Coronavirus variants keep Navajo Nation roads closed
Navajo Nation Council might have thought it was safe to open Navajo Nation roads to tourists and visitors, but Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sees the new coronavirus variants as a threat and on Friday vetoed a resolution that would have reopened the Navajo Nation to the public.
In the past two weeks variants B.117 and B.1.429 were reported in the Western and Chinle agencies of the Navajo Nation, respectively. Although both individuals have recovered from the variants, Nez stated he agrees with public health officials that they need to continue to monitor the situation.
“We discussed this issue with our public health experts and agreed that we need to continue to monitor the variants to see the extent of their impacts in the next few weeks before we consider reopening our roads to visitors,” stated Nez. “We also need to continue the efforts to vaccinate more of our residents here on the Navajo Nation to move closer to herd immunity and this will take time.”
He also noted that since Arizona lifted nearly all COVID-19 restrictions it reported 1,302 new cases of COVID-19, which is a large increase from previous days. He noted Utah will also be lifting its mask mandate on Saturday, and these impacts need to be monitored.
Some 211,298 vaccines have been administered on the Nation, and 90,942 are fully vaccinated. The stay-at-home orders have been reinstated.
On Friday, the Navajo Nation reported 26 new cases, the most the tribe has had after enjoying low numbers for a few weeks. The total number of deaths remains 1,260 as previously reported on Thursday. Reports indicate that 16,430 individuals have recovered from COVID-19, and 257,625 COVID-19 tests have been administered. The total number of positive COVID-19 cases is now 30,239.
Last March, as COVID-19 made its way onto Navajo Nation, lawmakers passed and Nez approved a resolution to close all Navajo-owned and maintained roads to visitors and tourists until the declaration of public health emergency that was placed on Navajo is lifted, or until Council rescinds the resolution and Nez approves it.
The Navajo Nation has over 14,000 miles of roads; of these roughly 6,000 miles are U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs roads, 1,600 miles are county routes, and 5,000 miles are Navajo Nation owned and maintained.
The continued closure as the tourist season starts up will have negative economic repercussions for the Nation.
“The data indicates that residents are traveling more and more and holding in-person family gatherings,” stated Nez. “Before you decide to travel or hold an in-person gathering, think about the risks and think about our health care workers and the risks they are taking for us each day. Stay home as much as possible, wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid large in-person gatherings, and wash your hands often.”