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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Navajo Nation Implements Weekend Stay-At-Home Order To Slow Spread Of COVID-19

Two people load groceries into a truck in front of a grocery store
Kate Groetzinger
Goulding's Grocery in Monument Valley is the only grocery store on the Navajo Nation in Utah. It will remain open this weekend, with regular hours.

A 57-hour stay-at-home order will be in effect on the Navajo Nation this weekend to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The curfew will be enforced by the Navajo Nation police, and applies to everyone except essential workers. 

“The public health emergency order is intended to restrict the movement of Navajo citizens during the full weekend curfew,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement released Monday, announcing the curfew. 

The curfew, which will be in effect on Easter Sunday, starts at 8 p.m. Friday and ends at 5 a.m. Monday, but could be extended to future weekends, according to a spokesperson for Nez’s office. It comes as hospitals on the reservation are beginning to run out of space

Since Nez instituted a nightly curfew on March 29 to slow the spread of COVID-19, 360 new cases have been confirmed on the Navajo Nation. In total, 488 people on the Nation have tested positive for the virus, with 64 new cases confirmed on Wednesday. 

Many Navajo residents support the curfew, but others say they have to travel over the weekend and cannot stay home. 

Kayenta, Ariz., resident Loraine Whitehair said the weekend curfew is needed because people are not staying home voluntarily. 

“I think a lot of people are not understanding how terrible this is, so they’re out there like a normal day,” she said. 

Whitehair, who previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the low literacy rate on the reservation combined with a lack of internet access is making it hard to get the word out about COVID-19. 

“The information isn’t trickling down. A lot of people don’t have internet or television, and so when they get paid, they all descend on the grocery stores. They all mingle. They don’t know the impact of what’s happening,” she said. 

But other Navajo residents worry the 57-hour weekend curfew could keep them from caring for their livestock or checking on their parents. 

Aaron Gilmore, who also lives in Kayenta, raises sheep and has horses that need to be fed. He said he has to drive to reach his flock’s grazing spot. 

“Regardless of the curfew, the livestock still need to be fed,” he said. “Because [for the] majority of livestock owners, it’s the only source of income we have.” 

Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco said that the Navajo Nation Department of Health is planning on adding caring for livestock as an official exception to the weekend curfew, and that his officers will exercise discretion when enforcing the measure. 

“If it’s something that’s reasonable and they explain to the officers, we’re not going to stop you from doing that,” he said. “We understand that people have essential business to take care of.” 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Arizona National Guard are working with the Navajo Nation to set up field hospitals in Tuba City and Kayenta, according to Nez’s office. And supplies at medical facilities on the reservation are running extremely low, despite a recent delivery of equipment from the National Strategic Stockpile, Nez told Arizona ABC15 on Tuesday. 

The health care scenario is less dire on the Navajo Nation in Utah, said Michael Jensen, CEO of Utah Navajo Health System. 

“Everybody’s watching the curve, but the last few weeks look pretty good,” he said. “At this time, Utah believes there are enough beds.” 

The system operates out-patient clinics in Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain and Blanding. It airlifts patients that need to be hospitalized to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, and the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico, Jensen said.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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