WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation will reinstate a stay-at-home lockdown while closing tribal offices and requiring new closures and safety measures for businesses due to a surge in COVID-19 infections.
The three-week lockdown across the Southwest reservation goes into effect Monday, tribal officials said. A previously ordered 56-hour weekend curfew began Friday night.
Much of Navajo Nation was closed between March and August as the virus swept through the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The tribe's health department on Wednesday warned residents of new “uncontrolled spread” of the virus in 34 communities on the reservation.
On Saturday, officials said the reservation had 172 new cases and no recent deaths, increasing the total during the pandemic to 13,249 cases with 598 deaths.
“With nearly 900 new cases of COVID-19 reported on the Navajo Nation in the last week and with surging cases across the country, we have to implement these public health measures to protect our Navajo people and reduce the spread of this virus," tribal president Jonathan Nez said in a statement.
With the new uncontrolled spread, “we are inching closer and closer to a major public health crisis in which we could potentially see our hospitals filling up with patients," Nez said.
The reservation's health care system could not sustain a prolonged surge in cases, he said. "The safest place to be is at home here on the Navajo Nation."
Tribal officials already have urged residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing and limit gatherings to less than five people.
Nez said a new executive order requires government offices and enterprises to close beginning Monday and lasting through Dec. 6, with the exception of essential employees. It also requires that all schools on the reservation operate online.
A separate new public health emergency order implements the three-week lockdown order and restricts travel off the reservation and in-person gatherings, the tribe's statement said.
“Individuals may leave their place of residence only for emergencies or to perform essential activities such as obtaining food or groceries, obtaining medicine, gathering firewood with appropriate permit, and others," the statement said.
Only essential businesses such as gas stations, grocery stores, laundromats and restaurants may remain open, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those businesses must enforce mask use and distancing.
Most people who contract the virus experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with underlying health problems — infections can be deadly.