Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Wednesday issued an executive order banning travel to the Navajo Nation. The move comes after two Navajo Nation residents on Tuesday tested positive for coronavirus, after traveling off the reservation.
“Today we’re gonna announce that there will be an order to limit our visitors here on the Navajo Nation, due to the fact that the two cases that are confirmed positive as having COVID-19 coronavirus, that bug came from off the Navajo Nation,” Nez said during a press conference.
While the measure is not enforceable, Nez is asking people to limit travel to the reservation. The Navajo Nation has also closed all casinos and tribal parks on the reservation for at least three weeks.
"We can’t put roadblocks throughout the Navajo Nation, but we ask our visitors just to respect the Nation in this uncertain time by not visiting,” Nez said.
Both Navajo Nation residents who tested positive for coronavirus are from the Kayenta area, in northern Arizona. The patients were transported from the Kayenta Health Center to facilities in Phoenix for testing, where they are currently in stable condition, according to Del Yazzie with the Navajo Epidemiology Center.
“We are conducting contact tracing, going out to some homes where the two cases are from to compile more information of potential exposure,” he said.
The Navajo Epidemiology Center is working with the Navajo Nation Health Command Center, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and other local partners to respond to the cases in Kayenta, Yazzie said.
Navajo Area Indian Health Service has tested or screened the family members of both patients, said Dr. Loretta Christensen, the health service’s chief medical officer. She added that their facilities have tested over 100 individuals for coronavirus, and that 20% of those tests have come back.
“We have a significant number of tests pending at all of our centers,” she said. “We’re hopeful to get a lot more results in today.”
Christensen added that the health service’s facilities on the Navajo Nation are prepared to treat people who test positive for coronavirus, but did not say why the two Navajo residents who tested positive are being treated off the reservation.
“We have a significant amount of capacity, but if COVID escalates in our area we will come to a point where we won’t have enough resources,” she said. She said there is a contingency plan, but did not give specifics.
Navajo Area Indian Health Service facilities have 170 beds, 13 ICU beds, 52 isolation rooms and 28 ventilators available, Christensen said, not including private, nonprofit health care facilities on the Navajo Nation, such as the Utah Navajo Health System.
All 110 chapters on the reservation are also awaiting emergency funds to buy materials to help their communities get through coronavirus.
The Navajo Nation council met on Monday in a special session to pass legislation to appropriate $3 million to the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management. But the measure was voted down because delegates felt the department did not have an adequate plan to spend the money, and preferred to give funds directly to chapters instead.
New legislation to appropriate funding to chapters will come up again this week, Nez said.
Correction 11:05 a.m. MDT 3/19/2020: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the Navajo Nation Health Command Center, and the genders of the two patients who tested positive.
Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County.