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GALLUP — The Navajo Nation could extend the order that requires residents to remain at home, as the number of positive cases for COVID-19 increases to 29.

The Navajo Department of Health and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service released the new number on March 23, according to a press release from the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President.

The new number includes recent positive tests reported on tribal land located in McKinley County and in Apache and Navajo counties in Arizona, the release states.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez told reporters during a press conference on Monday that the Navajo Department of Health and the Navajo Area IHS updated the way it is reporting cases to reflect counties, rather than the 12 health care facilities under the umbrella of the Navajo Area IHS.

The tribe's health department issued a stay-at-home order for residents on the Navajo Nation on March 20 to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Residents can travel, but only when necessary for their health, safety or welfare.

"If there needs to be any type of gathering of supplies, there should be just one person going out to get those supplies. … We're not encouraging the whole family to go to the store," Nez said.

He added there is a possibility the order could extend past April 4, and officials will meet this week to talk about whether such an extension is needed.

Such a step would follow tighter restrictions issued by the Arizona state government. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Monday additional restrictions for state residents, including staying at home and the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Over the weekend, officers from the Navajo Police Department made announcements in communities about the stay at home order, the press release states.

Jill Jim, director of the Navajo Health Department, said health experts and researchers are realizing the new virus could impact communities for months.

"It's very unknown. This virus in unpredictable, and we don't know what it is capable of," Jim said.

Because of that uncertainty, it is important for residents to follow the stay at home order, she said.

Navajo Area IHS Chief Medical Officer Loretta Christensen asked for residents to follow the instructions to stay home, not to gather, practice social distancing, keep surfaces clean and not touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

She said the turnaround time for test results is quicker now that samples are being sent to Phoenix, and the agency is ordering supplies to use the new rapid coronavirus test that was approved last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"As soon as those supplies arrive, we'll begin offering the rapid testing in Navajo Area," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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