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Navajo Nation reaches 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19

President Nez to limit number of visitors on tribal lands
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez during a COVID-19 news conference via Facebook Live on Wednesday afternoon.

FARMINGTON – Navajo Nation announced it had 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday evening, two days after its first confirmed positive case was found Tuesday.

As a result, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and health care officials are urging people to stay home and limiting the number of visitors who enter Navajo Nation lands.

“We understand that the public has many questions, and we ask that the public be patient until the facts are gathered – we do not want to report any misinformation,” Nez said in a news statement Thursday evening. “Everyone must remain home at this point and let the health care and emergency experts do their jobs.”

The initial case originated from the Kayenta area, and the additional cases also involved people who reported symptoms to the Kayenta Indian Health Services service unit, according to the news release.

But details are being gathered on the cases to determine whether and how they are related or came into contact with one another.

Navajo Nation officials also said health and emergency workers were taking precautions to screen and isolate the patients’ family members and others they came in contact with.

“I assure everyone that the Navajo Health Command Operations Center, Navajo Area IHS and 638 Tribal Health Organizations are working proactively to investigate each case to prevent the spread of the virus,” Nez said.

Shortly after the third positive case of COVID-19 was found, Nez and Navajo Nation leaders took swift action Wednesday by signing an executive order limiting the number of visitors to the Navajo Nation. The Nation’s boundaries span three states – Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. In a news conference Wednesday, Nez said with such a large expanse to cover, the tribe did not have the resources to put up roadblocks.

“We ask for our visitors to respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation,” he said.

After a state of emergency was announced March 11, all tourism locations, tribal parks and casinos were closed. “What are our visitors going to come and see if our tourist attractions are closed and our points of interest are closed?” Nez said.

Nez and other Navajo leaders also urged residents to stay home for at least 15 days, possibly longer, to limit the spread of the virus. They are asking tribal members to limit travel for necessities like groceries, emergencies, prescriptions, medical appointments or livestock care.

Nez’s recommendations follow many state and federal requirements that have been implemented in face of the continuing spread of COVID-19.

In addition to urging residents to stay home for two weeks, Navajo health officials issued a mandate requiring restaurants to operate at no greater than 50% capacity, with table seating no more than six people. Gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people, and fast-food restaurants are limited to drive-thru only.

In a news statement Thursday evening, Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer urged the community not to panic.

“Although there is an increase in positive tests for COVID-19, there are also a large number of people who have tested negative and some who are recovering,” Lizer said.

lweber @durangoherald.com

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