An Oasis in the Desert
Although it didn’t make as many national headlines, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York state and New Jersey in May for having the highest per-capita infection rate for COVID-19 in the country. There were 2,300 cases per 100,000 Navajo, compared to 1,806 per 100,000 in New York state and 1,688 per 100,000 in New Jersey.
By June, there were more than 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the 173,000-plus members of the Navajo reservation.
Chris Morgan ’14 found out about this through social media. “I started helping friends and family, mailing them items because it was so much harder to find them back in St. Louis compared to here in Phoenix,” he said. “And there was this nurse who was working at the Navajo Nation at a clinic. (She) made a (social media) post saying they needed disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, wipes ... the full nine yards.”
Morgan started sending supplies but soon realized there was a growing need. He saw the pandemic’s effects on the Navajo, noting the second-largest Native American tribe shuttered businesses on weekends to contain the virus.
“You have the great-grandmother, the grandmother, the mother, her kids and then the grandkids all in one house,” Morgan said about living conditions that made it easy for the virus to spread.
As the Navajo sought supplies, he stepped up and offered to assist in finding, procuring and sending items like sanitizer and masks. Then he decided to take necessary items to the affected area, visiting communities like Kayenta, Many Farms, Chinle and Tuba City, all in Arizona, and the Navajo capital, Window Rock, Ariz.
“From Tuba City to Kayenta, which is about 70 miles, there was one grocery store. And you go from Kayenta down to Many Forms, Chinle, there's one grocery store ... They have about 13 grocery stores on the whole nation.”
The remote and undeveloped nature of the Navajo Nation requires additional assistance.
“It’s becoming a priority for me to get body wipes so people can freshen up,” Morgan said, noting as many as 40% of the Navajo population lacks running water and/or electricity. "There are people who are literally spending weeks just looking for one can of Lysol. COVID isn't racist, doesn't care about your wealth, your job, your social media status. COVID's after everybody. It's like I told somebody the other day — It's crazy how much a can of Lysol makes someone happy. … It's so easy how to make a difference for other people."
Morgan’s home in Arizona is a stockpile of goods he’s bought or received for the Navajo.
“I literally have dreams (about) hand sanitizer in my house,” he said.
Assistance comes from organized groups and individuals who visited the Navajo while Morgan mailed and delivered donated items to individual families and organizations and handed out supplies to people who made the trek to Phoenix. Even pets and their needs were considered.
“I tell people, ‘I will take whatever you give, as long as I know it can fit.’ I just try to stay within what's essential. I can't be mad if somebody says ‘no’ or they have another cause that they want to do. I appreciate everything and every help that somebody wants to give. I just want people to realize there's ways that we can make a difference and a lot of the time it doesn't even take much.”