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Coronavirus on Navajo Nation: Peak projection for May causes branches to remain close

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — With health experts estimating the number of COVID-19 cases for the Navajo Nation might peak in May, the three branches of the tribal government will remain closed.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced that an executive order to reduce services under the executive branch will remain in effect until May 17.

The branch was scheduled to reopen after April 26 but with the peak projected to hit in early to mid-May, it was necessary to further the closure, he said in the April 21 town hall meeting.

"As I've discussed this once again with health care professionals and our first responders, since we're looking at the peak in early May to mid-May, I'm hoping that we can keep that bell shape curve, that curve down," Nez said.

Data provided on April 20 by the Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Epidemiology Center shows 1,321 confirmed cases from counties where individuals live on the reservation, in border towns and the noncontiguous chapters of Alamo, Ramah and Tóhajiilee.

A New Mexico Department of Transportation electronic sign near Gallup displays the phrase state and tribal officials have been saying to the public as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus in communities.

Navajo County in Arizona continues to be the area with the most positive test results at 332, but cases are sharply rising in McKinley County, which has 306 cases.

Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne lengthened the work-from-home order for the majority of employees under the judicial branch.

Court buildings will remain closed to the public, and the branch will continue to provide essential services by electronic and teleconference, to maximize safety for employees and the public.

In addition, Jayne ordered all employees to wear face masks or cloth face coverings at all times inside the branch's facilities.

Programs under the legislative branch have been closed since March 19, and will remain so until further notice, according to a March 18 memorandum by Speaker Seth Damon.

Navajo Police Department traffic enforcement team conduct a roadblock on April 18, 2020 on New Mexico Highway 264 near Tsé Bonito.

Police report citations from second weekend curfew

The Navajo Nation completed a second weekend curfew that lasted 57 hours from April 17 to April 20.

The Navajo Police Department issued 108 citations for violating the curfew and 77 citations for traffic violations in the seven police districts across the reservation.

The department reported the traffic enforcement team managed curfew operations and coordinated four roadblocks and saturation patrols in the eastern and western regions.

The team issued a total of 71 citations at roadblocks on U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback and on New Mexico Highway 264 in Tsé Bonito on April 18.

The next day, the team conducted roadblocks and increased patrols on Arizona Highway 191 in Chinle, Arizona, and on U.S. Highway 160 in Tuba City, Arizona, and issued eight citations.

Districts coordinated checkpoints in communities to conduct public service announcements, as well as increased patrols throughout the weekend.

Officer Brandon Jim, left, and Officer Darlene Foster wear personal protective equipment on April 1 during a checkpoint by the Navajo Police Department's Shiprock district on U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback.

During the town hall meeting, President Nez said the total for personnel testing positive for COVID-19 in the department is 15.

Department spokeswoman Christina Tsosie confirmed the number of personnel and explained 10 officers, three dispatchers and two civilian employees have entered self-isolation and are monitoring symptoms.

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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