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San Juan County manager urges people to do their part in preventing spread of coronavirus

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — Everybody has a part to play in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, County Manager Mike Stark emphasized during the county commission meeting on March 23.

That means staying at home, washing hands, covering coughs and maintaining six feet of distance between themselves while in public places.

The County Commission played its role in limiting the spread by changing its meeting format.

Only Commissioner Jim Crowley and Commissioner GloJean Todacheene were present in the commission chambers, and they sat on opposite ends of the room. A few people who were presenting and some county staff were scattered throughout the meeting. Commission Chairman Jack Fortner, Commissioner John Beckstead and Commissioner Mike Sullivan called in to the meeting.

MORE:Social distancing: It’s not about you, it’s about us

Rather than letting the public attend the meeting in person, the commission livestreamed its meeting on its website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland closed at noon on March 17 as part of a temporary closure by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise over concerns about public health and safety.

The County Commission passed a resolution asking Navajo Nation to keep its San Juan County casinos closed through the duration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health emergency declaration.

The tribe closed casinos last week through April 6, but Deputy County Attorney Joe Sawyer said it is unlikely that the situation with the pandemic will resolve by then. The tribal casinos are not under state jurisdiction.

MORE:Navajo Nation Council OKs emergency funding for COVID-19 response

The commission also ratified the declaration of public health emergency that Fortner signed last week. This declaration provides the county with access to federal emergency funds and supplies.

San Juan County has prepared for months

Stark and Emergency Manager Mike Mestas said the county has been preparing for the coronavirus since January, including coordinating with various stakeholders including municipalities, schools and the San Juan Regional Medical Center.

“Our community today is very much ahead of the game as it relates to this, but we knew this day would be inevitable,” Stark said. 

The day Stark was referring to was March 21 when the first San Juan County resident tested positive for coronavirus.

"We are ready to respond for more cases," he said. "We know that there will be more."

Mestas mentioned that La Plata County Colorado announced its first case of coronavirus on March 23. There are also 29 cases on Navajo Nation, primarily in Arizona.

MORE:The latest coronavirus updates from San Juan County, Four Corners region

Stark and Mestas said San Juan County is partnering with Navajo Nation to address the spread of the disease.

"This is also a Four Corners regional matter," Stark said.

Crowley said there is a hotline for people to call if they suspect they may have contracted COVID-19.

"If you think you are infected, you don't just run to the hospital," he said. "You start with calling the 855 number, which is 855-600-3453."

Stark said that is important because the hospital will need to manage the influx of coronavirus patients while also caring for people who have other conditions, like heart attacks and broken bones.

MORE:Have a dry cough or sore throat? 9 steps to take if you may have COVID-19

"Ultimately at the end of the day what we're trying to do is flatten the curve and not overload the health care system," Stark said.

Todacheene: Don't hoard during pandemic

GloJean Todacheene

Concerns about the coronavirus have led to increased panic shopping and Todacheene urged people not to hoard items.

“You go to the store and things are wiped out and shelves are empty,” she said.

Todacheene said there is no reason to hoard items because supplies will come in to the stores.

MORE:Don't be a jerk during coronavirus: Stop hoarding and keep your distance

Stark said the fear of the unknown has led to panic shopping and he urged people to remain calm and do their part through social distancing, washing hands frequently and covering their coughs.

Coronavirus will hurt economy, have ripple effects 

The measures taken to limit the spread of coronavirus have led to businesses closing and people being laid off.

"At the end of the day, there's going to be a need to have relief provided to all of our businesses here in San Juan County," Stark said.

MORE:'Everything’s on the table' as small businesses respond to governor's coronavirus orders

He said the measures taken to stop the coronavirus "will have ripple effects for months to come."

Stark said this will likely hurt the county's revenue going forward, however the county has enough reserves that it will make it through this year.

He said the county will work with state and federal legislators and is hoping to see COVID-19 relief packages that will help both individuals and businesses.

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How to help

Community members wishing to volunteer at this time can reach out to these entities:

  • American Red Cross: 505-231-8164 
  • San Juan United Way: 505-326-1195
  • San Juan Medical Reserve Corps: Contact Brent Hamilton at San Juan County Regional Medical Center at bhamilton@sjrmc.net

San Juan County is working to put together a hotline that people can call to find volunteer opportunities in the community.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.