Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S.
The Navajo Nation now has the highest per capita infection rate in the country. grandriver / E+ / Getty Images
The Navajo Nation, which is spread out through the American Southwest mostly in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, now has the highest per capita Covid-19 infection rate in the country, as CNN reported.
The Navajo Nation's alarming surge in cases is another example of an underserved and historically marginalized minority population being particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
As CNN reported, the Navajo Nation had a reported population of 173,667 on the 2010 census. With 4,002 cases, the Native American territory now has 2,304.41 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people, overtaking New York has the most infected area per capita.
New York state now has a rate of 1,806 cases per 100,000 and New Jersey is at 1,668 cases per 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Navajo Nation already has high risk factors of comorbidities, including diabetes, lung disease, high-blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease. There's also a lack of running water, medical infrastructure, internet access, information and adequate housing, according to The Washington Post.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told The Washington Post last week that the Nation had not "one cent" of the $8 billion that was allocated to Native American communities as part of the CARES Act passed in Washington on March 18.
The surge in cases in the Navajo Nation has overwhelmed rural hospitals that are ill-equipped to deal with the novel coronavirus. Near Gallup, New Mexico, there is only one hospital within 110 miles of the town center. Now, the hospital's eight intensive care beds are all full, meaning coronavirus patients with severe breathing problems are sent away from both the facility and the adjacent Gallup Indian Medical Center, which attends exclusively to the Native American community, according to The Associated Press.
Only five of 12 Indian Health Services facilities in the Navajo Nation are tracking recovered coronavirus cases, meaning the number of infected patients is probably higher than what is reported. The Department of Health is now asking all facilities to keep an accurate count of recovered cases, according to the Navajo Times. So far, 24,886 Covid-19 tests have been administered with 18,380 negative results.
"The Navajo Nation is now engaged in large-scale testing and we are now testing at a greater rate than any other state in the country based on population," said Nez, as the Navajo Times reported. "Without the weekend lockdowns that we've implemented based on advice from our health care experts, we would be seeing higher numbers."
Nez added that he estimates about 80 percent of the Navajo Nation population is staying home, but the 20 percent who continue to venture out are still spreading the virus.
The Navajo Nation has implemented some of the country's strictest stay-at-home orders. Even essential workers who leave their house must have a documented letter from their manager with a verifiable contact number, as CNN reported.However, one of the reasons for the spread is that Navajo tend to live in close quarters with multiple generations in one household. For the 30 to 40 percent of the population that lacks adequate running water, it is also impossible to wash hands frequently and properly.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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