WHITERIVER—The White Mountain Apache Tribe is showing signs of progress in their fight against COVID-19, showing only one new case on August 2 and two new cases on August 3, according to the White Mountain Apache Tribe Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Speaking off the record to The Independent on Monday, one official there said the effort “appears to have flattened the curve.” The official asked not to be named.

In context, the tribal EOC Facebook page documents 2,271 COVID cases since April 1 — that pencils out to be an average of about 18 per day. Of the 2,271 cases, 2,110 people have recovered, 127 are classified as “active” and 34 people have died.

That suggests that of those who contract the disease, 1.5% have died from it. The Independent reached out to the health care authorities in Whiteriver to ask what accounts for this recent success. One woman commented that the doctors have been doing “amazing work” including “aggressive treatment” “contract tracing” and partnering between the community and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.”

Because of the organization’s “restrictions on talking to the media,” one doctor, with whom The Independent spoke, would not comment except in writing, and the organization’s answers have to be approved by administrators in Phoenix, and that can take awhile. But the daily count is substantially lower than the national daily average, the woman said.

The WMAT has been more aggressive than the state in limiting activities on the reservation. It has been closed for months and in March woodcutting was the only outdoor activity allowed. The Tribe did not follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s loosening of state restrictions when the state embarked on an incremental re-opening in May.

Regarding partnering with “the community” non-WMAT helpers have been busy. Eric Kramer for example, travelled to Winslow last week and picked up pallets of fresh drinking water which had arrived at a church there in a semi-truck under the direction of the Navajo County Democratic Party. According to an AZcentral article on July 17, 10% of the WMAT members have no fresh drinking water. Using a rental truck from there, Kramer delivered two full pallets to Fort Apache, two pallets and 400 masks to San Carlos and one other load to Lake Tolani in the Navajo Nation.

Additionally, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other unions have raised tens of thousands of dollars for an initiative called the Navajo Relief Efforts, including a semi-truck donated by Safeway Supermarket which delivered non-perishable food and water to Window Rock. (See guest column in today’s paper.)

The issue that has bedeviled just about everyone about this pandemic is what measures are the most effective in combating this particular virus. Well-know American experts urge masks as a main weapon in this fight.

Scientist in Holland say that masks don’t work according to an Reuter’s July 29 article. Persons who seem to have found political succor in “shutdowns” are adamant that shutdowns protect society’s most vulnerable. Others like the government of Sweden, and Oxford University’s Sunetra Gupta, professor of epidemiology in an August interview with the magazine Reason, claim that shutdowns will not in the long run protect anyone, that the human immune system will develop a defense as it is introduced to this new strain of coronavirus, and interfering with that will cause more trouble in the future.

Meantime on July 29, the WMAT drafted a proposal for an incremental re-opening of the reservation.

Under the plan which has yet to be presented or approved, there will be four phases. In order for the phases to advance, the draft plan says that there must be 14 days of “downward trajectory between each phase with no Shelter in Place activation.”

It is assumed that the trajectory language refers to COVID statistics. It is unknown when the Tribal Council will take the matter up. Calls to WMAT Chairwomen Gwendena Lee-Gatewood for comment were not returned.

Whatever the final word on cause and effect that is applied to the WMAT’s efforts, it must be encouraging for all those fighting the fight there to see a light at the tunnel’s end and a “flattening of the curve.”

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

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