COVID-19 cases grow, expand into Blanding

The number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in San Juan County is expected to grow in coming days as the results of a mobile testing unit continue to roll in.

The virus has infected residents of most communities in the county, including Blanding, Bluff, Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain.

While the numbers are increasing, officials state that a large part of the increase is due to increased testing rather than a dramatic growth in infections.

An estimated 1,200 tests were given during four days of testing in the past week, including approximately 1,050 tests in Monument Valley and an additional 150 tests in Navajo Mountain.

Additional testing kits have been distributed to health care providers, including 38 tests to Montezuma Creek, and 50 tests for health care workers in Shiprock, NM.

Utah Navajo Health System worked with the State of Utah to coordinate the testing. It is anticipated that the mobile unit may return to San Juan County for additional testing.

The free service was offered to anyone who wanted to be tested. A large number of area residents took advantage of the opportunity, including people from throughout the region. Nearly half of those tested are from Arizona.

The residency of the patient was not a factor in administering the tests. However, the results will be shared and reported by the individual public health agencies in each state.

As a result, the overall results of the mobile testing effort will be shared across multiple agencies. Officials state that more than 50 positive diagnoses were made by the testing unit, with more results forthcoming.

A variety of factors have contributed to a significant outbreak of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation. The impact has been exacerbated in part because of the ambiguity caused by the state line and sovereignty questions with the Navajo Nation.

In the past week, the deaths of two San Juan County residents were verified by the State of Utah. The mother and son, residents of Navajo Mountain, passed away in March in a hospital in Tuba City, AZ. They were originally counted as Arizona residents by state and local public health agencies.

The San Juan Public Health Department has already noted an increase in COVID-19 cases in the past week and that growth will continue as the mobile testing results are verified.

The number of verified cases in San Juan County has grown from twelve on April 14 to 34 one week later.

Even as the numbers are growing, there is a movement to relax some of the restrictions facing county residents.

The San Juan Public Health Department adjusted the public health order on April 16, including relaxing some of the prior travel restrictions. See the story on page A4.

Public Health Director Kirk Benge said social distancing restrictions are working. “We see a somewhat decreased risk of overrunning our hospitals,” said Benge.

“While occasional cases will pop up in the foreseeable future, we won’t see exponential growth. We are moving in the right direction.”

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