July 6, 2020 -- The Navajo Nation is trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus by locking down for the Fourth of July weekend and the next two weekends, with the New Mexico National Guard and the Navajo Police Department setting up checkpoints to enforce the lockdown.
Navajo Nation President Joseph Nez said weekend lockdowns were extended because of an alarming spike in cases in other parts of Arizona, not just on the Navajo Nation itself. Most of the Native American territory is located in the northeast corner of the state.
"All around the Navajo Nation you have seen increases, big spikes in COVID-19 and if you don't believe me ... turn on the news right now and you'll see that a lot of attention is on Phoenix, Arizona," Nez during an online town hall, according to AZCentral.com . "All these states have opened back up prematurely and they see a rise in COVID positive cases.
"Please don't leave the Navajo Nation, I plead with you, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "We can get through this by working together."
The Navajo Nation -- 175,000 people spread across northeast Arizona, southeast Utah and northwest New Mexico -- has reason to worry. It’s been a coronavirus hotspot for months.
Back in early June the Native American territory reported around 6,000 coronavirus cases and an infection rate of 3.4% -- the highest in the country . New York state, by comparison, had a 1.9% infection rate.
The spread of the virus has slowed a little. As of Friday, the Nation had reported 7,733 cases and 375 deaths, according to a news release posted on Twitter . That’s more deaths than reported in Kansas, Nebraska and several other states. And the Nation reported four more deaths and 64 new cases on Friday.
Fifty-seven-hour lockdowns are also planned for the next two weekends, from 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. Lockdowns have been held on previous weekends.
“Our numbers would be much higher without the weekend lockdowns and the mask requirement -- we have the data to support it,” Nez said in the news release. “We are following the advice of the Nation’s health care experts and it has led to a flattening of the curve.”
“The majority of our Navajo people are doing a good job staying home, wearing masks, social distancing, and washing their hands often and it is resulting in the downward trend in new cases, but the fight is not over,” Nation Vice President Myron Lizer said in a separate news release .
Because of an extreme drought, fireworks, trash burning, campfires, and other activities are prohibited.
“During the Fourth of July weekend, please stay home with your loved ones and please do not use fireworks.,” Lizeer said. “Keep fighting COVID-19 and keep our homelands safe from fires.”
Nez told WebMD in June that the social structure of Navajo families, in which it’s common for several generations to live in the same residence, makes it difficult to practice social distancing. Extended families often gather in large groups, he said.
The high poverty rate also makes sanitation difficult. One expert estimated that a third of the Navajo population lacks running water and electricity.