‘… it’s still here’: To’hajilee, Alamo see spikes in coronavirus cases
By Colleen Keane
Special to the Times
A week ago, President Jonathan Nez ordered another weekend lockdown directing family members to stay at home. He made the order because coronavirus cases are spiking in communities across the Navajo Nation.
During a virtual town hall, he advised listeners that contact tracing trailed the increase in cases back to family gatherings, as reported by Navajo Times journalist Arlyssa Becenti.
“You put your family in jeopardy when you have these social gatherings,” Nez said.
Nez is especially concerned about outbreaks in the eastern satellite communities.
In the last couple of weeks, To’hajiilee and Alamo have experienced spikes that have impacted dozens of people.
To’hajiilee (Canoncito) is 24 miles west and Alamo is 85 miles southwest of Albuquerque.
In both communities, the outbreaks happened suddenly and without warning.
At To’hajiilee, during the week of Sept. 21, there were 31 positive cases impacting 13 households, according to Cindy Browning, interim chief executive for the Canoncito Band of Navajos Health Center.
“It started from a (family) event and continued to spread,” she said adding that there were between 20 to 30 people at the gathering.
To control the outbreak, the health center administered 279 tests in the one-week period and placed 85 impacted people in isolation for 14 days either at their homes or at the isolation hotel facility for COVID-19 in Albuquerque.
“It spread that much!” she exclaimed.
Part of the spread happened when people didn’t abide by the quarantine period.
“We have reports during the week of children riding bikes in the community and teenagers going to the store and post office, not adhering to isolation,” Browning said.
She pointed out that there were significant findings from the current spike. On Sept. 21, the first day of the weeklong spike, there were 13 positive cases, which were the highest positives in one day since the pandemic began.
Overall, there were more positive results for minors from ages 2 months to 17 years than in the past.
Browning said it was also important to note that several of the youth were asymptomatic, meaning they had no signs or symptoms.
In these cases, she said although the person tests negative after exposure, they’re still requested to isolate for 14 days, “because they could turn positive themselves.
“(Isolation) is required to control the spread,” she said.
She added that another way to control the spread is through police presence to encourage people to follow stay-at-home orders and control traffic in and out of the community.
“We really need (law enforcement) to enforce the curfew,” she said.
Acknowledging the Navajo Nation Police officer who came out to To’hajiilee on Saturday, she said, “He did a great job of turning people back and stopping people. Then, the minute he was gone, traffic picked up again.”
At Alamo, the recent spike resulted in 21 new cases of the coronavirus, according to Frank Curley, Alamo Navajo School Board executive director.
“We had no positives for about eight weeks,” Curley said. “Then, this (outbreak) came up real quick.”
Like To’hajiilee, the spike in cases was from a family gathering.
“Someone came in from off reservation to attend an event and passed along the virus,” he said.
He added that those impacted are on the road to recovery.
Curley stressed that Alamo also needs more law enforcement presence to ensure the health and safety of the community now and in the future.
“That is one of our big requests (we made to the Navajo Nation),” he said. “I was thinking they would have some (officers) come in on Friday night, but there was no sign of them.”
For both Alamo and To’hajiilee, the priority is to control the spread of COVID-19.
“This gave us a reality check that it’s still there,” said Browning.
She suggested that community members keep up their guard and abide by the social-distancing protocol.
“Everyone is tired of this,” she said. “But, stay home (as much as possible), increase hand washing, limit travel, wear a mask and isolate if asked to by the clinic.”
Curley advised, “Don’t have family gatherings, stay out of crowds and watch out for the little things. (Disinfect) your keys, cell phones and even credit cards, when you do have to travel.”
Curley said the school board sends regular health reminders to the community in memos and announcements over the local radio station, KABR-FM.
At To’hajiilee and Alamo, the school, chapter and partners work together to provide food and supplies to impacted families.
“It takes the entire community to contain the spread,” said Browning.