Navajo leaders self-quarantine after exposure to coronavirus
Jonathan Nez and Myron Lizer have entered self-isolation
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer are in self-quarantine after working in close proximity to a first responder who later tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
Nez said in a town hall meeting on April 9 that he entered self-isolation two days ago after he and Lizer were part of a group working on the Navajo Nation in response to the coronavirus.
He explained that he and others wore face masks and gloves, and used precautions during the April 7 tour.
"I've been isolated into my room, just to be on the safe side," Nez said.
Nez and Lizer are continuing to perform their duties by teleconference, email and other communication channels, according to a press release from their office.
Weekend curfew to start
The Navajo Nation has been under a nightly curfew for more than a week as part of efforts to de-escalate the community spread of the coronavirus. To further respond, the Navajo Department of Health authorized a full curfew from 8 p.m. April 10 to 5 a.m. April 13.
Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco has said the police department will increase its presence and issue citations to individuals who violate the curfew. Those found guilty face 30 days in jail or a fine of $1,000 or both.
Attempts to decrease the spread of the new virus have led the tribal government in recent weeks to close tourist areas, order residents to stay at home and restrict travel on roads.
The Navajo Nation Council passed a bill to close roads owned and maintained by the tribe to visitors and tourists.
"The Navajo Nation has the inherent sovereign authority to protect its members through any emergency measure it deems necessary, including restricting travel onto the Navajo Nation by non-Navajo visitors," the March 20 resolution states.
Nez signed the bill into law on April 3 and wrote in a memorandum to Speaker Seth Damon that the resolution fits with the order that closed the tribe's parks and recreation sites.
"The nation will allow access for necessary and essential travel for such persons as medical personnel and volunteers, essential delivery and to allow for interstate commerce," Nez wrote in the memorandum.
U.S. Highway 491 is a major corridor on the reservation and is part of the National Highway System, with maintenance handled by the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
NMDOT has jurisdiction for the highway but as an agency, it does not conduct law enforcement activities.
Marisa Maez, communications director for NMDOT, said the department is coordinating with tribes and pueblos regarding road closures and restrictions on a case-by-case basis.
"NMDOT has not currently received any requests from the Navajo Nation to block any state highways. The Navajo Nation may block nonstate roads under their jurisdiction at their discretion," Maez said.
Last month, the department issued support for travel restrictions on pueblo lands.
When asked if NMDOT will support similar action by the Navajo Nation, Maez said the department supports Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the tribe's directives to stay at home.
"At the nation's request, NMDOT will offer similar statements of support for any messaging related to staying at home, and limiting all nonessential travel," she said.
Families asked to pray over Easter weekend
Nez and Lizer are asking families to pray for the tribe as the number of COVID-19 cases nears 500 and the death toll climbs.
The two leaders, along with first lady Phefelia Herbert-Nez and Dottie Lizer, signed the proclamation on April 8.
It declares April 10-13 Navajo Nation Family Prayer Weekend and encourages the need to offer prayers for communities, health care and public safety personnel, families and those diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who have lost loved ones to the disease.
Nez did not respond by deadline to questions about whether the encouragement for families to pray together goes against public health orders for social distancing and if he thinks it will encourage people to attend church services, despite orders prohibiting mass gatherings and the implementation of the weekend curfew.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.
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