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Tohono O'odham Nation donates $1 million to ASU COVID-19 testing

ASU said the funds would go toward quicker testing and vaccine research

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(From left to right) Tohono O’odham Council Chairman Timothy Joaquin, Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr., UA President Robert Robbins and ASU President Michael Crow pose for a photo during at a press conference announcing the Tohono O'odham Nation's donation to the two schools for COVID-19 research on Monday, October 19, 2020.

The Tohono O'odham Nation announced on Monday it will be donating $1 million to progress COVID-19 testing and research at ASU.

According to a press release, the Nation will equally split $2 million between ASU and UArizona in support of the universities' medical research and efforts to overcome the novel coronavirus. The universities will use the funds toward developing and distributing new and quicker testing methods. 

The Nation said the donations will come from its 12% game revenue grants generated by its four casinos in Arizona. Under the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact, the Nation is required to provide a portion of its gaming revenues to government services that "benefit the general public."

The Nation said it is dedicated to contributing these funds toward COVID-19 research that would benefit the community. 

"This virus is showing no signs of letting up," Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said in the statement. "Until we have better testing, treatment, and a vaccine, our communities remain at risk and our economy will continue to falter."

Jay Thorne, assistant vice president of media relations and strategic communications at ASU, said in an email the University has yet to allocate the donation, but he said it would be used to advance testing, research surrounding a vaccine and produce personal protective equipment. 

ASU President Michael Crow said in the tribe's statement that its donation would help the University stay prepared for the complexities of the pandemic and future public health emergencies. 

"Our success at Arizona State University is closely tied to our partnerships in the community and we are grateful for the support of the Tohono O’odham Nation," Crow said in the statement. "This generous investment will be put to use to help serve communities across the state."

Throughout the pandemic, Indigenous communities nationwide have been disproportionately impacted by the severities of COVID-19. According to an August report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arizona accounts for at lease one-third of virus cases among American Indigenous communities. 

In an update released on Oct. 14, the Tohono O'odham Nation Health Care reported a COVID-19 incidence rate of 2,650 per 100,000 people among enrolled Tohono O'odham Nation members, compared to Arizona's statewide incidence rate of 3,166 per 100,000 people. 

The Nation's death rate as a percent of its total cases is 5% compared to Arizona's 3%, and 17% of the total cases among enrolled Tohono O'odham Nation members resulted in hospitalization compared to the 9% statewide.

Like Arizona and other states across the U.S., the Tohono O'odham Nation tried to minimize the spread of the coronavirus through executive stay at home orders and enforcing curfews and mask mandates. 

Norris said the Nation provided these funds "to support the world-class research taking place right here in Arizona that is working to overcome the pandemic."

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