SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Navajo Nation residents ordered to stay home as coronavirus infections climb

Nez vetoes resolution that would reopen closed tribal casinos

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Residents on the Navajo Nation will be under tighter restrictions starting on Nov. 16 due to rising coronavirus infections.

On Nov. 13, the Navajo Department of Health issued two new public health emergency orders while Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed an executive order. All are designed to prevent further transmission of the virus.

Nez also vetoed a tribal council resolution that proposed to reopen the tribe's four casinos.

The new measures, which will be in effect through Dec. 6, direct people to stay at home as well as close tribal enterprises and offices under the executive branch and instruct all schools to suspend in-person learning and hold classes online.

More:San Juan County, Navajo COVID: What you should know now

Vehicles move on U.S. Highway 491 in the north side of Shiprock during a weekend lockdown on April 25. Navajo Nation officials recently issued new restrictions for residents to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In addition, they restrict travel away from the reservation but allow for individuals to leave homes for essential activities such as grocery shopping, medical reasons or to collect firewood.

"Individuals are also advised not to gather with anyone outside your immediate household and to stay within your local communities," the order states.

They also declare a "red status" for businesses and limit the number of customers allowed inside grocery stores, gas stations and laundromats. Businesses must adhere to operating from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and follow regulations to protect the public.

The red status prohibits operating youth programs, casinos, museums, barber shops, hair and nail salons, flea and roadside markets, marinas, parks, gyms and recreation facilities.

More:Navajo health department alerts residents about rising COVID-19 infections

Jill Jim

Health agencies reported more than 100 new cases on Nov. 7, Nov. 8 and Nov. 12. As of Nov. 13, the total number of cases is 13,069 for the tribe.

"The daily increase of new COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation mirrors the United States upward trajectory and dangerously approaches our record-high cases in early May," Jill Jim, the tribe's health department director, said.

While the health care system on the reservation is not overwhelmed yet, providing adequate medical staffing is a concern, she added. 

The orders were released after the health department identified 34 communities as having uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

"We are inching closer and closer to a major public health crisis in which we could potentially see our hospitals filling up with patients. Our health care system on the Navajo Nation cannot sustain a long-term surge in COVID-19 cases," President Nez said.

The Northern Edge Casino entrance is pictured on March 17 in Upper Fruitland. It is one of four casinos the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise proposed to reopen with safety measures in place to protect the public from COVID-19.

Nez denies casino reopening proposal

Nez, along with Vice President Myron Lizer, commented on the Nov. 13 veto in a letter to Speaker Seth Damon.

"We fully understand the predicament of our gaming enterprise if the doors cannot open to the public, but we are not fully convinced the enterprise's safety measures will keep people safe," their letter states.

The casinos operated in New Mexico and Arizona by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise have been closed since March. This month, the Navajo Nation Council supported legislation to reopen each facility at a minimum 50% capacity and to fully operate the Navajo Blue Travel Plaza in Arizona, all under safety measures to keep guests and employees safe.

Gaming enterprise officials have said more than 1,200 people would lose employment and there would be a ripple effect on other areas like loan agreements and investments if the business closes on Nov. 30.

Although the two leaders did not support the proposal, they pledged to find funding to support the enterprise and its employees.

"At this time, we believe the lives of our elders, our relatives and visitors are more valuable, and we cannot put a price tag on their life," the letter states.

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.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription to The Daily Times.