Yazzie, 31, is one of eight women helping run the health clinic in Navajo Mountain, a chapter of the Navajo Nation that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. Photography by Sharon Chischilly for Elemental

How a Navajo Nation Health Worker is Treating America’s Worst Covid-19 Outbreak

Roxanna Yazzie works long hours to keep her community safe from Covid-19

Wudan Yan
Published in
7 min readJan 12, 2021

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Even in winter, when temperatures drop to below freezing and the dirt roads are coated in snow or ice, Roxanna Yazzie slings her clinic badge over her down jacket, pulls up the hood of her green jacket, and makes for work.

Yazzie, 31, is one of eight women helping run the health clinic in Navajo Mountain, a chapter of the Navajo Nation that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. However centrally located Navajo Mountain appears on a map, it takes about two hours to drive to the nearest emergency room. In mid-March, the Navajo Nation was particularly hard hit by Covid-19, with cases peaking a month later. As of May, the nation had the highest Covid-19 infection rate out of any of the U.S. states. Approximately 500 people live in Navajo Mountain, Yazzie says, and the community lost a few elders to Covid-19 earlier on during the outbreak. Case numbers have come down since the spring, largely owing to masks, curfews, and weekend lockdowns. Even as cases spike across most of the United States, few people are testing positive for Covid-19 in Navajo Mountain, Yazzie says.

When she gets in, Yazzie puts on her PPE: N95 mask, face shield, gown, and gloves. Even though Covid-19 cases have gone down since the start of the pandemic, Yazzie and her coworkers, Registered Nurse Modessa Hancock (left) and Medical assistant Sonya Sloan (right) still treat every patient like they might have it.

Before work, Yazzie is out of bed by 4:30 or 5:00 every morning. Some days, she first feeds her livestock, then she prepares breakfast for her husband and their three school-aged kids. She always makes a hot meal before she leaves for work — fry bread with potatoes, eggs, and bacon or ham. She skips breakfast herself. “For some reason, I can’t eat breakfast. I’m a coffee person, which gets me through the day,” Yazzie says.

A few minutes before 8:00, Yazzie leaves for work in her scrubs, after she gets her kids ready for their online…

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