinley County, the governor invoked the state’s Riot Control Act to authorize a lockdown of Gallup, at the behest of both the outgoing and new mayor of the city. The state closed all roads into Gallup as of noon on Friday, ordered that essential businesses will be closed from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and vehicles traveling in the city can only have a maximum of two individuals. The order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that people should remain sheltered in place at home unless they are traveling for essential or emergency outings. Gallup city police and the McKinley County Sheriff’s Department will help the New Mexico State police to enforce the emergency order. The order will run through noon on Monday, May 4.

NAACP officials keep wary eye on New Mexico data

A local advocacy group is keeping a watchful eye on equitable health care for African Americans during the pandemic. Pamelya Herndon, the first vice chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Albuquerque chapter, said the NAACP is not aware of discrimination against African-Americans during the pandemic in this state. But, the NAACP encouraged African-Americans to reach out to their local NAACP chapter if they experience prejudice during the public health emergency. One reason to worry is because African-Americans tend to have higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, which could put them at greater risk for mortality from COVID-19 related illness than whites. Herndon said she would like to see a plan put into place to better protect the African-American community, especially given the already present health disparities.

Chaco Canyon BLM

GoFundMe campaign raising funds to distribute supplies to Navajo Nation’s ‘far east’

A GoFundMe campaign is collecting monetary donations to help volunteers distribute food supplies and other goods to what’s known as the “Far Eastern” chapters of the Navajo Nation in the Greater Chaco region, where communities live in food deserts, lack access to running water and electricity, and are now battling an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by a type of coronavirus. 

The campaign was launched by the Torreon Community Alliance, a non-profit in the Torreon and Star Lake Chapter area of the Navajo Nation. Mario Atencio, executive director of the nonprofit said families in the area have been hit hard by the economic ripples of the pandemic. Many families in the area rely on oil and gas for financial security. 

“The collapse of oil prices means the collapse in royalty monies, people are relying on that oil money,” Atencio said. “It’s just compounding. People are getting laid off.

A school on Navajo Nation stayed open. Then people started showing symptoms.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. As some schools on the nation’s largest Native American reservation were ordered to close on account of the coronavirus, students at Rocky Ridge Boarding School in northeast Arizona continued attending class. School wasn’t supposed to be in session on March 16. Gov. Doug Ducey had declared that public schools would be closed as the state attempted to control the spread of the coronavirus.

As pandemic continues, abortion groups feel greater strain

With the coronavirus pandemic worsening — the state announced 40 new positive tests of COVID-19 Thursday and an additional death — access to abortion care gets increasingly complicated.

Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports reproductive health care, has allowed abortion clinics to remain open in New Mexico during the public health emergency. But abortion access has become more challenging in many areas of the country and that affects New Mexico, according to advocates.

The Navajo Nation has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Indian Country. How will it cope?

New York City. Los Angeles. Seattle. Detroit. These are some of the well-known hot spots for COVID-19, places where a small number of cases multiplied exponentially in a matter of days.

Navajo Nation readies extra medical stations, urges New Mexico to prepare for Navajo medical needs

A federal medical station with 58 beds for COVID-19 patients is being established on the Navajo reservation at the community center in Chinle, Ariz. The beds and supplies were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it’s not enough said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “In speaking with the health care experts, the supplies that were delivered won’t last a full week, but we’re continuing to work hard every day to bring more and more resources. The Navajo Nation is also stepping up and using our own funds from the $4 million appropriation that was approved recently,” said Nez in a press release. In Tuba City, Ariz, authorities are setting up tent facilities to use as medical stations at the local fairgrounds.