June 17, 2020 / 11:11 PM / 25 days ago

Facing Arizona surge, Navajos reimpose virus curfew

FILE PHOTO: A road sign outside Bloomfield warns Navajos to stay home during their nation's 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), New Mexico, U.S., April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Hay/File Photo

(Reuters) - The Navajo Nation has reimposed 57-hour weekend curfews to protect citizens from a surge in coronavirus cases in neighboring Arizona after the largest Native American reservation managed to flatten its own COVID-19 curve.

A month ago the coronavirus was tearing through the nation, with daily cases spiking above 170 among a population of around 174,000. That gave the Navajo Nation, which straddles parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the highest per-capita infection rate in the country if it were a state.

In Arizona, with a population more than 41 times greater, daily cases plateaued around 500 in mid-May, leading Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to lift a stay-at-home order.

The tables have since turned, with Arizona on Tuesday recording a record 2,392 new cases while the Navajo Nation reported 39.

“In the state of Arizona the numbers are increasing twofold at times, we have to protect our people,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in a webcast on Tuesday. He ordered two more weekend curfews banning travel and closing all stores and restaurants, starting at 8 p.m. on Friday.

Navajos were hit hard by the virus due to their need to travel outside the nation for work and shopping, high levels of underlying health conditions like diabetes and healthcare disparities compared with nearby states.

Nez imposed some of the United States’ toughest coronavirus restrictions, enforcing a string of unpopular weekend curfews on top of a daily night-time curfew and mandatory mask use.

In Arizona, Ducey took a different approach, leaving it up to residents to voluntarily follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, after his stay-at-home order ended May 15.

The Republican governor has attributed rising cases to increased testing. Health experts point to what they call the state’s “cavalier” exit from lockdown.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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