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NM Gov. Fights Major COVID-19 Outbreak In Navajo Nation After Epic Federal Failure

The worst coronavirus outbreak in the country is now in Navajo Nation and the Trump administration’s response has been so inadequate that New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has stepped in to work with the nation and do what the federal government will not.
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The worst coronavirus outbreak in the country is now in Navajo Nation and the Trump administration’s response has been so inadequate that New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has stepped in to work with the nation and do what the federal government will not.

This week, CNN reported that the Navajo Nation has surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita coronavirus infection rate in the U.S. The nation spreads over Arizona, Utah and New Mexico but the city of Gallup, N.M., which serves as a regional hub for the Navajo and other Native American pueblos, is currently in second place as having the most new cases, per capita, in the last two weeks and in first place for the most deaths during that period.

On The Rachel Maddow Show last night, Grisham said that the outbreak has been so bad that some days two patients an hour had to be transferred from that remote part of the state to Albuquerque and Santa Fe where there are larger hospitals with more acute and critical care facilities.

The reason the outbreak is so severe, Grisham explained, is that intergenerational families live in very tight quarters “hundreds of miles from food, water, health care services, just the basics,” thus making it “ripe for having containment issues that you can’t get your arms around.”

Grisham said she “sounded the alarm to the White House months ago” about the impact of the pandemic on sovereign nations but, not surprisingly, the response was terribly inadequate. So the state of New Mexico stepped in and partnered with the Navajo Nation to get the job done.

GRISHAM: I want to give a shout-out to the Navajo Nation. Both the council and the Navajo Nation president have been good partners and really effective leaders by having some of the strictest stay-at-home orders and curfews in the country, and we're seeing a flattening in Gallup, that’s in Mckinley county, and in San Juan county, as a result, and we're seeing the transmission rate finally beginning to decline. But we are not out of the woods in Indian country around this country, in Indian country in New Mexico, and not in the Navajo Nation either.

Grisham is also working with the “incredible” director of the Indian Health Services, Adm. Michael D. Weahkee to take over testing and contract tracing because, she said, they can do it faster. The state is also investing in more broadband, water, electricity, and public safety and emergency response systems for that area.

Despite the Navajo outbreak, New Mexico is currently the only state to meet the White House gating criteria for Phase 1 of reopening.

Grisham has caught the eye of the Biden campaign. Asked by Maddow to confirm reports that she is being vetted as a running mate, Grisham dodged and deflected but did not deny. She also hinted she’d be glad to take the job.

GRISHAM: I'm a big Joe Biden fan, and I'm doing my part, as the first-ever Democratic Hispanic governor in the country to make sure that we're getting out Hispanic voters and minority votes across the country. So that speculation, you put into vetting, I don't know if that is an endorsement, Rachel, but I appreciate your kind words. We're working on the campaign specifics that I should be doing, the chair-elect of the DGA, and then the rest of my work is to make sure, to your point, where you have significant issues going on in the state, you need to be focused on getting them addressed, and you know, New Mexico was the first state to test asymptomatic individuals. We tested 7% of our population, we can do better than that, and will. We are. We’ve lowered our transmission rate. We're meeting our criteria. We've been very slow and steady.

But I am troubled today, I was troubled yesterday. We need to do everything in our power to disrupt the lack of federal responding and support to protect our sovereign nations in New Mexico. … We’re going to get a hold of this virus and we're going to create a system where no one in the federal government can put the Navajo Nation or any sovereign nation, in harm's way ever again.

Whether she gets the VP slot or not, I predict we’ll be hearing a lot from Michelle Lujan Grisham on the national stage in one role or another.

This is part of our continuing coverage of the 2020 elections.

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