14 COVID-19 cases in Navajo Nation in Arizona cause lockdown

By: - March 20, 2020 4:58 pm

School buses carry children across the vast Navajo Nation south of Rock Point in 2002 on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Photo by David McNew | Getty Images

The Navajo Nation learned Thursday night that the number of cases of COVID-19 in the Chilchinbeto community rose to 14, prompting a lockdown.

A command center with members of the Navajo Nation’s cabinet has been set up near the area in the northeast corner of the state, and local police, using roadblocks, are monitoring the flow of who goes in and out, said Democratic Rep. Arlando Teller, who represents the area.

“Because of the ruralness of the location, it’s hard to get supplies sometimes,” Teller told the Mirror, adding that the area lacks supplies such as hand sanitizer, ventilators and hospital beds.

“Everyone must remain home at this point and let the health care and emergency experts do their jobs. Please be respectful and adhere to their directions as they are doing their best to protect our communities,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release Friday.

The Navajo Health Command Operations Center issued a Public Health Emergency Order which requires the Chilchinbeto community to remain in quarantine and isolation for an undetermined amount of time. Nez said that if reports come in that the new coronavirus  is becoming more widespread in the Navajo Nation then the order will be expanded to cover the entire region.

The Navajo Nation is spread across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona with the majority of it residing in Arizona.

Teller said he and Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, spoke with representatives from the Arizona Department of Health Services Friday morning about the developments and Teller expressed the need for communication between DHS and the Navajo Public Health Department.

“This situation has hit home, my home,” Teller said, adding that the cases are close to his family’s homestead.

AzDHS Director Cara Christ said DHS is monitoring the situation closely but is not sure that all 14 cases are Arizona based. During a press conference updating the press about COVID-19 Friday morning, Christ called it an “evolving situation.”

“She needs to call the Navajo Nation president and have a conversation with him,” Teller said in response to Christ’s comments. “It really showcases the gap that has yet to be bridged.”

Teller said he is hoping to talk with the Governor’s office about how to combat the spread of the virus in rural communities that have limited access and hopes to open discussions between the tribes and the executive branch.

Currently Teller isn’t returning to his home in order to keep his parents, who are both over 60, safe from possible exposure, and to make sure he doesn’t bring anything back to the Capitol.

“We are facing some serious challenges just as our ancestors did, but we will persevere and overcome this through the power of prayer and by working together cooperatively,” Nez said.

Those on Navajo Nation can call the Navajo Health Command Operations Center at (928) 871-7014 for more information and members of the Chilchinbeto community are being urged to call (928) 871-6271. 

How you can tell if you might have been impacted

Symptoms of coronavirus resemble that of the flu. So, if you’re experiencing coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, you should consider getting checked out. Call your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center or emergency room — but call the health care provider before you go so they can be prepared for your arrival. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is taking COVID-19 calls: 1-844-542-8201

How the coronavirus spreads

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

How to prevent spreading the coronavirus

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Don’t use your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including counter tops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better. Once symptoms are gone experts recommend staying home an additional 72 hours. 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.