SUU T-Birds Help Navajo Nation During COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: May 08, 2020 | Author: David Bishop | Read Time: 3 minutes

Helping Navajo Nation during COVID-19Southern Utah University, Cedar City civic organizations, and Angel Flight West have joined forces to help members of the Navajo Nation who have been severely impacted by the spread of COVID-19. The need for assistance was first brought to light by Dr. Wiley Thuet, an SUU alumnus and medical doctor and his wife Dr. Christina Thuet, a pediatrician. They have spent the past 4 years working on the Navajo Nation serving the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

In early April, the per capita incidence of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation surpassed that of all but two states in the United States. It’s believed geographic isolation, lack of running water in up to 30 percent of homes, and multi-generations of families living under one roof has contributed to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the Navajo Nation.

Upon learning of the need for help, Rita Osborn, executive director of SUU’s Center for Rural Health recruited SUU Rural Health Scholar students who sewed 2500 masks for the Navajo Nation. When word spread on social media, the Cedar City community began offering to do more and the project quickly began to expand.

Joanne Brattain, a friend of SUU and a volunteer with Angel Flight West, a group of pilots who donate their time and aircraft to help with individuals in need of medical treatment, offered her help. Dr. Christina Thuet then created a group, With Love, From Strangers to consolidate their efforts.

The Cedar City Rotary Club, Wells Fargo Foundation, the Cedar City Lions Club and local community members began making financial donations to buy items needed by individuals.

“To make this entire project a success, it takes a community effort,” said Osborn. “We’re purchasing supplies here in Cedar City that cannot be purchased in bulk, our Rural Health Scholars are loading those supplies on private airplanes, and volunteer pilots associated with Angel Flight West drop-off the supplies at the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona.”

Friday morning four flights departed the Cedar City Regional Airport loaded with $2000 of supplies donated by the Cedar City Rotary Club. Those goods included bottled water, sanitary supplies and disinfecting wipes.

A group of SUU Rural Health Scholars transferred the supplies from trailers to fully load each of the four private airplanes. SUU senior Bryan Pearson, a Cedar City native who plans to attend medical school, was one of those volunteers. “During this time of social distancing, it’s really hard not knowing where you can serve. Having an opportunity like this is really fulfilling to be able to help those who really need it.”

“As a club, we are happy to help deliver critically important medical supplies to the Navajo Nation,” said Brennan M. Wood, Cedar City Rotary Club president. “Our thoughts are with those suffering from this global pandemic and with the Navajo Nation, as well as the brave healthcare workers who are caring for the sick.”

Helping Navajo Nation, Rural Health ScholarsOnce the airplanes were loaded, the four flights departed for multiple locations in northern Arizona. Simultaneously, another 11 flights organized by With Love, From Strangers and arranged by Angel Flight West, departed from Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona. The flights provided urgently needed PPE supplies and items for community members that were distributed amongst 2 states to Fort Defiance, Gallup, Chinle, Tuba City and Shiprock on the Navajo Nation.

“Ten days ago we put out the word to our Utah and Arizona wings and said ‘who would like to fly this mission,” said Joanne Brattain of Angel Flight West. “Dr. Thuet then coordinates the supplies needed and which of the five airports on the Navajo Nation they should go to.”

It took a team of volunteers to coordinate this needed effort from collection contributions, buying supplies and organizing airplanes. And it all started when an SUU alumnus reached out to the university community for help.

More flights are planned to the Navajo Nation as money continues to be donated from throughout Cedar City and Utah. Any organization or individual wishing to make a donation can contact Rita Osborn at

Tags: Regional Services Coronavirus Rural Health Scholars

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