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WINDOW ROCK, Arizona – The Navajo Nation, a portion of which stretches into Utah, has begun a three-week lockdown that health officials hope will slow the spread of COVID-19.
The lockdown means people will be required to stay home and stay on the Navajo Nation. Tourists will also not be allowed on the reservation, though essential businesses like grocery stores will stay open.
The Navajo Nation's COVID-19 test positivity rate as of last week is 16%, which is better than Utah's.
However, health officials are worried about whether local hospital ICUs can handle more patients in the future. The ICUs are starting to get stretched, even though only 51% of total hospital beds are full.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said during an online community meeting over Facebook on Sunday that the recent uptick in positive test results has been linked to people traveling onto and out of the reservation.
"Public health experts (and) our contact tracers have said the virus is coming from off the nation onto the nation. So, people are leaving or our family members are coming to visit us," Nez said.
Navajo Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim also reminded people to stay in their neighborhoods and not travel across the reservation.
Like in Utah, family gatherings have also been linked to more COVID-19 cases.
"You like to trust your relatives and your friends that visit you, but that's not the case these days. The disease is invisible," Jim said.
Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer acknowledged that the lockdown may be difficult. But they encouraged people to pray and reminded them that the COVID-19 pandemic, like others before it, is only temporary.
The Navajo Nation instituted a lockdown earlier this year when their COVID-19 positive tests spiked well beyond the United States average.