The US government’s initiative to send half a billion free COVID-19 tests to Americans will struggle to reach one of the communities most affected by the pandemic – Native Americans living on rural reservations.
The administration launched a website — COVIDTests.gov — on January 19 that links to an online US Postal Service order form where people can sign up for up to four free tests per household.
But experts say it’s unclear how the tests will reach families living in places like Vanderwagen, New Mexico, a rural community of about 2,000 citizens spread over 440 square kilometers of the Navajo Nation.
Most of the residents live on unpaved roads that have no name and live in unnumbered houses. According to EJ John, a research analyst at Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute and a Navajo Nation citizen who grew up in Vanderwagen, residents who want to receive mail should rent a post office box.
“The post office closed a few years ago,” he said, explaining that the USPS had set up a pair of cluster mailboxes outside a local trading post. But not everyone can pay the required six months’ rent in one go, John said.
“You’ll see many names on a box,” he said. “Many people often end up sharing them.”
Vanderwagen people, as in other rural Aboriginal communities across America, face other challenges in obtaining testing.
“Anything that requires you to log into a website and enter an address, whether for shopping online or trying to sign up for auto insurance, is a challenge,” John said.
Most of the Navajo homes are located far from the main road and lack basic amenities such as electricity and running water. And while the White House has announced a toll-free number that people can call to order kits, that doesn’t help everyone.
“Even where there is cellphone coverage, you are lucky to have phones that allow just talk and text,” John said. “Landline coverage isn’t as available as it used to be, due to issues with rights of way and providers leaving the area.”
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Ziants said last week the administration is working to ensure that test kits reach the communities where they are most needed – areas stricken by poverty, poor housing, lack of transportation and inadequate medical care. – All factors that reduce a population to a higher risk for COVID-19.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index, Vanderwagen is one of the most vulnerable places in America.
The VOA contacted the Indian Health Service (IHS), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provides health care to federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Natives in more than 160 facilities.
“We have home testing kits that we distribute to tribal organizations and urban Indian organizations,” Jennifer Bushick, IHS director of public affairs, told VOA. “We had anticipated the current surge, and our service supply center did, in fact, order a lot of test kits at home… ahead of time.
“We also have community health nurses who go to people’s homes with testing kits,” she said. “Sometimes when we have community events, we will make sure we have test kits to distribute. Our service units decide how much they are paying per family. ,
A citizen of the Navajo Nation, who asked not to be identified, told VOA via Facebook that test kits are not currently available at Gallup Indian Medical Center, the largest facility serving the Navajo people — including Vanderwagen. Is. A VOA call to the center was sent to IHS Headquarters in Washington to confirm her statement.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said Friday he is in talks with congressional leaders to help obtain testing kits, masks and hand sanitizer.
“We appreciate the Biden-Harris administration’s proactive approach by providing free at-home testing kits, but we need more action to address the circumstances unique to Aboriginal countries and families,” Nez said.
He also expressed his thanks to Congressman Tom O’Heller of Arizona, who sent a letter to the Giants on Friday requesting these vital supplies.
By mid-2021, the Navajo Nation had achieved control of the pandemic.
Today, however, the Navajo Nation Department of Health reports that cases are on the rise: As of January 28, it has confirmed a total of 48,977 COVID cases and 1,612 deaths.
The toll-free number to order test kits is 1-800-232-0233.