Team of UCSF Medical Workers Heads to Navajo Nation to Help Population Overwhelmed by Virus

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A team of 21 doctors and nurses from UCSF are headed to the Navajo Nation to help a population that has seen one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in the country.

NBC Bay Area’s Sergio Quintana was the only reporter to see the team of seven doctors and 14 nurses off at SFO Wednesday. All 21 medical workers volunteered for the mission.

“These are places that just have too few nurses, too few doctors,” Said Aylin Ulku, a UCSF doctor. “All of them are working incredibly well and have the resilience that you mentioned. But there are just not enough people to do the work that needs to be done.”

San Francisco’s numbers have been leveling off, and the group felt they should help other communities who desperately need it.

“Leaving our loved ones is not an easy thing to do,” said Siriram Shamasunder, another UCSF doctor on the team of volunteers. “But we are aiming to make the first citizens of our country really first in this moment.”

The team landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico Wednesday but will soon be headed to Shiprock, the symbolic heart of the Navajo Nation. They will be backing up medical teams there and in two other towns.

For weeks, leaders have been pleading with the federal government for support – many fearing they had been forgotten.

“If there are any words I can say to how much I worry about the people on the reservation and my community, we ask for help,” said Navajo Tribal Council Member Eugene Tso.

The UCSF team will be on the ground for a month. The Navajo Nation, which is less than a third of the population of San Francisco, currently has more confirmed cases and deaths than the city does.

United Airlines provided the doctors' flights for free from San Francisco International Airport to Albuquerque and New York.

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