Residents who live near the base of the 10,300-foot mountain or in homes scattered across the sandstone mesas south of Lake Powell lack traditional street addresses. The public high school and chapter house — the Navajo Nation’s regional government office — use an Arizona zip code. Locals get their mail through post office boxes in Arizona.
San Juan County, Utah, where the majority of the Navajo Mountain residents live, had not yet reported any deaths from the coronavirus as of Monday. But multiple locals told The Salt Lake Tribune that at least two people — Douglas DeJolie, 58, and his mother Jean DeJolie, 81 — died in the hospital late last month after contracting the virus several weeks earlier.
Kirk Benge, the director of the San Juan Public Health Department, said he is working with state and tribal authorities to confirm the details of the case.
“This may have been complicated by the lack of physical addresses,” Benge said. Typically, if someone from Salt Lake City is hospitalized in another city such as Denver, he explained, the case is easily counted in Utah. It’s more complicated when the address on hospital admission forms traces back to a zip code in a different state than the patient’s residence.
“We want to make sure we're not double counting cases,” Benge said. “We want to make sure that we're not counting someone as a Utah case while Arizona is also counting it as an Arizona case.”
The local Navajo Mountain clinic, which is run by the Utah Navajo Health System, is open only four days per week. The DeJolies were examined at an Indian Health Service clinic in Inscription House, Ariz., and both were later hospitalized in Arizona.
“We’re a sort of no man’s land,” said San Juan County Commissioner Willie Grayeyes, a resident of Navajo Mountain who said there are likely more confirmed cases of the virus than is reflected in the official county count.
“We’re a very remote community,” he said, noting that the area is often lost in the shuffle of federal, state, county and tribal aid because of its unique geography. The DeJolies reportedly ran low on supplies during their self-quarantine, a problem which Grayeyes fears could be happening to people throughout Navajo Mountain.
“Right now, I’m sure families are limited on food provisions due to school closures, students being home and the limitation of travel,” Grayeyes said. “Whatever is left in the community stores has been cleaned out or is running low.”
“The school district is being incredibly supportive,” Rock said, adding that residents have been crafting creative responses to the outbreak.
“There's kind of a survival instinct in this community,” he said. “The nearest fire truck is 90 miles away. The nearest ambulance is 35 miles away. So our community has to be very self-reliant.”
There is also a creative solution underway for the zip code issue, though it will take longer to be implemented.
“We started doing this project purely for voter registration purposes,” Ellerbeck said. “But the longer we’ve been doing it, we’ve seen the ways addresses make such a huge impact on people’s lives from package delivery to access to basic services — and especially health care. Being able to find where somebody lives makes a huge difference for all of those things.”
Navajo Mountain would have been receiving their Plus Code signs in April if it hadn’t been for the coronavirus-related delays, Ellerbeck added, a bitter irony considering the address problems already associated with the outbreak.
“You may be young and healthy, but please be mindful of your elders – your parents and grandparents,” Nez said in a statement. “Their immune system may not be as strong as yours and they need to be protected. ... Projections indicate that we have not reached the peak of the spread of COVID-19, so please take every precaution and stay home as much as possible."