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Navajo will not ease restrictions, despite improving numbers

The number of new COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation is on a downward trend, but tribal leaders said Tuesday that does not mean they are ready to ease up on health restrictions.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a Facebook live town hall that the tribe will continue its 57-hour weekend lockdown for the next three weeks, meaning most businesses will be closed, people will be encouraged to stay home and visitors will be discouraged. Closure of tribal government offices will also continue.

“What we’re showing you here is that now is not the time to travel. I know it’s summer – we want to travel,” Nez said. “We’ve been sitting in our homes for over three months now, but now is not the time.”

It comes one day after Gov. Doug Ducey was forced to reimpose restrictions on businesses and gatherings in Arizona as the surging number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have made the state a national hot spot for the disease.

By comparison, the number of cases on the Navajo Nation have been trending down for most of the past two weeks, Nez said. Except for Saturday, when there were 121 new cases, the Navajo have seen fewer than 100 new cases a day over those two weeks, with one day falling to just 27 positive cases.

Despite the decreases, Nez said the numbers themselves are “still a concern” and that people need to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and limiting travel.

“It shows that the curfews and the lockdowns work. It keeps most of our people at home,” Nez said. “Of course there are some who disobey and those of you who disobey, you know who you are. But you are also putting the lives of our Navajo people at stake.”

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer signed the executive order in Tuesday’s town hall to extend the closure of government offices and the weekend lockdowns. He said that continued diligence by tribe members, combined with the $714 million the Navajo Nation has received in federal coronavirus relief funding, will let the nation prepare for what is next.

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“Never before has our nation been in the position to aid and enhance the health, education, economic development, among others, and expand our infrastructure for future ability to fight this pandemic and the next potential pandemic, whatever that may look like,” Lizer said.

He said the nation is “all in this together,” as he signed the order.

“As the rest of the country advances its fight against COVID-19, our nation’s fight is no different. We’ve always said stay home, stay safe, save lives,” Lizer said. “Nothing has changed. We’ve done that by and large. We need to keep on keeping on.”

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Bryan Pietsch/Cronkite News

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, shown in a 2018 file photo, said the curfews and lockdowns imposed by the tribal government to stem the spread of COVID-19 are working, but that this is not the time to ease those restrictions.