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Coronavirus crisis deepens on Navajo Nation

Tribe says curfew is needed to limit spread

FARMINGTON – The Navajo Nation saw one of its biggest surges in positive COVID-19 cases last weekend, and the numbers continued to rise this week, tribal leaders said.

Wednesday afternoon, the Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the Navajo Epidemiology Center attributed 38 deaths to COVID-19 and reported 921 confirmed coronavirus cases – 115 of them discovered during the Easter weekend.

The agencies also reported 3,239 negative tests as of Wednesday.

“It’s very saddening to receive the new numbers each day. There are a lot of grieving families, and there is a lot of work yet to be done,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in a news release Monday.

Nez said the nation saw positive results during the 57-hour weekend curfew, which ran from 8 p.m. Friday, April 10, to 5 a.m. Monday.

Earlier this week, Nez announced the weekend curfew would continue for two weekends in April and close essential businesses during the weekend hours as the virus spreads.

“Everyone needs to plan ahead for the weekend curfews, purchase what you need during the week, but do so in a safe manner,” Nez said Thursday. “The projections are alarming, but the decisions and actions of the public are the biggest factor when it comes to the numbers of positive cases.”

Nez acknowledged frustration with reports of Navajos traveling to towns after receiving federal stimulus checks.

“We’re fighting hard, but it’s very disheartening when we receive reports of large numbers of our own people traveling and crowding stores in border towns,” he said.

The next weekend curfew will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and end at 5 a.m. Monday. The following curfew will begin at 8 p.m. April 24 and end at 5 a.m. April 27.

The Navajo Nation issued the 57-hour weekend curfew last week, limiting travel to essential businesses with proper documentation. The public health order was subject to citations and fines if people were found at nonessential business and without documentation from an employer.

The Navajo Police Department announced earlier this week it had issued more than 115 Navajo Nation Criminal Nuisance citations for curfew violations over the weekend. More than 120 officers in seven police districts helped to implement the curfew, issue public service announcements, staff checkpoints and enforce the public health order, the department’s news release said.

“The enforcement was successful in that we saw a decline in the number of people traveling during the weekend,” said Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco. “An operation of this capacity takes a lot of planning and coordination, and our districts did a great job in enforcement efforts.”

Francisco added the stay-at-home order and daily curfew requiring everyone to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in effect.

Shortly after Navajo Nation leaders called the curfew a success, the police department announced two employees tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. The employees are in self-quarantine and are monitoring their symptoms, the department said.

“Our employees’ health and well-being is a priority, and as essential employees working in the field of public safety, we are not immune from the possibility of having one of our law enforcement family contract the virus,” Francisco said. “As the numbers of positive cases increase across the Navajo Nation, so does our risk of being exposed.”

Navajo Nation leaders also hope to have faster test results soon, Navajo Area Indian Health Services said. The agency announced Monday it would receive rapid COVID-19 test kits at its health care facilities. Previously, results took three to four days.

“The upcoming weeks are going to be very challenging, and we need everyone to support one another,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer on Tuesday. “This is an opportunity to show the world how strong we are as Diné people and to demonstrate our resilience once again.”

The New Mexico Department of Health reported 1,597 positive cases out of 34,488 total tests Thursday evening. There have been 44 COVID-19-related deaths in the state. San Juan County reported 229 cases and 13 deaths, according to the state’s data. The county has completed 1,877 tests as of Thursday evening.

The breakdown Wednesday of the 921 confirmed positive cases by Navajo Nation county:

Navajo County, Arizona, 288.Apache County, Arizona, 121.Coconino County, Arizona, 189.McKinley County, New Mexico, 170.San Juan County, New Mexico, 119.Cibola County, New Mexico, 12.San Juan County, Utah: 11Socorro County, New Mexico, 7.Sandoval County, New Mexico, 4.

lweber@durangoherald.com

Navajo County, Arizona, 288.Apache County, Arizona, 121.Coconino County, Arizona, 189.McKinley County, New Mexico, 170.San Juan County, New Mexico, 119.Cibola County, New Mexico, 12.San Juan County, Utah: 11Socorro County, New Mexico, 7.Sandoval County, New Mexico, 4.

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