Navajo leaders consider phased reopening

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo leaders said the tribe could begin moving toward a phased reopening of the reservation as early as this week, but they continued to urge members to take precautions to keep the number of COVID-19 cases trending downward.

Despite the optimism, the Navajo Nation already announced it will continue a reservation-wide weekend lockdown for at least the next two weekends, which would be the 16th and 17th such lockdowns.

“July 27 is the day” leaders expect to announce a decision, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said July 21 during an almost two-hour virtual town hall meeting. “We’ve got health care experts that are going to give us updates about what’s happening all around us, and we’re going to make an informed, data-driven decision.”

Nez issued a challenge, saying that if residents can get the number of new infections down to fewer than 50 a day for 14 days “that will support reopening certain places for Navajo usage.” He said the number of cases has been below that level since July 15; the Navajo Department of Health reported 24 new positive COVID-19 cases Monday.

Five new deaths were reported July 26 on the reservation, where the death toll stands at 439.

“I’m not saying we’re going to open up restaurants for large gatherings,” said Nez, suggesting that lakes and tribal parks could be the first to open. “But I think there needs to be a gradual reopening for us,” adding that the reservation might continue to be closed to visitors.

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