Navajo Nation health officials recommend continuing COVID-19 precautions as Omicron variant studied

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Health professionals on the Navajo Nation are recommending residents continue following COVID-19 precautions and get vaccinated as researchers around the world learn more about the Omicron variant.

Last month, the World Health Organization designated Omicron a "variant of concern" after it was first identified in South Africa. It has been detected in several countries since then, including the first confirmed case in the United States in California on Dec. 1.

Omicron COVID variant:First confirmed US case of the omicron variant detected in California: COVID-19 updates

Dr. Amanda Burrage, a physician with Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation in Arizona, said there have been no cases of the new variant on the Navajo Nation and researchers continue to study the variant, including how transmissible it is, how ill it can make people and how effective current vaccines are on it.

"I think it's key to know that it's not here yet. It may come and likely will come at some point but for now, the current surge that we're seeing that's causing our hospitals to fill, that's causing burdens on our health care system, our public health facilities is the Delta variant," Burrage said during an online update about COVID-19.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez receives a  COVID-19 booster shot on Nov. 20 in Piñon, Arizona. Nez and first lady Phefelia Nez received booster doses while their son, Alexander Nez, 6, received his first dose.

Throughout the Nov. 30 update, health officials encouraged residents to follow precautions such as wearing face masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated or getting booster shots.

Booster shots are available to those who have been fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for more than six months. If the person received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a booster shot is recommended after two months.

On the Navajo Nation, 71% of residents who are 12 years and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Navajo Epidemiology Center.

For children ages 5-11, about 23% have received first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the center reported.

Dr. Kevin Gaines, acting chief medical officer of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said hospitals are seeing a significant surge in COVID-19 cases, causing difficulties for facilities to manage services.

"Our hospitals are often running at capacity both for usual hospital beds as well as ICU care and beds. The ERs are seeing significant increases in visits, which is due to nursing staffing issues which are nationwide," Gaines explained.

He added that the increase in patient visits are causing longer wait times in emergency rooms.

More:San Juan County, Navajo Nation COVID-19 case updates for November 2021

65 communities under health advisory

The number of communities deemed by the Navajo Department of Health as having uncontrolled transmission of COVID-19 decreased to 65 this week.

Locally, the department placed Gadii'ahi, Hogback, Naschitti, Nenahnezad, Newcomb, Sanostee, Sheep Springs, Shiprock and Upper Fruitland on the health advisory notice.

Other communities in New Mexico are Baca-Prewitt, Becenti, Casamero Lake, Chichiltah, Church Rock, Coyote Canyon, Crownpoint, Iyanbito, Mexican Springs, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Pinedale, Ramah, Rock Springs, Standing Rock, Thoreau, Tóhajiilee, Tohatchi, Torreon, Tsayatoh, Twin Lakes and Whitehorse Lake.

How serious is omicron?:It will take weeks to understand new coronavirus variant, experts say.

Those in Arizona and Utah are Birdsprings, Black Mesa, Bodaway-Gap, Chilchinbeto, Chinle, Coppermine, Dennehotso, Ganado, Indian Wells, Inscription House, Kaibeto, Kayenta, LeChee, Leupp, Low Mountain, Lupton, Mexican Water, Navajo Mountain, Oak Springs, Piñon, Red Mesa, Red Valley, Rock Point, Shonto, St. Michaels, Sweetwater, Tachee-Blue Gap, Teec Nos Pos, Tonalea, Tsaile-Wheatfields, Tselani-Cottonwood, Tuba City, Whippoorwill and White Cone.

The Department of Health based its list on cases confirmed between Nov. 12 to Nov. 25.

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

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