UCSF team of volunteers help Navajo Nation hit hard by COVID-19

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Over the past week, the Navajo Nation has been overwhelmed with new cases of the coronavirus, a count that's jumped from a little over 3,000 to nearly 4,000 in a matter of days.

The massive reservation stretches across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

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"We've seen the Navajo Nation be the highest caseload per capita in the entire country," says Sriram Shamasunder M.D., at UCSF.
Dr. Shamasunder is leading a volunteer team from UCSF that first arrived on the reservation last month. In that time they've treated scores of patients with more coming every, in an area with limited resources.

"We're taking care of unsheltered people in a motel where like seven or eight family members are staying and they lost their father and son," says Dr. Shamasunder

He says the situation is so challenging that a second wave of volunteers are set fly out of San Francisco this week. Part of their mission will be outreach to families traditionally isolated from essential services.

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"The most striking is when we have elders who come in who are mostly Navajo speaking, and they will a lot of times only speak a little bit of English," says nurse Heidi Clark.
They are working beside doctors from the Navajo Indian health service, which cares for the population of more than 150,000 people. While that's a fraction of the population of San Francisco, the Nation has several times as many cases.

Dr. Shamasunder believes it's a fact of the COVID-19 crisis the entire country should come to grips with.

"I think this is laying bare a lot of the structural inequities. Essentially that people of color in the U.S. Are getting hit the hardest," said Dr. Shamasunder.

The volunteer effort is being run through UCSF's HEAL program, which sends volunteers to treat struggling communities around the world.

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