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Navajo Nation government to remain closed due to rise in new coronavirus cases in states

Agencies had been scheduled to reopen on July 27

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez speaks to viewers during a town hall meeting that streamed live on Facebook on July 21.
  • President Jonathan Nez commended the Navajo people for wearing face masks and following guidelines for the coronavirus.
  • But he said there still needs to be a continuance of such practices.
  • He also talked about the possibility in August of reopening the tribal-operated parks and lakes to tribal members for recreation and exercise purposes.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez will sign a new executive order to keep a portion of the tribal government closed through Aug. 16, due to the increase in new COVID-19 cases in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Nez's office confirmed the information on July 22, explaining the president's decision was made based on recommendations and data from health-care experts.

Divisions, departments and offices under the executive branch were due to reopen on July 27 under previous executive order that Nez signed in late June.

Steps for reopening the government remain under evaluation, and his administration is in the process of finalizing a plan to reopen the executive branch in stages, Nez said to viewers during the July 21 town hall meeting that was broadcast online.

"Services have to be provided, right? And if we continue to keep our nation closed, we're unable to provide those direct services to our people. It's a balance, I know that there's concern," Nez said.

The three-branch government has been closed to the public, and restrictions on services have been in place since the first cases of the novel coronavirus on the reservation were reported in March.

The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President will share the plan for reopening the tribal government on the recently launched website, Navajo Reopening.

While the tribe has been flattening the curve in new COVID-19 cases since June, areas surrounding tribal land have seen surges in cases, raising the alarm for Navajo leadership and the tribe's health department.

While the president commended the Navajo people for wearing face masks and following guidelines for the coronavirus, he said there still needs to be a continuance of such practices.

He also talked about the possibility in August of reopening the tribal-operated parks and lakes to tribal members for recreation and exercise purposes, but the areas will remain closed to other visitors.

"Even if we open our parks and our lakes, we have to wear masks. We have to abide by social distancing," Nez said, adding that the decision depends on whether the number of new cases reported daily remains at less than 50.

The Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Epidemiology Center have reported less than 50 new cases in the daily updates since July 17.

"If we can get a 14-day trend of under 50, that will support reopening certain places for Navajo usage," Nez said.

Related coverage:

There are 4,671 employees under the executive and legislative branches, according to the President's Office.

Currently, 3,620 employees have been working by telecommuting or on alternate schedules, and there are 1,051 employees who remain on administrative leave.

Controller Pearline Kirk explained to the Navajo Nation Council during the summer session on July 21 that the division directors determined which employees are essential and qualify for special-duty pay.

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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