Residents of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation are currently seeing a rapid rise in cases of COVID-19. These reservations overlap with counties in Northeast Arizona, Southeast Utah, and Northwest New Mexico which have some of the highest per capita infection rates in the country.
High infection rates are cause for alarm anywhere, but demographic and hospital data from the counties overlapping the reservations reveal additional challenges for the Navajo Nation and the Hopi. These counties have low median income (which on its own is correlated with worse health outcomes), higher rates of medical conditions like diabetes, and less access to medical care than surrounding counties.
For example, Arizona’s Navajo County, which has significant geographic overlap with the Navajo Nation, ranks in the top 7th percentile nationally for per capita deaths attributed to diabetes, a condition which greatly increases the chances of more serious outcomes from COVID-19 and in the bottom 7th percentile for median travel time to nearby hospitals (neighboring Apache County ranks in the bottom 2nd percentile for the median travel time to hospitals).
These worrying statistics stand in stark contrast to other nearby, more affluent counties. Compared to Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix and is the county with the highest household income in Arizona ($61k compared to $40k in Navajo County or $32k in Apache County), Navajo County has a per capita death rate from diabetes complications that is more than twice as high (57.9 deaths per 100k compared to 24.5 deaths per 100k people). In Maricopa County, people need to travel 9.25 minutes on average to reach a hospital, compared to over an hour in Apache County.
Additional factors further highlight the risks that the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation face. Through a partnership with Safegraph, we analyzed mobility patterns via data collected from mobile devices, which show that many residents of these two reservations are not adhering to social distancing guidelines that have been effective in other parts of the country . People in these counties are still traveling, on average, 10–15 miles per day, compared to under 5 miles in other parts of Arizona. Because of the rural nature of Navajo County, higher mobility makes sense but will likely lead to greater transmission of COVID-19.
While controlling the spread of COVID-19 within the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation communities is possible, it will require a concerted effort. However, that effort is direly needed, as the risk factors uncovered by our analysis show.
To explore more data on COVID-19, please go to covid19.topos.com