Monday, March 27, 2023

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14 cases reported: Most from Chilchinbeto; community ordered on lockdown


Chilchinbeto, Arizona, has been called a hot zone after 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported late Thursday.

The Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Office of Environmental Health and Protection have placed a public health order requiring closure of the Chilchinbeto community for quarantine and isolation.

The majority of the 14 cases involve individuals who reported symptoms to the Kayenta Indian Health Service, and others who either transported to or treated at Chinle Health Care Facility and Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Health and emergency officials are taking every precaution to screen and isolate the family members of the 14 and others.

The Navajo Health Command Operations Center and Navajo Area IHS are trying to determine if and how the cases relate, stated a news release from the president’s office.

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“We are awaiting more details on the cases,” said President Jonathan Nez. “We understand that the public has many questions and we ask that the public be patient until the facts are gathered – we do not want to report any misinformation.

“Everyone must remain home at this point and let the health care and emergency experts do their jobs,” he said. “Please be respectful and adhere to their directions as they are doing their best to protect our communities.”

Prior to the hospitalization of the 14, the degree of contact and exposure is unknown and person-to-person spread with or outside the community is suspected, according to the order.

“To mitigate the risk, the community of Chilchinbeto must be and is hereby closed to the public and to visitors,” stated the order. “The purpose of the closure is to allow the community as a whole to isolate and quarantine.”

Delegate Nathaniel Brown, who represents Kayenta, Dennehotso and Chilchinbeto, said he’s listened to elders’ perspective on this global pandemic that has found its way into the small Diné community.

Brown said his elders say this moment in time can be a teachable moment. He said the the Navajo way of life is being lost, which involves being self-sufficient, speaking the language, waking up early to pray, running in the morning, and “being authentic with each other through k’é.”

“Maybe this is teaching us and our people to go back to farming to go back to being self-sufficient to have true sovereignty,” said Brown. “We have been taking handouts from the government for so long it’s almost a disgrace.

“We need to re-empower our people for the true people that we are,” he said. “We are resilient. We are strong. We need a Navajo revolution.”

Navajo teachings have always taught to be clean, to take care of Mother Earth and take care of nature and we have been failing her, he said.

“We are forgetting our ways,” said Brown. “Earthquakes are happening, viruses – so what is this here to teach us? There’s a huge lesson we need to learn from this and we need to do it as a tribe.”

The public health order stated that the Chilchinbeto community should limit movement within and outside the community and to limit contact with other individuals who are immediate family or household members.

Chilchinbeto was where the first two cases of COVID-19 appeared on the Navajo Nation earlier this week. A third case was identified Wednesday night.

The first two cases had a history of travel and it was determined the individuals contracted the virus while on a trip and brought it back to the Nation.

Navajo Nation Police will be monitoring the flow of people leaving and coming into Chilchinbeto.

Police Chief Phillip Francisco said they will start an incident command system in coming days, which will be based in the Navajo Police Academy in Chinle.

Center of Disease Control and Prevention has said gatherings should be of no more than 10 people. The CDC also suggests staying home from work and other public places. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

A public health emergency order was also issued on Wednesday, requiring restaurants to operate at no greater than 50 percent of maximum occupancy and no greater than 50 percent of seating capacity.

In addition, tables and booths may not seat more than six people, and all occupied tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet, employees should be limited to “essential staff,” and prevention and awareness signage displayed for patrons.

The notice also limits fast-food restaurants to drive-through services, suspends all flea markets and indoor and outdoor markets, and prohibits social gatherings of 10 or more persons with exemptions for retail or grocery stores, and hospitals, among others.

“We are facing some serious challenges just as our ancestors did, but we will persevere and overcome this through the power of prayer and by working together cooperatively,” stated Nez. “We are resilient just like our ancestors. Make smart decisions and pray for our communities.”

About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reported on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent.


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