Navajo Nation orders masks be worn in public on reservation

Window Rock, Ariz. • The Navajo Nation is ordering all people on the tribe’s sprawling reservation to wear protective masks when out in public to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Tribal officials announced Friday night that the Navajo Department of Health issued an emergency health order for the reservation, which includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other Native American tribe.

The tribe and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service said the number of positive coronavirus tests reached 1,127 as of Friday with 44 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said earlier in the week that the order would be issued and that all residents should either buy or make masks to comply with the order.

Nez said in the Friday night statement announcing the order that tribal officials would “continue to consider even more aggressive requirements to help bring the numbers down."

“Some individuals think we’re using scare tactics or extreme measures, but we are losing lives here on the Navajo Nation and I’m going to do everything I can to help save lives,” Nez said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Residents of the Navajo Nation, including non-tribal members, are under a daily nighttime curfew. Lockdowns for the next two weekends will prevent them from leaving their homes, except in the case of an emergency, from dusk Friday until early Monday.

Drive-thru restaurants were ordered closed over the weekend, and people who sell hay, wood, food or other goods from the roadside cannot operate. Gas stations and grocery stores will be open but for limited hours and must regulate the number of people inside.

Navajo police are enforcing the curfews and lockdowns by issuing citations that can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail. Essential workers are not subject to the restrictions.