COVID-19 pandemic in the Navajo Nation

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COVID-19 pandemic in the Navajo Nation
Virus strainSARS-CoV-2
LocationNavajo Nation, United States
Index caseChilchinbito, Arizona
Arrival dateMarch 17, 2020
Confirmed cases11,540 (as of September 20, 2020)[1]
Recovered7,230 (as of September 20, 2020)[2]
548 (as of September 20, 2020)[3]

On March 17, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was reported to have reached the Navajo Nation.[4] The virus then spread rapidly through the Navajo Nation[5][6] to the point that the Navajo have a higher per capita rate of infection than any state of the United States.[7] The population according to the 2010 United States Census was 173,667. As of 20 September 2020, the number of confirmed cases was 11,540.[1]

A June 2020 concluded that the high rate of COVID-19 infection on the Navajo Nation is influenced by a multitude of underlying issues prevalent on the reservation, such as lack of access to quality healthcare, poverty, and community behavior.[8]




On February 27, the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team was established to coordinate efforts to raise awareness and arrange preparations for the virus. The team consisted of officials from Navajo and Federal government agencies. At this time, Michael D. Weahkee, the Assistant Surgeon General and Principal Deputy Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS), said that the risk of contracting COVID-19 was "low".[9][10]


In a meeting on March 2 with the Navajo Nation Council's Naabi'iyati' Committee, the executive director of the Navajo Nation Department of Health Jill Jim said the Navajo Nation was a low-risk area.[11]

The Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund was established on March 15 by former Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch. The Relief Fund provides aid to elders raising their grandchildren, struggling families, single parents, and those with compromised immune systems.[12]

The Navajo Nation is on portions of the U.S. states of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered all schools in the state to close on March 16.[13]

The Navajo Gaming Board of Directors temporarily closed all casino facilities beginning March 17.[14]

The pandemic reached the Navajo Nation on March 17 after a 46-year old from Chilchinbito, Arizona (Tsii'chin Bii' Tó) tested positive for COVID-19. In response, the Navajo Health Command Operations center issued a Public Health Emergency Order to "shelter-in-place" Chilchinbeto beginning March 19.[15][16] Many of the early cases were later linked to the Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene Zone Rally held on March 7.[17]

On March 18, Coconino County, Arizona declared a state of emergency,[18] and Navajo County, Arizona Sheriff David Clouse suspended jail visitation.[19]

On March 20, President Jonathan Nez issued a stay-at-home order for the entire Navajo Nation after 14 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed, with an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew enforced.[20] Those found in violation of curfew may face up to 30 days in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000.[21]

Effective on March 20, all visitation and in-person volunteer activities were suspended at the Coconino County Detention Facility.[22] Governor Ducey ordered all gyms, theaters, and bars to close and restaurants to operate with take-out and drive-thru only in counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases, affecting Coconino County. He also activated the Arizona National Guard to provide emergency assistance.[23]

On March 23, Diné College switched to only offering courses online.[24]

Governor Ducey imposed a stay-at-home order for all non-essential activity effective March 31 at 5:00pm. Schools were also closed for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year.[25]


Arizona National Guard service members set up a Federal Medical Station on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Arizona, to support COVID-19 health care
Arizona National Guard members deliver food and supplies for Navajo Nation residents at a local food bank in Black Mesa, Arizona

April 4, effective at 5:00pm, Governor Ducey ordered all barber shops, salons, tattoo shops, and massage parlors to close. Coconino National Forest started enforcing closed high-traffic hiking trails and recreational sites by issuing citations. Navajo Nation Police also began issuing fines and citations to those violating the imposed curfew.[26]

On April 7, a man in Page, Arizona was arrested on a felony charge on suspicion of attempting to incite an act of terrorism for claiming on a Facebook post that Navajo peoples were all infected with COVID-19 and called for the use of "lethal force" against Navajo to stop the virus from spreading.[27][28]

Beginning April 10, a 57-hour weekend curfew was declared. The Health Command Center was tasked to declare subsequent weekend curfews.[29][30] At that point, there were 698 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 24 deaths, among members of the Navajo Nation living in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.[29][31]

On April 15, the Navajo Police Department announced that nine of their police officers were confirmed positive for COVID-19.[32]

By April 18, there were 1,197 cases.[15] On April 19, the Navajo Department of Health issued an emergency public health order mandating the use of protective masks outside the home, in addition to existing orders for sheltering in place and nightly and weekend curfews.[33][34] By April 20, the Navajo Nation had the third-highest infection rate in the United States, after New York and New Jersey.[15]

On April 25, the Nation announced that it was joining 10 other tribes in a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, over what the plaintiffs said was an unfair allocation of money to the tribes under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).[35][36] On May 5, $600 million of aid money was delivered to the Navajo Nation, a month after the legislation was signed into law.[37]


On May 14, there were 3,632 confirmed cases and 127 COVID-19 related deaths across the Navajo nation.[38]

As of May 18, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York as the most affected U.S. region per capita,[5] with 4,071 positive COVID-19 tests and 142 fatalities recorded.[39]

By the end of Memorial Day weekend, Navajo police had issued nearly 1,000 curfew citations.[21]

During the pandemic Zachary Fuentes, the former Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, created the company Zach Fuentes LLC and received a $3 million contract from the Indian Health Service to provide protective face masks to hospitals in the Navajo Nation, 11 days after creating the company. Over 25% of the masks were reported to be unsuitable for medical use, and another 15% were of a type that was not requested.[40][41] US House of Representatives members Gerry Connolly and Ruben Gallego called for an investigation of the contract, and principal deputy inspector general Christi Grimm of the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that the office would contact Connolly for more information on the matter.[42]


On June 1, the Navajo Nation reported a total of 5,479 cases and 248 deaths related to COVID-19.[43]

By June 11, the Navajo Nation had the largest per capita infection rate in the United States, surpassing any individual state in the union.[6][7]

On June 18, the Navajo County jail in Holbrook, Arizona reported 3 infected inmates with the disease.[44]




The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise stated that its properties will remain closed through June 7.[45] The closure of casinos was later extended through July 5.[46]


San Juan County, New Mexico, reduced the number of voting convenience centers from 32 to 9, and translators will only be available at four locations.[47] While absentee voter turnout on the June 4, 2020, primary increased compared to 2016, not all Navajo voters had access to home mail delivery and absentee ballot instructions were not offered in Navajo translations.[48]


Coconino County installed a Wi-Fi hotspot between the Page Magistrate Court Buildings and Coconino County Health and Human Services Northern Region Office at 467 Vista Ave. in Page, Arizona.[49] While remaining in a vehicle, this hotspot, named CountyWi-Fi, is freely accessible and does not require a network password.[50]

Northern Arizona University (NAU), with clearance from Navajo and Hopi officials, extended free Wi-Fi signals to parking lots on the Navajo Nation for any college and K-12 student.[51][52]

Coconino County offers assistance for rent and utilities based on income eligibility. Assistance may be granted for electric, gas, wood, water, propane, rental, or utility deposits when moving.[53] [54]

The Navajo Nation has 13 grocery stores, 12 health facilities, 170 hospital beds, 13 intensive care unit beds, 52 isolation rooms, and 28 ventilators.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "COVID-19 Cases by IHS Area". Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  2. ^ "COVID-19 Across the Navajo Nation". Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  3. ^ "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19 (COVID-19)". Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  4. ^ Becenti, Arlyssa (March 17, 2020). "First Diné tests positive for coronavirus". Navajo Times. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Hollie Silverman; Konstantin Toropin; Sara Sidner; Leslie Perrot. "Navajo Nation surpasses New York state for the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the US". CNN. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  6. ^ a b DeSantis, Rachel (June 11, 2020). "Navajo Nation Has More COVID-19 Cases Than 12 States — and More Deaths Than 7 States Combined". People.
  7. ^ a b Klar, Rebecca (May 11, 2020). "Navajo Nation reports more coronavirus cases per capita than any US state". TheHill.
  8. ^ Kakol, Monika; Upson, Dona; Sood, Akshay (June 1, 2020). "Susceptibility of Southwestern American Indian Tribes to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID‐19)". The Journal of Rural Health. doi:10.1111/jrh.12451. ISSN 0890-765X. PMC 7264672. PMID 32304251.
  9. ^ Guintero, Donovan (February 29, 2020). "Navajo Nation creates COVID-19 team". Navajo Times. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  10. ^ "Navajo Nation responds to coronavirus; prepardness team established". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  11. ^ Denetclaw, Pauly (March 5, 2020). "Nation monitors, preps, plans for virus". Navajo Times. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  12. ^ "Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief aims to help elders and struggling families during coronavirus pandemic". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  13. ^ "Arizona schools closed additional two weeks". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  14. ^ "Twin Arrows to close from March 17 through April 5". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c "Coronavirus batters the Navajo Nation, and it's about to get worse". Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  16. ^ Critchfield, Hannah (March 19, 2020). "14 Navajo Nation Members Test Positive for COVID-19, Emergency Order Declared". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  17. ^ Allen, Krista (March 22, 2020). "Virus strikes at rally: Chilchinbeto church gathering may be source of outbreak". Navajo Times. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  18. ^ "Coconino County declares state of emergency in response to outbreak". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  19. ^ "Navajo County suspends jail visitations". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  20. ^ Sunnie R. Clahchischiligi (January 31, 2019). "Opinion | The Navajo Nation Is Facing the Coronavirus, Too – The New York Times". Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  21. ^ a b Morin, Richard. "Navajo police issue 134 citations during sixth 57-hour curfew weekend". azcentral. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  22. ^ "Coconino County Jail suspends visitations, inmate programs". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  23. ^ "Arizona governor calls up National Guard, restricts businesses in Coconino County and others". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  24. ^ "Diné College adjusts to online studies, postpones May graduation". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  25. ^ "Arizona governor issues stay-at-home order effective Tuesday". AP NEWS. March 30, 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  26. ^ "Ducey orders hair salons closed amid criticism". AP NEWS. April 3, 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  27. ^ "Page man arrested after online threat toward Navajo community amid coronavirus pandemic". KNXV. April 7, 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  28. ^ Allen, Krista (April 10, 2020). "Page man arrested after racist Facebook threat". Navajo Times. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  29. ^ a b Silverman, Hollie (April 12, 2020). "The Navajo Nation is under a weekend curfew to help combat the spread of coronavirus – CNN". Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  30. ^ "Public Health Emergency Order No. 2020-005" (PDF). April 5, 2020.
  31. ^ "101 new positive cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths reported, rapid testing to soon become available" (PDF). April 11, 2020.
  32. ^ "Nine Navajo police officers test positive for COVID −19". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  33. ^ "Navajo Nation orders mandatory coronavirus masks as minorities continue to be hardest hit". Vox. April 19, 2020. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  34. ^ "Navajo Nation orders protective masks worn on reservation". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  35. ^ Guzman, Joseph (April 23, 2020). "Navajo Nation joins lawsuit against US for 'fair share' of coronavirus funding". TheHill. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  36. ^ "Navajo Nation to sue US government over lack of coronavirus funding – Channel 4 News". April 25, 2020. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  37. ^ Klemko, Robert (May 11, 2020). "Coronavirus has been devastating to the Navajo Nation, and help for complex fight has been slow". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  38. ^ "Here's everything to know about coronavirus in Arizona on May 15". Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  39. ^ "COVID-19 Across the Navajo Nation". Navajo Times. April 6, 2020. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  40. ^ "Calls in Congress for probe on how former Trump aide won $3 million respirator contract". Retrieved May 27, 2020. "The no-bid contract awarded to Mr. Fuentes definitely has our full attention," Connolly told Yahoo News after the hearing. Connolly, who heads the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, vowed that even if HHS did not investigate the Fuentes contract, congressional Democrats would do so themselves. During the hearing itself, he said there was "something suspicious" about the whole affair.
  41. ^ "The Feds Gave a Former White House Official $3 Million to Supply Masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some May Not Work". Government Executive. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  42. ^ "Democratic Congressman Calls for Probe Into Former White House Official's $3 Million Mask Deal". ProPublica. Retrieved May 27, 2020. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia
  43. ^ "Arizona reports 40 new coronavirus deaths, 973 more cases". June 3, 2020. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  44. ^ "COVID-19 detected at Navajo County jail". White Mountain Independent. June 19, 2020.
  45. ^ "Navajo Gaming extends closure through June 7". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  46. ^ Quintero, Donovan (June 6, 2020). "Casinos to reopen July 5 with precautions in place". Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  47. ^ Dol, Gwyneth; Depth, New Mexico In (May 27, 2020). "Fewer polling places present challenges for Native voters". New Mexico In Depth. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  48. ^ Grover, Hannah. "COVID-19 may have disproportionately impacted Navajo Nation residents' access to voting sites". Farmington Daily Times. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
  49. ^ "Coconino County announces wireless hotspot in Page | Arizona Emergency information Network". Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  50. ^ "Free wireless hotspot now available in Page". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  51. ^ "Northern Arizona University creates Wi-Fi hotspots on Navajo and Hopi reservations to help students continue classes". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  52. ^ "NAU Broadband/Wi-Fi Resources". Northern Arizona University. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  53. ^ "Coconino County offers utility and rent assistance for qualified applicants". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  54. ^ "Application for Service". Coconino County Community Services. April 10, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  55. ^ "#NavajoStrong campaign launches to help fight COVID-19 on Nation". Navajo-Hopi Observer News. Retrieved May 28, 2020.

Further reading[edit]