Navajo Nation Will Keep Its Mask Requirement For Now

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2021 - 3:59pm

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Navajo pandemic
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
A billboard on the Navajo Nation encourages residents to avoid social gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said COVID-19 vaccines are effective enough that vaccinated people don’t need masks in most settings. But the country’s largest Native American reservation will continue to enforce a face mask requirement for now.

The Navajo Nation started requiring masks in April of last year. Throughout the pandemic, the tribe has also enforced curfews and strict limits on businesses. Many Arizona cities and counties are dropping mask requirements in response to the CDC's new guidance, but Navajo President Jonathan Nez said in a town hall video Wednesday there are still too many unvaccinated people to give up restrictions on the reservation. 

“It’s going to be hard to find out who is fully vaccinated. Do you want the Navajo Nation to check your cards? I think it’s easier just to keep the mask mandate,” Nez said.  

The rate of death from COVID-19 on the reservation has been three times as high as Arizona’s rate. But the tribe has managed to reduce average daily caseloads 95% from the outbreak's winter peak. 

“We just want to be safe. We want our Navajo people to not catch the virus and get sick," Nez said. "We’ll eventually get back to normal, I’m sure. Let’s stay the course.”

More than 100,000 Navajo people are now fully vaccinated — that’s more than half of the reservation’s population.

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