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Navajo Nation To Request Major Disaster Declaration Amid Second COVID-19 Surge


Navajo Nation leaders will ask the White House for a major disaster declaration amid a second COVID-19 surge on the reservation. It comes as tribal officials have reported hundreds of new daily cases in recent weeks. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says he’ll send a request to President Trump for the federal declaration. If approved, it’ll make additional resources available to the tribe to support frontline medical staff and provide mental healthcare and other assistance as Navajo leaders grapple with long-term recovery from the pandemic.

"The Navajo Nation has been fighting this monster, this virus called COVID-19 for 10 months … We need recommit ourselves to staying home and helping bring these numbers down," said President Nez during a virtual town hall Thursday.

President Nez also announced he’ll extend a reservation-wide stay-at-home lockdown order for three more weeks along with 57-hour weekend curfews.

Health officials say hospitals in Chinle, Gallup, N.M., and elsewhere on and near the Navajo Nation are approaching crisis levels as new infections surge. They worry limited available beds and shortages of supplies like oxygen along with staffing challenges could overwhelm facilities in the coming days and weeks.

They also say it’s becoming harder to transfer sick patients to larger hospitals in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and elsewhere as facilities across the region near capacity.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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