The Utah Department of Health has deployed a mobile COVID-19 testing task force to the Navajo Nation. It started in Navajo Mountain on Monday and will move on to Monument Valley on Thursday and Friday. So far all 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Juan County have been on the Navajo Nation.
The mobile testing task force is a van with three nurses and 1,500 test kits aboard. The nurses will be able to administer hundreds of tests a day, according to the state health department, and the tests are free to anyone — regardless of tribal affiliation or state residency.
The tests are being processed by the state lab in Salt Lake City, and results will be available in four to five days, the state health department said. The mobile unit tested over 80 people in Navajo Mountain on Monday, according to Michael Jensen, CEO of Utah Navajo Health System. He said they tested 77 more people by noon on Tuesday.
The task force is serving two communities on the Navajo Nation in Utah where COVID-19 has been spreading, Jensen said. The task force is set up at the UNHS clinic in Navajo Mountain — where a mother and son died in late March after being sent home to self-quarantine — and will be at the UNHS clinic in Monument Valley later this week.
Jensen said his clinics have tested around 60 people since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He added that the extensive testing this week will help stop the spread of COVID-19 by allowing UNHS to identify people who are positive and help them self-quarantine.
“If they do come back positive, we can get them the resources they need,” Jensen said. “We can send them food baskets and call to check on them.”
For any Native American patients who test positive, UNHS will be offering free mental health counseling over the telephone, said Shawn Begay, the clinic’s communications director.
“If you get the diagnosis, that could be life altering,“ Begay said. “And we feel like having access to licensed professionals who can help them navigate this would be exceptional.”
Hank Stevens, president of Navajo Mountain’s local government — which is called a chapter — said he is glad the mobile testing is taking place.
“I think it’s needed out here in this Navajo Mountain community, since we’re not anywhere near hospitals or clinics that can operate at that magnitude,” Stevens said.
The mobile testing could create a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in San Juan County, according to Kirk Benge, director of San Juan Public Health, who said it’s important to put those results into context.
“I’m trying to let the community know, if our numbers jump, it’s not because 20 more people were exposed,” Benge said. “They were already exposed, but now we know about it.”
UNHS is a private, non-profit medical provider that contracts with the Navajo Area Indian Health Service to provide medical care in San Juan County Utah. It serves both Native and non-Native patients and has out-patient clinics on the Navajo Nation in Navajo Mountain, Monument Valley and Montezuma Creek, as well as a clinic in Blanding.