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Nez urges Navajo Nation to stay safe during holidays as COVID-19 cases hit 'all-time high'

John R. Moses Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Department of Health and other health agencies on Nov. 22 reported 383 new cases of COVID-19, shattering a previous record set two days earlier.

According to information released by the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President, the total number of cases has reached 15,039, including 42 previously unannounced cases.

The death toll reached 631 on Sunday. There are 8,131 people who were infected but have recovered from COVID-19, and 147,793 COVID-19 tests were administered.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez warned against holding group celebrations during the holidays.

"With the Thanksgiving Day holiday upon us, we have to do what is best for our families and that's to celebrate with only those that live within our own household," Nez said in the release. "Please do not invite family members from other households and please do not have any in-person guests and that is for your own safety and health."

MORE:New coronavirus infections on Navajo Nation to surpass numbers set in May

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez speaks about the record number of new COVID-19 infections reported by health officials on Nov. 22 during an online town hall hosted by his office.

Nez noted skyrocketing number of COVID-19 infections in communities surrounding the Navajo Nation as a reason to continue the ongoing three-week lockdown on the reservation.

Vice President Myron Lizer described Sunday's numbers as "more intense" than the 351 cases reported on Nov. 20.

"The much anticipated second wave is upon us," Lizer said on Nov. 22 during a town hall organized by the president's office.

Last week, the tribe's health department director, Jill Jim, warned that the daily infection rate would climb past those set in the spring.

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer prays for the tribe's safety and for tribal members impacted by COVID-19 during an online town hall on Nov. 22.

Personal experiences shared

To get people to think differently about the virus, the office had Jonathan Morton, a tribal member in Queen Creek, Arizona, share his story about losing family members to COVID-19.

Morton explained that his mother, Ruby Morton, and his older brother, Joseph Ruben Morton, both died after contracting the virus at a church rally in early March in Chilchinbeto, Arizona.

Joseph Ruben Morton died on March 19 in his sleep at home in Page, Arizona.

MORE:Pandemic: The deadly loss of Navajo women

Ruby Morton's health took a severe turn and she ended up in a Flagstaff, Arizona, hospital for treatment. She died on April 1.

"You don't say goodbye in your traditional sense because they're pretty much out of it," Jonathan Morton said about the last telephone call to his mother.

"It's just like a car crash, like a freak car crash. Boom, they're gone, and you don't see them anymore," he added.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Nov. 22, 2020 urged people to stay home and not hold gatherings of people from outside a household during the upcoming holidays.  Signs that encourage the public to stay at home have appeared in communities on the Navajo Nation. This sign is pictured on May 8 on Navajo Route 34 in Sanostee.

Jonathan Morton described his mother as being "deeply involved" with the Church of the Nazarene and his brother as being there for their mother, including driving her to the rally that weekend.

This is the second time a member of the Navajo Nation shared their experience with COVID-19 during a town hall.

MORE:Navajo Nation residents ordered to stay home as coronavirus infections climb

Nez explained that by hearing Jonathan Morton's story, it might have people think differently about how they are reacting to public health and executive orders put in place to reduce virus spread.

"We should all be on the same page here and take this virus seriously," Nez said.

Contact John R. Moses at 505-564-4624, or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

Reporter 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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