HEALTH

Navajo Nation goes into lockdown as COVID-19 deaths rise

May 17, 2020, 9:23 AM

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FILE: A sign reads "Navajo Monument Vally Tribal Park Closed Until Further Notice" posted at the entrance of Monument Valley in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation April 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

OLJATO-MONUMENT VALLEY, UTAH — The Navajo Nation went into lockdown this weekend and will remain that way for now as most of Utah enters the “yellow” phase of COVID-19 response.

For the Navajo people, this pandemic has not yet hit its peak. Yet, COVID-19 has been given the name “Dikos Ntsaaigii,” a Navajo phrase meaning “the cold that is enormous.”

In San Juan County, the majority of COVID-19 cases reported came from the Navajo Nation, where healthcare services are in short supply and the community faces a lack of electricity and water.

COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation

One of the doctors working on the Navajo Reservation in Monument Valley, Dr. Phillip Smith, said that COVID-19 has had a great impact.

“We probably have about 190 cases and we’ve had three deaths (in the Utah portion of the reservation),” he said.

His daughter, Tanana, a research professor with the Stegner Center at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, said, “That’s where our Navajo is leading, with the third-highest infection rate in the country when you look at the entire country.”

As of Saturday, the death count on the Navajo Nation reached 140 with 3,912 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Smith’s sister, Florence, was amongst the casualties on one of the hardest-hit reservations which is located in McKinley County, New Mexico.

“She passed away in an ICU and we had her funeral on Thursday. Of course, it was a difficult setting, mainly because we couldn’t gather,” Smith said.

Lockdown enforced for the foreseeable future

The Navajo Nation went on lockdown with a strict curfew in place, as most of the rest of Utah entered the  “yellow” phase of the state’s virus response plan. 

The reservation will remain in lockdown for the next three weeks, during which all stores, gas stations and restaurants will stay closed. Residents must remain in their homes unless they are an approved essential worker with a permission slip. 

Non-compliance could result in a fine up to $1,000, and Smith said, “police are enforcing.”

But supplies were already scarce. The region’s closest chain grocery store is about three hours away.

“We just have one store in Monument Valley and it has remained open but the supplies are limited because if you run out of necessities in cities, you certainly will run out in a rural setting,” Smith said.

Impact on the Navajo economy

Smith said the pandemic hit the economy of the Navajo Nation especially hard. 

“We used to get busloads of people from Germany, from Italy, from France (and) England,” Smith said. “We took them on tours, and people were able to sell their crafts; well, now they haven’t been able to do that.”

Due to this, Smith expected the effects of COVID-19 to last long after other communities begin their road to recovery.

“It’s going to be sometime before the curve is flattened in Indian Country and before conditions improve and so until that happens, they really need the support of our communities,” Tanana said.

Although churches and other organizations donated hygiene kits, food, and personal protective equipment, Smith said the area will need more help.


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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Navajo Nation goes into lockdown as COVID-19 deaths rise