April 10 (UPI) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the Navajo Nation reservation, the tribe's president and vice president announced they have gone into voluntary quarantine at their homes after being exposed to a first responder who tested positive for the virus.
The total number of positive cases on the reservation is 558, with 22 deaths, said President Jonathan Nez, speaking at a virtual town hall Thursday. Almost 2,400 negative tests were tallied, the Navajo Department of Health said.
A total lockdown with a 56-hour curfew is planned for the weekend, starting Friday night, Nez said. Tickets to violators will be issued, and those found guilty could face 30 days in jail or a fine of $1,000 or both, he said.
Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said they wore gloves and masks while on a tour of the tribal region Tuesday, adding they are "feeling healthy and doing fine."
"No one is immune from COVID-19. You may be young and in good health, but this virus can infect anyone," Nez said.
"This is not to be taken lightly," he said. "The good news is that the majority of people are testing negative for COVID-19."
About 175,000 people live on the reservation, which overlaps the state boundaries of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. About 40 percent of reservation residents have no access to running water, which makes following federal recommended practices for coronavirus hand washing and hygiene a challenge.
Many tribal residents are older and also have chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and asthma.
The tribe's government signed an order in March blocking non-residents from visiting. Tribe-operated casinos also closed in New Mexico and Arizona.
The Indian Health Service runs 13 facilities, most of them clinics. About 170 hospital beds and 50 isolation rooms and 30 ventilators are available for the entire population.
Emergency teams from Arizona National Guard and FEMA built a temporary 50-bed field hospital in March near the town of Chinle to expand capacity for patients.
Tribal leaders have proclaimed April 10 to 13 as Navajo Nation Family Prayer Weekend, in observance of Good Friday and Easter.
The leaders have asked families to pray together for family members, neighbors, health care workers, governing officials and those who are sick, as well as the families who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19.
"Let's not lose hope, but let's face the reality that this virus is going to be around for several more months," Nez said. "We have to deal with it by making smart decisions and with prayer."