UCSF doctors, nurses help Navajo Nation's overwhelmed healthcare system

ByDion Lim and Tim Didion KGO logo
Saturday, July 18, 2020
UCSF doctors, nurses help Navajo Nation's COVID crisis
UCSF volunteers spent months helping Navajo Nation's overwhelmed healthcare system with rise in COVID-19 cases across sections of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For members of the Navajo Nation, which stretches across sections of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, the battle against COVID-19 has been an epic struggle for survival. Several waves of volunteers from University of California, San Francisco have spent months helping the Nation's overwhelmed healthcare system, led by Dr. Sri Shamasunder, M.D.

"During April, May, June we added over 40 nurses and doctors to support the surge in Navajo Nation," Dr. Shamasunder remembers.

Cases were surging so quickly that the Nation's leadership mandated some of the strictest measures in the country, including universal mask requirements and a mandatory weekend shelter-in-place order.

As doctors worked furiously, infections climbed into the thousands.

But finally, the Nation's discipline and hard work seem to be showing results. While new deaths are still being reported, the curve of new infections is now flattening.

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"It's taken severe measures for a long period of time for this plateauing to start to be seen in Navajo Nation," explains Dr. Shamasunder.

But just as those tough choices were hardening on the Nation's land, nearby Arizona was moving in the other direction. President Donald Trump hosted a major rally, and gyms, restaurants and other businesses were allowed to reopen.

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Now, the state is battling a resurgence with thousands of new cases.

"We're seeing surges in Texas, surges in Florida, surges in Arizona," says Dr. Shamasunder

He says teams are working to keep the Arizona surge from spreading back into the Navajo Nation, where the shelter-in-place order is still in effect. A struggle to preserve hard won gains, and perhaps a cautionary tale for states across the country.

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