AP draws on deep experience to tell the story of Navajo Nation amid the pandemic, not as outsiders, but from within.

If the Navajo Nation were its own state, it would have the second highest per-capita rate of coronavirus cases in the United States, trailing only New York. The virus has ravaged close-knit families for whom isolating sick members isn’t always possible or preferred. 

Arizona-based reporter Felicia Fonseca has covered Native Americans for The Associated Press for more than a decade and is one of the preeminent reporters covering Native issues for any news organization. Her knowledge of the reservation, gave the AP – and the world – a window into one of the hardest-hit virus hot spots that few people have seen.

Fonseca and Washington, D.C.-based photographer Carolyn Kaster reported from the midst of the crisis. The pair drew on Fonseca’s experience and Kaster’s earnest desire to give their subjects a voice to gain extraordinary access, telling the story not as outsiders but from within. Donning full protective gear and a healthy measure of courage, they interviewed and photographed families, doctors and volunteers, with national writer Tim Sullivan adding reporting and masterful writing assistance from afar. 

The story and photos capture the incredible, vast beauty of the land and the intimate grief of the people. The vast reservation is home to some 175,000 people, many of whom are spread out in isolated posts and don’t have running water. They rely on an underfunded federal health care system that has struggled under the crush of COVID-19 cases. 

The extended Dinedahl family, living in a cluster of homes on the far western side of the reservation, has lost four members to the virus. Fonseca reached the family in advance and secured exclusive access, then she and Kaster spent hours with the survivors, who had taken loved one after loved one to the hospital, never to see them come out.

Kaster also photographed a group of veterans and EMTs who are volunteering on the Navajo Nation, showing the commitment with the story of a man who spent hours hand-pumping air for a patient with no ventilator. Her photo package ran with the story and gave a different look at the crisis, from those trying to help.

The package ran on front pages in Arizona and New Mexico, and was among the most downloaded and viewed for AP for several days after it ran.

For a revealing look at a Native community in the midst of the health crisis, Fonseca, Kaster and Sullivan share this week’s Best of the States honors.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus: 

– AP’s hub for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

– Understanding the Outbreak: stories explaining the new coronavirus.

– One Good Thing: daily stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

– Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

- Lives Lost: stories behind the victims of COVID-19.