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Navajo COVID Cases On Rise As Tribe Pushes Vaccine, Masks

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says tribal employees face a vaccination requirement.
Madelyn Beck/Mountain West News Bureau

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says tribal employees face a vaccination requirement.

States around the Mountain West are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, and it’s started to affect some tribes, too.

“Of course you’re going to see an uptick in cases when you live all around hotspots,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

The Navajo Nation’s increase in cases is modest compared to surges in states like Arizona, though. There were 25 cases and three deaths across the Navajo Nation on Saturday and 10 more cases on Sunday.

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“I think people get concerned when it goes above 20, but when you compare that to the rest of the country, that’s pretty mild,” Nez said. “But of course our thoughts and prayers go out to those who are directly impacted by the virus.”

The tribal nation hadn’t seen more than 20 cases for all of May and June, but this is still nowhere near the peaks late last year. In November, they reached 401 cases in a day and more than 200 cases as a seven-day average.

Nez said people do sometimes leave tribal grounds, get the virus, and come back. But he feels their mask-wearing and adult vaccination rates above 70 percent are what’s keeping case counts relatively low and keeping people out of the ER.

“We’re just encouraging all our citizens wherever they go to wear masks, and you see that, especially in the border towns. If you want to identify a Navajo in a border town, they’ll be wearing masks,” he said.

Nez says the tribe's next step to reach its goal of a 90 percent vaccination rate is to require all Navajo Nation employees to be vaccinated, though there will be exceptions who will have to test regularly. He didn’t give a date for when that would be in effect, saying the Navajo Nation is “looking at the human resource aspect of it.”

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Ultimately, Nez said COVID-19 has been a massive challenge, but people have stuck together and are working to limit more damage.

“I appreciate the Navajo people not politicizing wearing masks or staying home, and saying their freedoms are restricted. It’s about the larger good,” he said. “I’m hoping that this country looks at the Navajo Nation and its example of how to push back on COVID-19.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the  Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit  Boise State Public Radio News.