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Navajo Nation extends curfew as virus cases continue to rise

Posted at 7:36 AM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 20:27:37-04

As cases hit 1,000, Navajo Nation leaders are adding restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, which is straining the northern Arizona healthcare system.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez described social-distancing orders as tough love. They include two more weekend-long, 57-hour curfews for people who live on the reservation, which covers portions of northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. These curfews will also force additional restrictions on operating hours and occupancy for grocery stores and gas stations.

Nez tells people to stock up before Friday evening.

"Please honor and respect our doctors and our physicians and law enforcement that are telling us to stay home," Nez said in a Facebook Live video Thursday.

Nez is quarantined to his home after coming into contact with someone who had the virus last week.

Nine Navajo police officers, who have been enforcing the social distancing rules, are among the more than 1,000 confirmed cases on the Navajo Nation.

About 350,00 people live in the area.


Nez also cautioned people against rushing to stores to spend the federal government's stimulus checks.

"It's up to each and everyone of us to hold one another accountable," Nez said.

Flagstaff Medical Center administrators said they have seen no flattening of the curve.

"In fact, the Navajo Nation is now increasing cases per capita at a higher rate than New York," said Flo Spyrow, CEO of Northern Arizona Healthcare, which operates Flagstaff Medical Center.

More than 70 current FMC patients have confirmed COVID-19 or are waiting for test results. Administrator have already increased bed capacity by 25 percent. They are now working on other strategies to avoid running out of critical care beds at the peak.

"We need to aggressively seek long-term, acute care for some of those patients that are improving and are stable that can go to another care facility," said Dr. John Mougin, NAH's chief quality officer.

The hospital reports 69 patients, including one who was on a ventilator, have recovered from coronavirus and have been released, but 31 of their COVID-19 patients died since the outbreak began. A refrigerated truck has been brought in to serve as a temporary morgue.

Four Northern Arizona Healthcare employees have also fallen ill with coronavirus.

"It's been challenging to our staff, and it's been challenging for our leadership," said Tyffany Laurano, FMC interim chief nursing officer.

More resources are arriving to diagnose and treat patients and protect healthcare workers. The Navajo Nation has received 1,440 rapid coronavirus tests, which can show results in less than 30 minutes. Businesses and community residents have provided additional personal protective equipment for hospital workers.

Hospital administrators say they also plan to try an experimental plasma therapy, where recovered patients donate blood hoping their antibodies can help treat the sick.