Volunteers Come From Near And Far To Help The Navajo Nation During COVID-19 Outbreak

By Laurel Morales
Published: Monday, May 4, 2020 - 7:16am
Updated: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 8:09am

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Gallup, New Mexico
Laurel Morales/KJZZ
Gallup, New Mexico, has become a hotspot for coronavirus.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise on the Navajo Nation, so do the number of people wanting to help. And those relief efforts are coming from near and far. 

A group of 21 doctors and nurses flew to the Navajo Nation from the University of California San Francisco. Volunteer physician Aylin Ulku is helping in Gallup, New Mexico, where the border town has dealt with an overwhelming outbreak.

“We have come in solidarity truly to walk in the footsteps of our colleagues both Navajo and non-Navajo serving the Navajo people being extra hands extra skill for them because of the overwhelming surge of patients coming in with coronavirus,” Ulku said.

"We have come in solidarity truly to walk in the footsteps of our colleagues both Navajo and non-Navajo serving the Navajo people ..."
— Aylin Ulku, volunteer physician

The group who caught the virus were homeless, so medical staff worked with the community to find a way to isolate them. Instead of a hospital, Ulku has been assigned a hotel where she is seeing 30-40 patients a day. 

Because the reality is that, yes, maybe we get attention as those who come from other places,” Ulku said. “But my colleagues here have been working for six weeks without a day off 14 hour days taking on incredible amounts of need.” 

A Native-controlled nonprofit called COPE is staffing the hotels and running supplies. They’re also training contact tracers, sharing data, and connecting volunteers to places like Gallup.

COPE executive director Nitumigaabow Champagne even connected an Amish community in Michigan with the Navajo Nation. A team of researchers designed a durable, breathable mask and tested it in a lab.

“The Amish community took those designs and they actually make them then they get sterilized by volunteers and then they get shipped to us directly,” Champagne said. “And then we put in the distribution and hand them out to community members.” 

Champagne said it’s a great example of how one community can help another across the country.

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