NAVAJO NATION — With the coming of the Winter Solstice that marks the changing of seasons, there is a glimmer of hope in the fight against COVID-19 in one of the hardest-hit communities in Arizona.
The Navajo Nation is celebrating a small victory after seeing their COVID-19 curve flattening during the second deadly wave of the pandemic that has hit the Navajo Nation hard.
The Navajo Nation's COVID-19 dashboard reflects more than 21,000 cases and 748 deaths since the pandemic began. While sobering, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says it also shows that all of the strict measures his community has been following since March 2020 have been working. This includes a mask mandate, strict hygiene measures, stay at home orders, and the toughest one for so many families was mandatory lockdowns that have closed off travel in and out of the Navajo Nation.
President Nez said the changing of the seasons was also a spiritual time of reflection for him, as he looked back on all of the lessons learned during the last year that was consumed by a global pandemic.
"Because of the changing of the season, we are hopeful this is also a turning point in this pandemic. I wish other leaders in this country would do the same. Maybe they would also see a flattening of the curve and reduction of numbers," said President Nez.
He commended his community for making so many sacrifices and following all of the new rules and guidelines their leaders had put into place to help keep them safe.
One of the toughest rules for Navajo Nation member Debbie Nez-Manuel was the lockdowns that prevented her from visiting loved ones at home.
"Just not being able to be home, to be on the land to smell the aromas of what's so familiar, that was hard," said Nez-Manuel.
The toughest part for her was losing six family members during the pandemic, and not being able to visit them while they lay sick in the hospital.
One of them was the matriarch of her family, her grandmother. Nez-Manuel said she has tried to stay strong for months, but she recently broke down.
"I sat there and I just sobbed, I said I can't stop crying but I need to pull myself out of this, and I managed to do that with prayer and sacred tobacco. Re-grounding myself, reminding myself that we can't allow these fears to overcome our homes," said Nez-Manuel.
The Navajo Nation received 3,900 dozes of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last week and used them to immunize frontline, healthcare workers.
President Nez said they have just received an additional 8,000 new doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and will use them to immunize first responders, those in long term care facilities, and other vulnerable at-risk members of their community.
Despite the flattening of the curve, President Nez encouraged his community to spend the holidays with close family members in their immediate bubbles at home this year.
In a Facebook message posted for his community, President Nez wrote:
“The COVID-19 vaccines and federal medical personnel are providing some relief for our health care system, but all of us have to keep fighting and making good decisions to lower the spread of the coronavirus in our homes and communities. The virus only spreads when we move about and travel, so we need to stay home more often to isolate the virus and prevent it from spreading even further than it has. This is not the time to let down our guard, especially with the Christmas holiday approaching. Stay home as much as possible, wear your masks, avoid gatherings, practice social distancing, and wash your hands often."