Teresa Peters makes homemade masks in Gallup, New Mexico. (REUTERS/Donovan Quintero)

While New York City, the proclaimed epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic, scrounged for aid and resources at the peak of the nation’s crisis, there was a harder-hit U.S. hot spot suffering in the shadows: Navajo Nation. 

Navajo Nation, straddling Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, is the largest Native American reservation, with more than 175,000 residents. Indeed, it is just one of more than 300 native territories ravaged by coronavirus. Long Islanders have joined the effort to help provide these reservations with essential resources, as exemplified by the CANA Foundation, a Locust Valley-based nonprofit horse advocacy group, which organized a fundraiser to send face masks to all the native territories that need them. 

“If we had shortages, they had nothing,” says Manda Kalimian, founder of the CANA Foundation. “The native communities are in dire need. They’re always in need. They need masks and they need help during this COVID crisis.”

Native Americans live under a different social structure than many Americans. Rather than a nuclear family structure, native familial units can include many extended family members all living in the same home. When there isn’t even running water, constant handwashing let alone social distancing are no more than distant theories.

Since Native American tribes cannot collect taxes, the stay-at-home order has essentially halted their economy. They are entirely dependent on income from casinos and other enterprises to maintain their operations and well, gambling isn’t on anyone’s mind right now. 

Navajo Nation amassed a 3.4 percent coronavirus infection rate, according to the Navajo Nation Department of Health. For comparison, the infection rate across New York state is 1.9 percent.

“I would say that one-third of the population doesn’t have electricity or running water,” Dr. Sriram Shamasunder, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco told HealthDay. “That means that while ‘shelter-in-place’ may for us be an inconvenience, for many Native Americans it’s an impossibility.”

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Related Story: 13 Ways To Donate To Help Fight The Coronavirus Pandemic

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