The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Why Gallup, New Mexico?

Posted on | May 5, 2020 | 1 Comment


Over the weekend, I saw reports that New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham had invoked the state’s Riot Control Act to shut down traffic in the city of Gallup. The coverage didn’t provide the context to understand why this community of 21,678 people was such a COVID-19 incubator:

Gallup is in McKinley County, which has 1,027 positive cases of Covid-19 as of Thursday. The county has more than 30% of the state’s 3,411 cases and the most positive cases in the entire state, the governor’s statement said.
“Its infection trend has shown no sign of flattening,” according to the statement. . . .
“The spread of this virus in McKinley County is frightful,” Lujan Grisham said. “And it shows that physical distancing has not occurred and is not occurring. The virus is running amok there. It must be stopped, and stricter measures are necessary.”

Having seen many stories in which the media promoted the idea that rural America would soon be afflicted by this disease, I wondered if somehow this prophecy was coming true. But why here? Of all the places, why was the virus “running amok” in this particular town?


So I checked the map, and noticed that Gallup is on I-40, where it intersects with U.S. 491, leading north to the Navajo Nation. If you live on the reservation and want to go shopping, Gallup is where you’d go, and the Navajos have been hard-hit by COVID-19. Such was my deduction Saturday, and now the New York Times follows up:

The lockdown comes as state and local authorities grapple with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States on the nearby Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Indian reservation, and a surge in detected cases in places near the reservation.
As of Sunday, the Navajo Nation had reported a total of 2,373 cases and 73 confirmed deaths from the virus. . . .
The refusal to follow social distancing guidelines by some residents of Gallup and other so-called border towns near the reservation has emerged as a source of tension, as tribal authorities say the behavior is undermining their attempts to control the virus.
The Gallup area had the third-highest rate of infection of any metropolitan area in the United States as of Sunday. . . .
Before the lockdown, tribal leaders complained that their attempts to curb infections on the reservation by setting curfews and creating checkpoints were being undermined when Navajo citizens ventured into Gallup.
Residents of Gallup also groused that many people were ignoring social distancing guidelines by crowding into vehicles and food stores. . . .
Native Americans account for 53 percent of New Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus cases, while making up about 11 percent of the state’s population. . . .
In the nearby town of Grants, also located near tribal nations in western New Mexico, the mayor openly defied Ms. Lujan Grisham last week by telling businesses to reopen. (The state Supreme Court has ordered the mayor, Martin Hicks, to obey the state orders.)
Mr. Hicks has asserted that Navajos were to blame for spreading the virus, openly expressing an unsubstantiated position that seems to be gaining traction in towns near Native American reservations.
“We didn’t take it to them, they brought it to us,” Mr. Hicks said in a telephone interview, without offering any proof. “So how are we going to spread it amongst them when they’re the ones that brought it to us?”

Oh, no! He said what you’re not allowed to say!

The question of who is infecting whom is not supposed to be openly discussed. Viral outbreaks just randomly happen, we are supposed to believe, never questioning if demographic disparities in infection rates are anything more than accidental, unless we want to blame racism. The possibility that behavioral differences between groups might help explain these disparities is not permitted, because that might lead to “victim-blaming.” You can’t ask who was “ignoring social distancing guidelines” in Gallup, and the way the New York Times reports the story, you don’t get a clear answer, except when Mayor Hicks expresses his “unsubstantiated” opinion. Well, we might ask, how was it that this disease from China became rampant among the Navajo? One would not suspect that there was a lot of international travel by reservation residents. My hunch was that this might have something to do with the numerous casinos (including the Fire Rock Casino near Gallup) operated by the Navajo Nation. Maybe tourists brought the virus to the casinos, infecting Navajo employees who then spread it on the reservation?

Imagine my surprise, then, at discovering the real cause:

Navajo officials . . . have traced the surge in the reservation’s coronavirus cases to a March 7 rally held by an evangelical church . . .
Infectious disease specialists say the virus is thought to have arrived on the reservation later than in other parts of the United States. It began spreading rapidly after it was detected among members of the Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical congregation in the outpost of Chilchinbeto near the Arizona-Utah border.
Families traveled from far-flung parts of the Navajo Nation to attend the rally, which included a prayer service in response to the pandemic already spreading in parts of the country.

You can read more background about that at the Navajo Times, and I confess it never would have occurred to me that an evangelical rally was the event that triggered this pandemic outbreak. So I’ll have to ask readers to accept my sincere apology for my un-Christian suspicion.



One Response to “Why Gallup, New Mexico?”

  1. News of the Week (May 10th, 2020) | The Political Hat
    May 10th, 2020 @ 12:07 pm

    […] Why Gallup, New Mexico? Over the weekend, I saw reports that New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham had invoked the state’s Riot Control Act to shut down traffic in the city of Gallup. The coverage didn’t provide the context to understand why this community of 21,678 people was such a COVID-19 incubator […]