Mobile testing unit testing at UNHS in Navajo Mountain yesterday and today, and at UNHS in Monument Valley on Thursday and Friday.
Mobile testing may result in increase in diagnosis of COVID-19 cases
It has been more than one month since San Juan County residents have been impacted by the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus triggered by a worldwide pandemic.
One month in, 12 local residents have been diagnosed with the virus, with two reported hospitalizations. But that number may increase dramatically.
At the request of Utah Navajo Health Systems (UNHS), the State of Utah has sent a mobile testing unit to the area.
Coordinating with UNHS, the unit will be able to administer a large number of tests this week to residents of the Navajo Mountain and Monument Valley/Oljato areas.
As a result of the testing unit, San Juan County Public Health Director Kirk Benge said the number of confirmed cases may increase rapidly because “we will test a lot of people.”
“The count of confirmed cases will be driven primarily as a result of improved testing and case identification, not as a result of the further recent spread of the virus,” explained Benge.
Public health officials state that although social distancing and other steps taken by county residents have curbed the advance of the virus, there is no indication how long life will continue to be upended by the pandemic.
Benge has issued a statement to county residents that is printed on page A4 of this issue of the San Juan Record.
Confirmed cases have been identified in three communities in southern San Juan County, including Montezuma Creek/Aneth, Monument Valley/Oljato, and Navajo Mountain.
There are no confirmed cases in other local communities, including Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello.
Getting an accurate count of the actual number of infected residents is complicated by several factors, including the state borders and sovereignty issues with the Navajo Nation.
“Right now we have 12 positive cases, but the actual state of residence of three of them is still being verified,” said Benge.
The Navajo Mountain and Monument Valley/Oljato communities straddle the Utah – Arizona state line and public health officials want to ensure that patients are counted just once.
The Navajo Department of Health and San Juan Public Health report different totals on the number of patients from San Juan County.
On April 13, the Navajo Nation reported 11 cases in San Juan County, in contrast to the nine reported by the San Juan Public Health Department.
The Navajo Times reports that two Navajo Mountain residents died from the virus.
Douglas DeJolie, 58, and his mother Jean DeJolie, 81, both residents of the Navajo Mountain area, were reported to have passed away from the effects of the virus while they were being treated in a hospital in Arizona.
Both are reported to have had several of the underlying medical conditions that have resulted in many deaths.
The Public Health Department is restricted by law from publishing patient details, but Benge reports they are still trying to determine the actual residencies of all the cases in San Juan County, UT.
The most recent department report does not list any fatalities. It simply states that two of the cases have required hospitalization.
As of the press deadline, there are no patients hospitalized in San Juan County.
There have been more than 800 cases on the Navajo Nation, with 24 reported fatalities.
Benge suggested that although a number of factors may explain why the virus has spread so aggressively on the Navajo Nation, “the main factor is a failure to take social distancing seriously. Avoiding group gatherings is a key.”
Benge stated the virus was unknowingly transmitted to a large number of people at a religious gathering that was held in Chilchinbeto, AZ on March 7.
The Navajo Nation imposed a 57-hour curfew on the entire reservation over the weekend. Benge stated one of the reasons for the curfew may have been because officials heard that large gatherings were still taking place and had been planned for the Easter weekend.
Benge did not give a date when asked when the current restrictions may be lifted.
“The declaration of a Public Health Emergency in San Juan County is tied to the dates set by the state,” said Benge. “That declaration will be lifted when the state decides.”
Benge adds that a subsequent restriction on leisure travel is set to expire on April 20. However, he says the Public Health Board will meet on April 17 to address the issue.
“The leisure travel restrictions were designed to be temporary and will expire,” explained Benge.