Navajo Nation moves toward 'soft reopening' as new COVID-19 cases decline
FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation will ease restrictions for residents and businesses as it moves on March 15 from red status to orange status under its reopening plan.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez called the progress a "soft reopening" as the tribe continues to see a downward trajectory in new COVID-19 infections and high availability of vaccines.
Del Yazzie, an epidemiologist with the tribe's epidemiology center, explained during a town hall on March 10 that the tribe met the criteria for orange status in recent weeks due to the decline in new cases as well as low numbers of hospitalizations and an infection rate of 0.81 over the last seven days.
"We are doing very well. This is the best situation we've been in in quite some time," Yazzie said.
The Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed on March 17, 2020, the first case of the virus on the Navajo Nation, involving a 46-year-old female from Chilchinbeto, Arizona.
Nearly a year later, 29,900 people have tested positive for the virus and 1,205 deaths have been reported as of March 10.
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"We must heal as a nation and continue to fight this monster," President Nez said.
While he commended tribal members for the progress, he urged them to continue following preventive measures, including wearing face masks, social distancing, hand-washing and staying home.
"That's the four things that will push back COVID-19 here on the Navajo Nation," the president said.
Officials made the announcement the same day that the Navajo Department of Health issued two new public health emergency orders for residents and businesses.
Order No. 2021-006 went into effect on March 10 and ends the requirement for residents to stay at home but implements "safer-at-home" guidelines. Additionally, it continues the daily curfew and limits gatherings to 10 people or less.
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In Nez's remarks, he mentioned that chapter houses will remain closed to the public. He explained that a Navajo Nation Council resolution controls the operation of these facilities during the pandemic, and that document would need to be revoked before normal operations can resume.
A provision in the public health order for businesses allows casinos under the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise to open to tribal members, including those employed by the enterprise.
Brian Parrish, the enterprise's interim CEO, said the company was notified about the update on March 10 and the board of directors will discuss the matter on March 11.
"We'll be able to offer more insights after our meeting," Parrish said in response to questions from The Daily Times.
The orange status allows businesses to operate at 25% maximum capacity. However, businesses must submit reopening plans to the tribe's Division of Economic Development before taking such action.
Youth programs, museums, flea markets, roadside markets, gyms, recreation facilities, movie theaters and tribal parks and recreation areas remain closed.
A copy of the public health order for businesses is available under the "public health emergency" section on the health department's website, www.ndoh.navajo-nsn.gov/covid-19.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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