Navajo Nation orders residents to shelter in place as coronavirus spreads

Mar 21, 2020, 10:35 AM
navajo nation flag...
(Wikipedia Photo/Gerd Muller)
(Wikipedia Photo/Gerd Muller)

PHOENIX — The Navajo Nation expanded the stay-at-home order it put in place to combat the coronavirus spread on Friday night.

The same day the Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center issued a shelter-in-place order for the community of Chilchinbeto in Arizona, they also issued a public health emergency for the entire nation.

“We are getting many reports of people still being out in public and putting elders and everyone at risk. This is a very serious situation and if need be, we will take steps to enforce the ‘Stay at Home Order’ even more,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release. “The more people go out in public, the greater the risk is for a massive health crisis on the Navajo Nation.”

The nation is requiring all residents stay home and isolated, with all non-essential businesses closed down to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The order also outlines provisions for “essential activities, essential businesses, and any work necessary to the operations and maintenance of essential infrastructure.”

The decision comes after the Navajo Nation reported an increase in the total number of positive coronavirus cases to 14 on Thursday, an increase of 11 from the previous day. Chilchenbeto, a community of 500 people, had seven cases of COVID-19.

The other seven cases were in the Chinle, Arizona, and Shiprock, New Mexico, areas. Only three of the Navajo Nation cases were reflected in Arizona’s official count of 63 cases as of Friday.

Navajo County in Arizona reported 10 cases on Saturday morning and 104 cases were reported across the state, according to the Arizona Health Department Services.

“While there are a higher number of people receiving negative COVID-19 test results for the virus at this point, there are many tests that are awaiting results and confirmation,” Nez said in the release. “The purpose of the closure is to allow the Navajo Nation as a whole to isolate and quarantine.”

Most of Navajo Nation’s territory is in Arizona, but it spans across the Utah and New Mexico borders.

The nation’s shutdown is the latest around the state after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued restrictions for counties across the state with positive coronavirus cases.

On Thursday afternoon, Ducey ordered restaurants in counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases to provide takeout options only, while gyms, movie theaters and bars in those areas shut down at close of business on Friday.

The shelter-in-place order could be hard to enforce for communities like Chilchinbeto, however, because the rural community has no local services and residents must leave town to buy supplies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Navajo Nation orders residents to shelter in place as coronavirus spreads