NAVAJO & APACHE COUNTIES — The pandemic’s beginning to slow in much of the country, but not so much in Navajo and Apache counties, according to a new batch of statistics released by the state on Sunday.
Today, Navajo County had 345 cases with eight deaths while Apache County has 89 documented cases and four deaths. Deaths are doubling every eight days in Navajo County and every four days in Apache County.
In both counties, the epicenter remains the Navajo Nation, according to the figures posted on the state’s website as of Monday morning. However, the southern portions of the county also have cases, with ongoing “community spread.”
A total of 64 cases were confirmed off-reservation in Navajo County on Sunday, but that number was expected to climb as more reports from the weekend were added in.
In response to articles and a potential lawsuit questioning the sharp limits on data released by the Arizona Department of Health Services, the state on Sunday released a partial breakdown of cases by zip code.
Zip code data for communities in southern Navajo County showed between 1-5 cases each for Pinetop, Lakeside, Show Low and Snowflake.
Apache County reported it’s first case off-reservation on Saturday, stating there is one confirmed case in zip code 85925, Eagar.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe was reporting 20 cases on Monday.
The devastating spread of the virus on the Navajo Reservation likely accounts for the alarming statistics in both Navajo and Apache counties, but the state did not report cases by zip code on any reservations.
The 27,000-acre Navajo Reservation sprawls across three states, with a population close to 180,000. The number of infections now stands at 700, with 24 COVID-related deaths.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who is in quarantine after exposure to the virus due to contact with an infected public safety officer, has appealed to the federal government for more help. Reportedly, Abbott ID rapid test kits will become available in facilities on the reservation this week. This could further boost the number of known cases, with more contact tracing and population testing. Given the variation in testing, tracking the deaths remains a more reliable measure of the spread of the virus.
Moreover, medical labs are rushing to produce a test that would indicate whether someone has been exposed to the virus and perhaps developed some degree of immunity. Such a test would play a big role in determining who could safely return to work.
Generally, 8 percent of tests come back positive, according to the state department of health services website. However, in Navajo County 23 percent of the tests have come back positive.
Reservation cases include 252 in Navajo County, 79 in Apache County, 150 in Coconino County and the rest in New Mexico and Utah, according to the Facebook page of President Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer. There was a jump of 101 cases between Friday and Saturday.
The Arizona Department of Health Services doesn’t offer a breakdown for cases on the reservations.
The Navajo Nation has imposed a curfew for everyone as well as a “shelter in place” order for “non-essential” workers, other than trips to get necessary supplies.
The state release of statistics by zip code remains partial. The map posted on the web site leaves off some zip codes and doesn’t report results for reservations or some other areas. However, it’s the most detailed released so far on the spread of the virus by community. Zip codes with hospitals in some cases have a higher rate of infection, which could mean the database to some degree captures where a patient was tested and treated rather than where they live, according to an analysis published in the Arizona Republic.
The preliminary figures indicate some of the inequities by race and income have started to emerge in Arizona. Nationally, the death rate among blacks and Hispanics has generally been twice the rate among whites. That could reflect differences in housing, income and access to medical care. In Arizona, Native Americans make up 16 percent of those who have died of COVID-19, but just 4.5 percent of the state’s population.
The state’s’ publicly released figures remain fragmentary, with no record of race in 63 percent of cases.
White men make up 47 percent of the COVID-19 cases but 63 percent of the deaths, consistent with findings in other countries and states. No one’s sure why older men appear more likely to develop life-threatening symptoms. It might have something to do with higher rates of cigarette smoking among men.
Some 115 people have died in Arizona so far. Some 68 percent of those deaths were among people older than 65 – a total of 78. Other age groups have died at a much lower rate, including one person younger than 45 and 12 people age 45 to 54. Some 24 people between the ages of 55 and 64 have died.
So far, the state has collected 42,000 tests, with 8 percent of the results coming back positive. Some 21,000 of those tests were among people younger than 44, with a very low infection rate. Some 7,600 were among people older than 65.
Interestingly, deaths in Arizona have so far peaked on March 25 and March 26 – with 10 people dying each day. Since March 29, the daily death toll has remained between 3 and 5.
Eastern U.S. hit hard
Nationally some 555,000 cases have been documented, compared to just 70 at the start of March. Deaths nationally have topped 22,000. The pandemic has generally hit the East harder than the West.
Arizona’s doubling time for deaths stands at about seven days, with a total of about 2,400 deaths. New York’s doubling time is six days with more than 10,000 deaths and Massachusetts has a doubling time of four days with 800 deaths, according to statistics published by the New York Times.
The doubling time for new cases in Maricopa County has slowed to about 12.3 days. Coconino County has 243 cases, with a doubling time of 10.5 days.
Only a handful of areas in the whole nation at this point have a doubling time of less than four days.
However, the number of new cases reported daily has leveled off or declined nationally, despite a big increase in the number of tests. Federal officials have lowered projected deaths from 100,000 to 250,000 to more like 60,000 and have shifted to debating when it might be safe to at least partially restart the economy.
But that moment looks more distant for Navajo and Apache counties, with some of the highest per capita infection rates and a continuing acceleration in the rate of new cases. The new cases reported still likely represent only a fraction of the actual cases in the community, given the continued shortage of testing limited mostly to people with serious symptoms. Between 25 and 50 percent of those infected probably aren’t showing significant symptoms, according to a growing body of research.
Despite the new data release, Arizona still lags behind many other states when it comes to the amount of information available to local officials and residents.
Editor Trudy Balcom contributed to this report.