SAN JUAN COUNTY (ABC4 News) – Navajo Nation in San Juan County will become the first area in the state to enforce a curfew for residents beginning Monday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tribal leaders said the order is an attempt to help slow the spread of COVID-19 on the reservation.
The number of reported cases across their territory of three states rose to 148 as of Monday, with six of those in Utah. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said he is particularly concerned about their overwhelmed health care systems, which are experiencing an increased need for staff, personal protective equipment, and hospital beds.
He and Vice President Myron Lizer are working with Congress to prepare for the use of temporary hospital facilities when they reach capacity and no longer have room to house patients.
“Now more than ever, we need prayers and the cooperation of the public to fight this growing pandemic. Eventually, we will overcome, but at this rate it’s going to be a long and challenging road ahead,” said Vice President Lizer. “The more people choose to go out in public each day, the more challenging it’ll be for everyone. We all want this pandemic to end, but the only way we end it is by isolating ourselves as much as possible.”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hits a little harder for some residents living on Utah’s Navajo Nation in San Juan County, with a number of community members facing more barriers adapting because of their limited resources.
Lavina Yellowman, a Montezuma Creek resident, works in the accounting department for Utah Navajo Health Systems, Inc. While the majority of her colleagues have been given the option to work from home, Yellowman doesn’t have that luxury due to the lack of internet access in the area where she lives.
“This is the reservation. We don’t have like Century Link or anything like that to have landline services running through. Our closest neighbors are probably more than a mile away,” she said. “Our administration is really pushing for us to work from home if we can. Those of us who can’t, we’re still coming in and working here at the office.”
Yellowman explained the majority of individuals living on the reservation have to drive more than an hour to get to the nearest grocery store and buying essential items such as toilet paper or sanitation supplies has been difficult, given the short supply.
“It’s a gamble for us to travel and hope that there is still what we need once we get there,” she said. “A lot of us have to drive a long distance and not all of the reservation roads are paved. We just had a bit of wet weather and so it takes more time because the roads are a little messed up.”
President Nez continues to urge residents to abide by the stay-at-home orders and only send one person out per household to grab necessities from the grocery stores or run essential errands. Gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed, including churches and ceremonial practices.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve been advising everyone to stay safe and yet, we are receiving reports of busy highways, gatherings, and other activities that have threatened the safety and health of everyone and every community,” he said. “We don’t want to have to result to roadblocks because half of our Navajo population lives outside the reservation.”
Although the curfew will further reduce the number of workable hours for Yellowman, she said she supports and agrees with the decision from tribal leaders.
“It’s a little scary, especially if you work in the healthcare field. It’s concerning for our providers and our doctors on the front lines,” she said. “I think if we just abide by what the President wants, we can get past this and limit the virus from spreading.”
He said health officials anticipate that the number of COVID-19 cases will likely peak in the middle of May. Tourist attractions, tribal parks, and schools remain closed. Billboards are being installed with information about the stay-at-home mandates and social distancing orders.
“We are wanting for our Navajo people to not spread this virus and that’s why it’s serious. It’s a very serious situation and if need be, we’ll take steps to enforce the stay-at-home order even more,” said President Nez. “When we isolate ourselves, we isolate the virus, period. It’s as simple as that.”
At this time, officials have not released details on the penalty for curfew violation. The curfew excludes essential employees who will be traveling to and from work, who must have documentation.