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Navajo Nation expands use of isolation sites as ICU beds near capacity

Monument Valley is a prominent Navajo Nation landmark. (Associated Press)

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.— Navajo Nation officials say nearly all intensive care unit (ICU) beds throughout its region are occupied as COVID-19 cases surge; to avoid forcing health care workers to limit care because of reduced resources, they plan to open various isolation sites.

“Recently, Navajo Area IHS (Indian Health Services) reported that some of their intensive care units, ICU’s, are at full capacity and other bed space is also filling up quickly due to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases recently,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. 

Additionally, Nez said there are few options to transport patients to other regional hospitals that are near full capacity.

Opening isolation sites in Navajo country to mitigate shortage of ICU beds 

The Navajo Nation announced Monday it will open isolation sites for residents who test positive for COVID-19; those awaiting test results can also use the sites. Affected residents can isolate themselves in hotels or at these alternative care sites to prevent passing along the virus. 

“If you’re positive for COVID-19 and don’t want to risk spreading the virus to those that live under the same roof as you, please strongly consider self-isolating at one of these hotel isolation sites,” Nez said. 

The Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center (HCOC) opened multiple isolation sites around the region, including operations in Chinle, Arizona, and Gallup and Farmington, New Mexico. Other sites will open in Tuba City and Holbrook, Arizona. 

“Isolation is key to slowing down the spread of COVID-19 in our homes and communities,” explained Vice President Myron Lizer. “We certainly need more people to volunteer to be isolated due to the overwhelming of our hospital facilities on the Navajo Nation.”

Each isolation facility will provide clinical observation and monitoring of COVID-19 positive individuals. 

In order to be admitted, residents must receive a referral from a clinician, a public health nurse, a community health representative, or a social worker. Any of those professionals can call the COVID-19 Coordination Center at 1-844-935-3932 to make the referral.

As an additional step to help limit the spread and prevent further hospitalizations, the nation extended its stay-at-home order. Currently, 77 Navajo Nation communities are experiencing the “uncontrollable” spread of COVID-19, according to the Navajo Health Department. 


“As we continue to experience bed capacity concerns, we must make available safe isolation options for those living in multigenerational homes, living with a person with underlying health conditions, sharing a room and bathroom. We must do all we can do to protect our health care workers, high risk families, and especially our elders,” said Dr. Jill Jim. 

Related: Heart of Utah: Navajo Strong