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Virus Rampages Across Vast Navajo Lands, Close-Knit Families

A hand-painted sign points the way to the Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation at sunrise on Sunday, April 19, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A hand-painted sign points the way to the Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation at sunrise on Sunday, April 19, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal shields his face from the setting sun on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal shields his face from the setting sun on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Angelina Dinehdeal wipes tears from her eyes as she sits with her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, on the family's compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Angelina Dinehdeal wipes tears from her eyes as she sits with her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, on the family's compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A dog sleeps on the red sand on the end of his chain at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz, on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Dinehdeal family has been devastated by COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A dog sleeps on the red sand on the end of his chain at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz, on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Dinehdeal family has been devastated by COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal holds photos of family members, including Eva Dinehdeal at top, at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. Eva Dinehdeal died of COVID-19 on April, 11, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal holds photos of family members, including Eva Dinehdeal at top, at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. Eva Dinehdeal died of COVID-19 on April, 11, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign is posted on the door of the hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, of Mabel Charley's home-bound uncle, to keep visitors out in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign is posted on the door of the hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, of Mabel Charley's home-bound uncle, to keep visitors out in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

From left, Annabelle Dinehdeal, 8; Maria Cruz, Christina Dinehdeal, Eugene Dinehdeal, Angelina Dinehdeal, and their dog, Wally, pose for a photo on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19.  Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

From left, Annabelle Dinehdeal, 8; Maria Cruz, Christina Dinehdeal, Eugene Dinehdeal, Angelina Dinehdeal, and their dog, Wally, pose for a photo on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19.  Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Herding dogs rest together next to the sheep corral on Leslie Dele's family sheep ranch outside of Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation on April 24, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Herding dogs rest together next to the sheep corral on Leslie Dele's family sheep ranch outside of Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation on April 24, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A boy holds a kitten named "Popcorn Ball" in front of his home in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation on April 27, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A boy holds a kitten named "Popcorn Ball" in front of his home in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation on April 27, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign for Navajo Drive is seen against a cloud-darkened Sentinel Mesa in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation on April 30, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign for Navajo Drive is seen against a cloud-darkened Sentinel Mesa in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation on April 30, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

On a small table next to an image of Jesus in a crown of thorns, the ashes of Gloria Uriarte, right and her mother, Eva Dinehdeal, are displayed on a table in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 22, 2020. In the foreground at left is Gloria's son, Curly, as his aunt Christina Dinehdeal holds his hand. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

On a small table next to an image of Jesus in a crown of thorns, the ashes of Gloria Uriarte, right and her mother, Eva Dinehdeal, are displayed on a table in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 22, 2020. In the foreground at left is Gloria's son, Curly, as his aunt Christina Dinehdeal holds his hand. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

The sun sets behind a basketball hoop and backboard at Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

The sun sets behind a basketball hoop and backboard at Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Navajo rancher and shepherd Leslie Dele guides his sheep into their corral at the end of the day on the family ranch outside Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Navajo rancher and shepherd Leslie Dele guides his sheep into their corral at the end of the day on the family ranch outside Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Team Rubicon volunteer Cindy Robison, a U.S. Air Force veteran and nurse from Colorado Springs, Colo., works in the emergency room at the Kayenta Health Center on the Navajo reservation in Kayenta, Ariz., on April 18, 2020. Team Rubicon is helping with medical and emergency room operations here as cases of COVID-19 surge. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Team Rubicon volunteer Cindy Robison, a U.S. Air Force veteran and nurse from Colorado Springs, Colo., works in the emergency room at the Kayenta Health Center on the Navajo reservation in Kayenta, Ariz., on April 18, 2020. Team Rubicon is helping with medical and emergency room operations here as cases of COVID-19 surge. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Raynelle Hoskie attaches a hose to a water pump to fill tanks in her truck outside a tribal office on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. Hoskie is hauling water back to her home where she lives with her extended family. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Raynelle Hoskie attaches a hose to a water pump to fill tanks in her truck outside a tribal office on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. Hoskie is hauling water back to her home where she lives with her extended family. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A man runs a hose from a water pump to fill a water tank in the back of a pickup truck outside a tribal office on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A man runs a hose from a water pump to fill a water tank in the back of a pickup truck outside a tribal office on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A Navajo market table stands unused as Doggy Rock is seen across Interstate 163 in Monument Valley north of Kayenta, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 28, 2020. Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park is closed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the Navajo reservation. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A Navajo market table stands unused as Doggy Rock is seen across Interstate 163 in Monument Valley north of Kayenta, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 28, 2020. Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park is closed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the Navajo reservation. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A rainbow is seen in the distance from the closed Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A rainbow is seen in the distance from the closed Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

WWII veteran and Navajo Code Talker Peter MacDonald Sr. walks down the porch steps of his home on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 28, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

WWII veteran and Navajo Code Talker Peter MacDonald Sr. walks down the porch steps of his home on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 28, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sheep herding dog named "Red" rests in the morning sun before going out with the flock of Navajo rancher Leslie Dele outside Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sheep herding dog named "Red" rests in the morning sun before going out with the flock of Navajo rancher Leslie Dele outside Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Mabel Charley, left, applies hand sanitizer as she arrives to care for her home-bound uncle in his hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Mabel Charley, left, applies hand sanitizer as she arrives to care for her home-bound uncle in his hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

An officer with the Navajo Nation Police talks to a driver at a roadblock in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The roadblock was to inform residents of evening and weekend curfews, hand washing, and wearing a face mask to help control the spread of COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

An officer with the Navajo Nation Police talks to a driver at a roadblock in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The roadblock was to inform residents of evening and weekend curfews, hand washing, and wearing a face mask to help control the spread of COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A boy and his sister play in their family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A boy and his sister play in their family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Navajo shepherd Leslie Dele stands next to his all-terrain vehicle as he waits for the sheep to come in on his family ranch outside Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation April 22, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Navajo shepherd Leslie Dele stands next to his all-terrain vehicle as he waits for the sheep to come in on his family ranch outside Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation April 22, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

The mesas of Monument Valley are seen beyond the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation April 30, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

The mesas of Monument Valley are seen beyond the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation April 30, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

This April 23, 2020 photo shows an empty Interstate 163 in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park is closed. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

This April 23, 2020 photo shows an empty Interstate 163 in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park is closed. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign reads "Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park Closed Until Further Notice" posted at the entrance of Monument Valley in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation April 19, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign reads "Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park Closed Until Further Notice" posted at the entrance of Monument Valley in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation April 19, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

TUBA CITY, Arizona (AP) — The virus arrived on the reservation in early March, when late winter winds were still blowing off the mesas and temperatures at dawn were often barely above freezing.

It was carried in from Tucson, doctors say, by a man who had been to a basketball tournament and then made the long drive back to a small town in the Navajo highlands. There, believers were preparing to gather in a small, metal-walled church with a battered white bell and crosses on the window.

On a dirt road at the edge of the town, a hand-painted sign with red letters points the way: “Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene.”

From that church, COVID-19 took hold on the Navajo Nation, hopscotching across families and clans and churches and towns, and leaving the reservation with some of the highest infection rates in the U.S.

Crowding, tradition, and medical disparities have tangled together on the tribe’s land — an area nearly three times the size of Massachusetts — creating a virological catastrophe.

And the most basic measures to fight the virus’ spread — handwashing and isolation — can be difficult.

One-third of the homes across the vast, dry reservation don’t have running water, forcing families to haul it in. Many in close-knit Navajo communities live in crowded houses where self-quarantine is impossible, and many must drive hours to the nearest grocery store. To most Navajo, isolating an infected person from their family is deeply alien.

Eugene Dinehdeal shields his face from the setting sun on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal shields his face from the setting sun on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

The Chilchinbeto meeting, which brought people together from across the region, included everything from discussions of church finances to a joyful meal of roast beef. They prayed for strength in the face of the new virus, which seemed like a distant worry.

Instead, it was already in their midst.

“We’re such a small town. We’re so remote, “said Evelyna Cleveland-Gray, a Chilchinbeto official who struggled to keep residents from panicking as the virus ripped through the town of about 500, eventually killing more than a dozen people. “We never thought it would hit us.”

By now, the loss is felt across the Navajo Nation.

With roughly 175,000 people on the reservation, which straddles Arizona, New Mexico and a small corner of Utah, the Navajo Nation has seen 3,122 cases – a rate of nearly 18 cases per 1,000 people. At least 100 people have died.

If Navajo Nation were its own state, it would have the highest per-capita rate of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in the country, behind only New York. In the states it spans, the number of cases and deaths among people who are Native American, on and off the reservations, is disproportionately high.

There was the beloved 42-year-old high school basketball coach who left behind five children. There was the carpenter who lived with his brother and died on Easter morning at age 34. There was the 28-year-old mother who competed in Native American pageants.

From left, Annabelle Dinehdeal, 8; Maria Cruz, Christina Dinehdeal, Eugene Dinehdeal, Angelina Dinehdeal, and their dog, Wally, pose for a photo on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

From left, Annabelle Dinehdeal, 8; Maria Cruz, Christina Dinehdeal, Eugene Dinehdeal, Angelina Dinehdeal, and their dog, Wally, pose for a photo on the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal holds photos of family members, including Eva Dinehdeal at top, at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. Eva Dinehdeal died of COVID-19 on April, 11, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Eugene Dinehdeal holds photos of family members, including Eva Dinehdeal at top, at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. Eva Dinehdeal died of COVID-19 on April, 11, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Angelina Dinehdeal wipes tears from her eyes as she sits with her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, on the family's compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Angelina Dinehdeal wipes tears from her eyes as she sits with her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, on the family's compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. The family has been devastated by COVID-19. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

And on the far western side of the reservation, there’s the extended Dinehdeal family who live in a cluster of prefabricated houses and mobile homes in Tuba City. A dog on a long chain lies in the driveway, sleeping in the soft red dirt that sweeps across the landscape. Another runs in circles waiting for someone, anyone, to throw a ball. Pickup trucks, some in various states of dismemberment, are scattered across the property.

This is where generations of Dinehdeal children have ridden their bikes and played basketball against a weathered plywood backboard. It’s where the men have tinkered with those pickups and where the entire family — the tight-knit web of parents, aunties, uncles and cousins raised like siblings — have gathered for potluck meals, birthday parties and holiday celebrations. It’s where relatives from out of town have always been welcomed.

Now, it’s where the family mourns.

It began in late March with Maryann Welch, who at age 82 was still riding horses and running a small sheep ranch on Navajo Mountain, the dome-shaped expanse that looms over this part of the reservation. When she started to feel sick, her nephew and her 71-year-old sister, Eva Dinehdeal, drove the 90 miles from Tuba City to take her to the hospital. Soon Eva was sick, too, with low oxygen levels and a fever. Then it was Maryann’s son, Larry, a veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, who divided his time between the ranch and the Tuba City houses.

A sign for Navajo Drive is seen against a cloud-darkened Sentinel Mesa in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation on April 30, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign for Navajo Drive is seen against a cloud-darkened Sentinel Mesa in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation on April 30, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Larry and Maryann died a day apart. Larry was buried on what would have been his 60th birthday.

Dinehdeal’s daughter, Gloria Uriarte, had moved back to Tuba City from outside Phoenix with her 6-year-old son, Curly, thinking they’d be safer there as the virus spread. But almost immediately she was caring for nearly everyone around her, often using the traditional practices that are deeply ingrained among Navajos. She kept sage boiling on the stove, for example, and encouraged everyone to drink it.

Gloria, 45, didn’t escape sickness. She and her mother died April 11 within hours of each other, in different hospitals.

In a small bedroom in one of the prefabricated houses, just down the hall from a wooden table displaying the three women’s urns, Curly was tucked under a blanket. He is immobile and nonverbal after a brain injury and doesn’t know what happened to his mother. His family keeps Gloria alive for him by playing recordings of her voice on a cell phone. Set on a pillow next to Curly’s head of thick, black hair, Gloria gently calls out “Good morning, good morning.”

Curly coos softly.

Gloria’s sister and her partner are now caring for him.

The losses stripped the family of their matriarchs. They regret not learning how to make Eva’s famous yeast bread, which she sold at the local flea market every Friday. They wonder what to do with her clothes, which fill every closet in the house and its storage sheds.

Angelina Dinehdeal, one of Eva’s daughters-in-law, is trying to hold the family together. Grief and exhaustion weigh heavily on her.

On a small table next to an image of Jesus in a crown of thorns, the ashes of Gloria Uriarte, right and her mother, Eva Dinehdeal, are displayed on a table in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 22, 2020. In the foreground at left is Gloria's son, Curly, as his aunt Christina Dinehdeal holds his hand. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

On a small table next to an image of Jesus in a crown of thorns, the ashes of Gloria Uriarte, right and her mother, Eva Dinehdeal, are displayed on a table in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 22, 2020. In the foreground at left is Gloria's son, Curly, as his aunt Christina Dinehdeal holds his hand. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A dog sleeps on the red sand on the end of his chain at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz, on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Dinehdeal family has been devastated by COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A dog sleeps on the red sand on the end of his chain at the Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz, on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The Dinehdeal family has been devastated by COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

“It just seems like every time I take someone in (to the hospital) they never come out,” she said.

In Navajo tradition, communities gather for four days of mourning before a burial. Sacred stories are told. Elders talk to the young about coping with death. Donations are collected to cover funeral costs. In a culture where dying is rarely spoken about, it is a chance to openly grieve.

But with families hunkered down to avoid the spread of the virus, burials have become rushed graveside services. With funeral homes overwhelmed by the dead, some families have sidestepped tradition and had their relatives cremated.

Mourning is done over text messages, video conferences and three-way phone calls.

“You can’t even go see your mom and dad. You can’t see your relatives to find that comfort,” said Cheryl Blie, a Navajo who lost a cousin to the virus. “And the grief - the grief is so unbearable.”

The virus hit like a tsunami in mid-March, and smaller medical centers quickly were overwhelmed. Health problems that make COVID-19 more deadly, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, are all much more common among Native Americans than the general U.S. population.

An officer with the Navajo Nation Police talks to a driver at a roadblock in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The roadblock was to inform residents of evening and weekend curfews, hand washing, and wearing a face mask to help control the spread of COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

An officer with the Navajo Nation Police talks to a driver at a roadblock in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 22, 2020. The roadblock was to inform residents of evening and weekend curfews, hand washing, and wearing a face mask to help control the spread of COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A cobbled-together coalition of caregivers— doctors from the federal Indian Health Service and local hospitals, Navajo Nation officials, the National Guard, community health nurses, volunteer doctors, nurses and EMTs from across the country — has rallied as the number of cases grow.

The doctors are exhausted, the hospitals don’t have enough staff and the protective gear is carefully rationed. Three isolation centers were set up in basketball gyms — normally packed with fans for a sport that’s hugely popular among Navajos — to keep those recovering from COVID-19 away from their families. The sickest patients are flown to larger hospitals off the reservation.

Medical workers on the reservation work relentlessly.

When an oxygen valve failed on a ventilator at the Kayenta Health Center, a volunteer hand-pumped oxygen into a patient’s lungs for three hours.

“You literally cannot move. You have to breathe for them,” said Cindy Robison, an Air Force veteran who was among the volunteers. “You are paralyzed by the overwhelming ‘I know I can’t abandon this position even for a second.’”

The Navajo Nation or Diné Bikéyah includes some of the most rugged, beautiful and isolated land in the United States. The reservation stretches across 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) with just over 6 people per square mile.

But that statistic hides how most Navajos actually live: in small towns or isolated outposts. A trip to the grocery store or the post office is a chance to socialize, shake hands, hug and catch up — all the things people are asked to avoid doing now.

Navajo Nation officials are trying to get people to isolate, putting out statements about coronavirus in English and Navajo, and imposing nightly curfews and weekend lockdowns. They’ve closed non-essential businesses and popular tourist sites like Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. They also must balance the restrictions with the realities of reservation life.

A sign reads "Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park Closed Until Further Notice" posted at the entrance of Monument Valley in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation April 19, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A sign reads "Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park Closed Until Further Notice" posted at the entrance of Monument Valley in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation April 19, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Navajo medicine man Travis Teller gathers sage to perform an herbal ceremony in Tsaile, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 29, 2020. He will make a tea to drink, and smoke and steam to purify the air to protect his people and those in his care from COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Navajo medicine man Travis Teller gathers sage to perform an herbal ceremony in Tsaile, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 29, 2020. He will make a tea to drink, and smoke and steam to purify the air to protect his people and those in his care from COVID-19. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Mabel Charley, left, applies hand sanitizer as she arrives to care for her home-bound uncle in his hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

Mabel Charley, left, applies hand sanitizer as she arrives to care for her home-bound uncle in his hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. The Navajo reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

“I hear a lot of people saying, ‘Close the borders, shut down, shut down,’” said Jonathan Nez, the Navajo Nation president. “Our folks are supposed to be helping get water for the livestock, water for the household. You shut all that down, how can our elders wash their hands with soap and water if there’s no water available for them?”

If the Navajo are susceptible to the virus’ spread in part because they are so closely knit, that’s also how many believe they will beat it.

They’re leaving boxes of food and supplies on the steps of elders’ homes or in grocery bags hanging from fence posts. They’re driving for hours to take relatives to hospitals. They’re delivering water to friends and family.

Outside a tribal office in Tuba City, a steady stream of pickup trucks waited to fill large plastic containers.

Raynelle Hoskie was pulling a small trailer behind her black Ford pickup, rushing so she could make it to her shift at a convenience store a half hour out of town. With her husband working in Florida, she was hauling water for her six children and her in-laws who live next door in a small traditional Navajo home, or hogan.

A rainbow is seen in the distance from the closed Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

A rainbow is seen in the distance from the closed Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene in Chilchinbeto, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 21, 2020. Image by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster. United States, 2020.

To her, that togetherness is a strength of the Navajo people and a sign of tradition.

Hoskie unraveled a blue hose and connected it to the spigot, then dropped the other end in the water tank.

“Stop making us look like we’re weak,” she said. “We’re a strong nation. Our language is strong, we’re tough. We’ve always used our traditional herbs, our traditional ceremonies. They’re very powerful.”