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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources has ordered the closure of parks and recreation areas operated by the tribe's parks and recreation department as part of ongoing precautionary measures due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced the division's decision to close areas that include the Four Corners Monument, Monument Valley Tribal Park and Lake Powell Navajo Park.

In a memorandum from the division's executive director, Rudy Shebala, to department manager Martin Begaye, the closure was scheduled for 8 a.m. on March 13 until further notice.

The closure was due to threats to the health and welfare of tribal members created by COVID-19. The term for the virus in the Navajo language is Dikos Ntsaaígíí-Náhást'éíts'áadah.

"Navajo residents of the park and recreation areas will be allowed entry and exit to the aforementioned areas," the memorandum states.

The tribe's leadership and administrators from the Navajo Area Indian Health Service talked about responses to the coronavirus during a March 13 press conference in Window Rock, Arizona.

Recent coronavirus updates: 

Navajo Area IHS continues public education efforts as well as daily assessments on readiness, monitoring supplies and modifying access to facilities.

"In the event that there is a positive case, we are prepared to scale back our services – to decrease the number of patients that would be at our facilities. Therefore, decreasing their chances of exposure," Navajo Area IHS Chief Medical Officer Loretta Christensen said.

The new measures by the tribal government come after weeks of dialogue between health care officials, limitations on travel by tribal government employees and the opening of a command operations center within the Navajo Department of Health.

With confirmed cases of the coronavirus in states that comprise the Navajo Nation, the tribe's Commission on Emergency Management declared a public health state of emergency on March 11.

Nez and Lizer concurred with the commission's action the same day.

"It's very important that we remain proactive," Nez said.

His office remains in communication with the federal government about resources and assistance, as well as advocating for tribes to receive additional money under the $8.3 billion coronavirus funding bill President Trump signed on March 6.

Leaders talk proactive measures

Navajo government employees who traveled to areas with high cases of the coronavirus are mandated to stay home for 14 calendar days after returning home.

Delegate Daniel Tso announced that delegates who attended the U.S. Department of the Interior's Tribal-Interior Budget Council meetings this week in Washington, D.C. will be in self-isolation, including Delegate Seth Damon who attended a separate conference away from the reservation.

Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne said the district courts are operating as normally as possible and court administrators are preparing to modify schedules for court hearings if the coronavirus impacts operations.

"The Navajo Nation Judicial Branch will strive to remain open and to provide judicial services," Jayne said, adding if people have questions about cases or hearings they need to call their assigned court.

Meanwhile, the Department of Diné Education is contacting schools on the reservation and devising closure plans, President Nez said.

Navajo Head Start extended its spring break by an additional week and the divisions of economic development and transportation have postponed conferences, he added.

Lizer said the Office of the Controller is "closely" monitoring the tribe's investment portfolios.

"Investments are being impacted just as everyone else's investment funds. However, the good thing is that the nation invests in a broad range of stocks to minimize the impacts," Lizer said.

The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise is taking precautionary measures to address the health and safety of guests and employees, according to a press release from the enterprise.

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Brian Parrish, interim CEO for the enterprise, said this includes monitoring updates from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the tribe's COVID-19 Preparedness Team and the departments of health in New Mexico and Arizona.

The enterprise has stopped buffet service at its locations, including at the Cedar Bow Restaurant at Northern Edge Casino.

They are also frequently cleaning and disinfecting machines, restrooms, hotel rooms, food areas and employee break areas and providing hand sanitizers throughout the facility and casino floor, Parrish said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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