14 Navajo Nation Members Test Positive for COVID-19, Emergency Order Declared

A member of the Navajo Nation has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
A member of the Navajo Nation has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Peter Zamorowski/
Update 3, March 22: As of Saturday, the number of Navajo Nation residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 has now reached a total of 26, according to the Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

Eighteen of these cases are from the Kayenta Service Unit, four from the Chinle Service Unit, three from the Tuba City Service Unit, and one from the Crownpoint Service Unit.

To date, there are no confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 for residents of the Navajo Nation.

As of Friday, the entire Navajo Nation is under shelter-in-place order, requiring all residents of the Navajo Nation to remain home and for all non-essential businesses to close to prevent further spread of the pandemic.

Update 2, March 19:
 As of Thursday evening, the number of novel coronavirus cases among Navajo Nation members has now reached 14.

Most of the cases involve people who initially reported symptoms at the Kayenta Indian Health Service Unit, according to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer. Other infected individuals received treatment at Chinle Health Care Facility or Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Health officials are screening and isolating family members of the individuals as needed.

The same evening, Navajo Health Command Operations Center issued a Public Health Emergency Order requiring closure of the Chilchinbeto community for quarantine and isolation — also known as “shelter-in-place” — to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Nez stated that the order may also be extended to the entire Nation if reports become widespread.

Health officials are preparing care packages that will be available in the community of Chilchinbeto for those in need, according to Navajo Nation leaders. Elderly and high-risk residents will be the first priority.

Update 1, March 19: A third Navajo Nation member has tested positive for coronavirus. The individual is a 62-year-old male from the same region as the first two confirmed cases within the Kayenta IHS Service Area. He is currently at a hospital in Phoenix.

The first two cases, reported on Tuesday, involved a 46-year-old woman and a 40-year-old man who were also transported to hospitals in the Phoenix area.

On Wednesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nex and Vice President Myron Lizer issued a Public Health Emergency Order, requiring restaurants to operate at no greater than 50 percent of maximum occupancy. They also issued enhanced travel restrictions, urging all citizens to stay home for at least the next 15 days, and encouraging all citizens not to travel unless necessary to obtain essential items like groceries and medication.

Original story below:

A member of the Navajo Nation has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Navajo Department of Health.

On Tuesday, a 46-year-old individual from Chilchinbeto, Arizona, a community on the Navajo Nation known as Tsii'chin Bii' Tó in Navajo language, was confirmed to have COVID-19.

After first reporting symptoms at the nearby Kayenta Health Center in Kayenta, Arizona, the person was transferred to a hospital in Phoenix, where the Arizona Department of Health confirmed the positive test result, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

It’s the first case within the Navajo Nation, a tribal nation larger than 10 U.S. states.

“We have health and emergency experts who have been planning and preparing for this situation for several weeks,” said Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, in the release. “We call upon our Navajo people to do their best to remain calm and make good decisions by staying home to prevent the spread of the virus among our communities.”

Health and emergency officials are taking the proper precautions to screen and isolate the person’s family members, he added.

Nez said his office is in close contact with officials from the Kayenta Indian Health Service Unit, Arizona Department of Health, Navajo County, and Navajo Area Indian Health Service to inform the public and implement necessary precautions moving forward.

In light of this first confirmed case, Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer urged the Navajo Nation Council, the legislative branch of the Navajo government, to convene to discuss appropriating funds to address the pandemic.

The Council failed to approve a $3 million funding request to the Department of Emergency Management earlier this week to purchase additional COVID-19 test kits, respirators, masks, and other preventative equipment earlier.

The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry is contributing $1 million to help the Nation address the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to the press release.

As of today, the death toll has reached 100 in the United States. There are 20 confirmed cases within Arizona.

Nez and Vice President Lizer will provide more information about the confirmed case of a Navajo community member live at 4 p.m. Arizona time on Wednesday on Navajo radio station KTNN, which is broadcast in northern Arizona on AM 660 and 101.5 FM. If the public has questions, Nez encouraged people to contact the Navajo Health Command Operations Center at 928-871-7014.

Meanwhile, Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation closed temporarily due to COVID-19 concerns, as did the four Navajo casinos.
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Hannah Critchfield was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.