Navajo Nation Has 488 COVID-19 Cases; 20 Have Died

From self-quarantine, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez talks about alarming coronavirus rates in Indian Country

The Navajo Nation, hard hit by COVID-19 across multiple states, announced Thursday 488 positive tests and 20 known deaths from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. The figures are from testing that also produced 2,221 negative results.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said during a Facebook live town hall on Thursday morning the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 is unknown and the current data showing recovered, sick and dead people are two days old because of a 48-hour turnaround time on tests.

"We have stories of people recovering," Nez said. "Since we started late in the spread of this virus here, we don't know the recovery numbers yet… Those are being tabulated right now and we should be getting some of those stories and that data for everyone soon."

New Mexico health officials on Thursday announced additional positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the state's total to 989, and 17 total deaths.

The rate of infection is almost eight times higher in Navajo Nation than in New Mexico and the rate of death is about 16 times higher for those on tribal lands, according to an analysis by SFR of figures provided by tribal and New Mexico officials.

The tribe is taking strong steps to stop the spread: a 57-hour Easter weekend lockdown starts on Friday and lasts through Monday morning. That's in addition to a daily curfew from 8 pm to 5 am every day that Navajo Nation leaders already put in place. Drivers can also expect  police checkpoints.

If there are "too many people in a car," law enforcement will send people home, according to Nez.

Federal medical stations are also in the works on Native lands, including in Shiprock, Crownpoint and Gallup, likely to be set up in gyms and other large public buildings to house those sick from COVID-19 and ease the burden on hospitals.

Nez said the nation also hopes to set up quarantine facilities to keep those who are very ill completely separate from others.

The president called out for healthcare professionals, like nurses and doctors, to volunteer across Navajo Nation to take care of patients and help feed those in the federal medical stations.

Rapid test kits that provide results in less than an hour are "on the way" to Navajo Nation.

"I would ask and beg you not to leave the Navajo Nation and stay here when you get those [stimulus] checks," Nez said. "There's some discrimination already happening out there, people thinking Navajo is the carrier of this virus…But when it comes to payday, everyone loves Navajo in their border towns. There's a double standard out there."

New Mexico's pueblos learned earlier this week that the virus had begun to penetrate deeply, with state officials reporting clusters of cases at Zia Pueblo and San Felipe Pueblo, with 83 cases between the two.

Indian Country officials across tribes, pueblos and Navajo have asked tourists and visitors to stay away for now. Navajo Nation closed its borders as early as March 18 after the first COVID-19 cases emerged in Arizona. The New Mexico Department of Transportation asked people not to visit the state's pueblo and tribal lands in late March and both San Felipe and Zia pueblos have issued stay-at-home orders for residents.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.