US First Lady Dr Jill Biden spent the first day of a two-day trip to the Navajo Nation on Thursday hearing from female leaders about the needs of the country’s largest Native American reservation, the AP is reporting.
Biden discussed the effects of the pandemic on their community, along with vaccination efforts and their declining infection rates.
The trip comes as the tribe reported no Covid-related deaths for 11 of the past 12 days. It’s also reporting far fewer daily cases than early on in the pandemic when the reservation had one of the country’s highest per-capita infection rates.
The first lady kicked off her visit to the US Southwest with a tour of a vaccination clinic where early efforts to get people registered for shots helped propel the state’s standing as a national leader in vaccine uptake.
The trip is Biden’s third to the sprawling reservation which extends into three states and covers 70,000 sq km, and her first as first lady.
On Friday, Biden will visit a boarding school and a hospital both of which the tribe runs under contract with the federal government to administer vaccines.
The tribe is approaching reopening slowly because of coronavirus variants identified among infections on their reservation.
About half the reservation’s population is fully vaccinated, roughly twice the US rate.
Residents of the Navajo Nation must wear masks and travel only for essential activity. Tribal roads are still closed to visitors.
On Monday, the nation plans to reopen tribal parks to residents and increase capacity for businesses, gatherings and tribal casinos to 50%.
“We’re not celebrating yet,” Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez said during a virtual town hall on Wednesday. “The pandemic is still here.”
Nez called the Biden-Harris administration “a key partner in our response to Covid-19”.
President Joe Biden has proposed increasing the budget of the chronically underfunded Indian Health Service by US$2.2 billion. The agency provides primary care to more than two million Native Americans.