The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation has grown to 14, a dramatic increase from the three confirmed cases reported only a day ago.
The announcement came hours after a 55-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen was the first coronavirus related death in Oklahoma. Before the Navajo Nation announcement late Thursday, March 19, there were nine cases confirmed in the Indian health system.
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center issued a Public Health Emergency Order requiring closure of the Chilchinbeto community for quarantine and isolation, also known as shelter-in-place, to limit the spread of the virus, according to a news release from the Office of the Navajo Nation president and vice president.
“This is not a time for panic,” Vice President Myron Lizer said. “Although there is an increase in positive tests for COVID-19, there are also a larger number of people who have tested negative and some who are recovering. Please remain watchful over family members and follow official instructions so as not to create panic and please respect our first responders, health care workers, Health Command Operations Center and many other experts as they handle the situation.
Chilchinbeto is a small community near Kayenta, Ariz., in the Navajo Nation. The majority of the 14 cases initially reported symptoms to the Kayenta Indian Health Service Unit and others were either treated, reported to or transported at Chinle Health Care Facility and Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, according to a news release.
“We are awaiting more details on the cases,” President Nez said. “We understand that the public has many questions and we ask that the public be patient until the facts are gathered - we do not want to report any misinformation. Everyone must remain home at this point and let the health care and emergency experts do their jobs.”
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center is securing care packages for the Chilchinbeto community.
Nez said the command operations center, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and tribal health organizations are working proactively to investigate each case. It’s not yet clear how serious each case is. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. The vast majority of people recover from the virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks. Those with more severe illness may take up to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.
(See our COVID-19 updates and coverage: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus.)
In the U.S., the latest numbers say 10,442 cases are known and 150 people have died from complications related to the virus. COVID-19 is more infectious than the influenza, according to WHO.
The Navajo Nation has implemented enhanced travel restrictions, urging tribal citizens not to travel unless it's for groceries, medication, medical appointments, emergencies and livestock care. The notice also urges all citizens to stay home for at least 15 days, according to the news release.
On Wednesday, the tribe implemented restrictions to restaurants, fast-food businesses, flea markets and prohibited social gatherings of 10 or more people with exemptions for hospitals and grocery stores.
General questions can be directed to the Navajo Health Command Operations Center at (928) 871-7014. Specific questions from members of the Chilchinbeto community, call (928) 871-6271.
“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. “We are resilient just like our ancestors. Make sure decisions and pray for our communities.”
Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @daltonwalker