The Navajo Nation on Monday will reinstate a stay-at-home lockdown for the entire reservation while closing tribal offices and requiring new closures and safety measures for businesses due to rising COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown goes into effect Monday for a three-week period, tribal officials announced Friday night. A previously ordered 56-hour weekend curfew began Friday night.
Much of the Navajo Nation was closed between March and August as the coronavirus swept through the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in the U.S. Southwest.
The Navajo Nation Department of Health on Wednesday warned residents of new “uncontrolled spread” of the virus in 34 communities on the reservation.
Before the announcement, tribal officials earlier Friday evening reported 97 additional known cases and two more deaths, increasing the total cases to 13,069 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’s statement said a new executive order requires government offices and enterprises to close beginning Nov. 16 thru 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 stay-home lockdown order and restricts travel off the Navajo Nation and in-person gatherings, the 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 and they can only be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and must enforce masking and distancing the statement said.
The reservation spans more than 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers).
Most people experience mild or moderate symptoms with the coronavirus, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.