Navajo Department of Health moves schools to orange status because of less COVID-19 cases

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Schools on the Navajo Nation dropped to orange status by the Navajo Department of Health because new COVID-19 infections have declined.

The Department of Health placed schools on the orange level in a new public health emergency order released on March 10.

The move was based on gauges listed in its guide for reopening schools and Head Start locations on the tribal land. However, schools must continue to implement prevention strategies outlined in the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Safe Schools Framework.

These strategies include options for parents to use hybrid or virtual learning, wearing face masks, physical distancing, hygiene, cleaning and ventilation, contact tracing and COVID-19 vaccinations.

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The vaccination rate is 42% for individuals ages 5-11 who live on the Navajo Nation, according to information released during last week's COVID-19 update by tribal officials and health experts.

For residents on the tribal land who are ages 12-19, the vaccination rate is 73%.

Del Yazzie, epidemiologist with the Navajo Epidemiology Center, said the Navajo Nation started to see a decrease in new cases in late January.

Although states across the country have eased mandates for wearing face masks in public, the tribe is keeping its mandate.

"I know a lot of people are lifting their mask mandates but we're keeping ours on because we want to keep our elders safe. We want to keep those in that most vulnerable population safe as well as all of us," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said during last week's update.

March 17 will mark two years since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on the Navajo Nation.

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Jared Touchin, spokesman for the president's office, said the office will release a proclamation announcing March 17 as a day of prayer and to remember those who died from COVID-19.

The number of people who have died from the virus on the tribal land is 1,656 as of March 11.

The president's office would like to hold a candlelight ceremony similar to the one held last year, but that remains under development, Touchin 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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