FARMINGTON – The Navajo Nation implemented a curfew this week as the number of COVID-19 cases jumped, with seven deaths reported as of Thursday.
President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer issued the curfew order Sunday, citing the increase in cases and a lack of resources to fight the coronavirus on the reservation, which spans across three states.
“We’re doing our best to keep people safe, but the government can’t do everything and that’s why everyone needs to stay home as much as possible,” Nez said in a news release. “Every person is responsible for taking precautions to preserve their own health. This curfew is an added measure to protect our Navajo people, especially our elderly and high-risk.”
The curfew – unique to the Navajo Nation and not yet seen in the surrounding states – requires everyone to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. seven days a week. It took effect Monday.
“We need to slow down people traveling around our nation,” Nez said in a town hall meeting streamed on Facebook.
The order said it does not apply to essential employees reporting to work but does require they have “official identification and/or a letter of designation from their essential business employer on official letterhead, which includes a contact for verification.”
The curfew was announced as the number of positive cases reached 128 and concerns grew over a lack of health care resources. As of Wednesday evening, the Nation was reporting 214 cases.
“We don’t have enough doctors, nurses, first responders, hospital beds, ventilators and other resources to treat everyone,” Lizer said. “We have to do our part by preventing the spread of the virus.”
Like other communities, the Navajo Nation is seeing a sharp increase in the need for hospital beds, health care supplies and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.
“We’ve reached a point where our medical facilities and health care workers are in dire need of more personal protective equipment, hospital beds and other critical resources,” Nez said.
The Navajo Nation is expected to reach its peak of cases in mid-May, Nez said.
“We have yet to even start going up on this curve. We want to be able to flatten this curve,” he said.
In addition to the curfew, the order includes additional direction for businesses to limit person-to-person contact and physical interactions. All businesses, such as grocery stores, food banks, convenience stores and hardware stores, have to limit the number of customers to 10 and mandate customers keep a 6-foot distancing requirement.
Restaurants are ordered to provide an outdoor order station, a way for people to call ahead to place orders and pickup options that allow customers to remain in their car. Banks can have only drive-thru services, and ATMs can operate only if they offer disinfectant wipes or spray for customers.
Gas stations must have a fueling attendant to pump gas or provide disinfectant wipes or spray for customers to use. Post offices are given an exception and do not need to provide curbside or drive-thru options but must have disinfectant wipes and spray for customers.
The addition of the curfew and more explicit business requirements come after Nez and Navajo Nation leaders previously issued a stay-at-home order, closed all schools, tribal parks and tourist attractions, and asked visitors to respect its closed borders last week.
The Navajo Nation – the second most populous tribe – is leading tribal nations in positive cases, according to the Navajo Nation Department of Health.
On Wednesday Nez released a statement calling for more test kits and testing capabilities. “We’re two weeks into this pandemic and we need many more test kits, we need testing labs in our communities so we can get results much quicker,” he said. “The public needs to be mindful that these numbers are going to continue to increase if every family, every individual does not follow the advice of health care experts.”
The breakdown of the 214 cases on Navajo lands spanning the counties in three states is:
Navajo County, Ariz.: 97Apache County, Ariz.: 22Coconino County, Ariz.: 49McKinley County, N.M.: 14San Juan County, N.M.: 22Cibola County, N.M.: 3San Juan County, Utah: 7 firstname.lastname@example.org