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Dispatch: COVID cases, deaths continue to climb on Navajo Nation

GALLUP, N.M. — COVID-19 has gripped the Navajo Nation and given no sign of letting go as new cases and deaths continued to climb this week.

As of the publication of this article, there are at least 241 cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths, according to the Navajo Nation Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

In an effort to combat the spread of the disease, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer have called on Navajo Nation citizens to social distance and stay home.

"There's no doubt that we will beat this virus, but it's up to all of us whether that's sooner or later. Our prayers are with all of our Navajo people each day as we continue the fight together," Lizer said.

After the virus first appeared on the Navajo Nation two weeks ago, the Navajo Health Command Operations Center issued a public health emergency "Stay At Home" order. Deaths and cases continued to spike.

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A customer wearing a mask and gloves leaves the store with a cart of groceries during elderly shopping day at Bashas' Diné Market on April , 2020 in Window Rock, AZ. All of Bashas' Diné Market expended their elderly shopping hours from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 1 to allow seniors 65 and older to purchase essential items and reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. 

The Navajo Nation saw its first two deaths related to the coronavirus on March 27.

As the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 128 by March 29, a curfew was set requiring all residents to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., seven days a week.

Essential employees reporting to or from duty are exempt from the new restrictions and must have official identification and/or a letter of designation from their employer. Everyone else will be given a citation.

"The Navajo Police will start issuing citations soon for individuals who violate the curfew that's in place," Nez said in a press release. "We're seeing higher numbers each day because people continue to go out into public."

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In an interview with the Daily Lobo, Nez said the curfew is in effect to make sure residents "hunker down" and try to halt the spread of the coronavirus throughout the Nation.

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Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez gives a thumbs up during elderly shopping day on April 1, 2020 at Bashas' Diné Market in Window Rock, AZ. At least 31% of New Mexicans who’ve contracted COVID-19 are Native American despite only making up about 11% of the population, according to an article New Mexico In Depth  published with their calculations from publicly available data. 

Outside of the Navajo Nation, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the coronavirus pandemic could "wipe out" some tribal nations in a phone call with President Donald Trump on March 30, as reported by ABC News.

Lujan Grisham's comment led some to criticize her word choice online, like University of New Mexico English instructor and journalist Sunni Rae Clahchischiligi.

"'Wiped out?' Very poor wording by @GovMLG. Severely affected, sure. In grave danger, sure. As Navajo people, we have endured so much worse, and while we are in a very vulnerable state, we will survive. Our deities and ancestors did not leave us with endings, just new beginnings," Clahchischiligi tweeted.

When asked about Lujan Grisham's comment, Nez said he and Lujan Grisham have spoken about the Navajo Nation's serious need of resources to fight COVID-19.

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A sign encouraging visitors to "shop alone" to halt the spread of the coronavirus on April 1, 2020 north of Gallup, NM. 

"I love our governor of New Mexico — I know she was talking to the President at the time, and there are things that sometimes leadership say during times of crisis," Nez said. "Especially when they're advocating for their people, and I'm sure she meant to let the President of the United States know tribes are in dire need of assistance."

Nez emphasized that the Navajo people are resilient and said they will do all they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

"So a comment like 'tribal nations are going to get wiped out,' I'll just say not the Navajo Nation because we're tough people; we're going to fight COVID-19," Nez said. "And so, we're not going to get wiped out. We're going to survive, persevere and be stronger than ever before, because of what we went through, and our people are coming together during this time."

For now, the Navajo Nation continues to protect its community in the ways it can.

On April 1, the Navajo Nation and Bashas' Diné Markets in Window Rock, Arizona extended "elderly shopping hours" from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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A customer returns a cart while holding a COVID-19 Prevention Booklet during elderly shopping day on April 1, 2020 at Bashas' Diné Market in Window Rock, AZ. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and employers handed out COVID-19 Prevention Booklets to customers that day. 

"The elderly shopping day helped to keep our elders safe and close to home while they shopped for their essential needs, such as groceries, household items and livestock supplies," Nez said. "Having our elders shop locally reduced travel to border towns and decreased their risk of COVID-19 exposure."

Nez also urged Navajo citizens to send one household member to shop and run essential errands to halt the spread of COVID-19, adding that children and high-risk individuals should remain at home.

While the Navajo Nation continues to push for federal funding to fight the virus, some organizations have decided to donate from their own funds.

On Thursday, the Diné Development Corporation donated $500,000 to the Navajo Nation to combat the spread of coronavirus, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation.

To receive COVID-19 updates from the Navajo Department of Emergency Management, text "NavajoNation" to 888777 or register online at

Sharon Chischilly is a photographer and reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @Schischillyy

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