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Navajo Nation announces partial-government closure

First tribal member tests positive for COVID-19
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez closed non-essential parts of the Nation’s government until April 3. Nez’s office announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in a Navajo Nation member on Tuesday.

FARMINGTON – The Navajo Nation announced a partial government closure in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, according to a news release.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez’s office made the announcement of a closure of non-essential departments and services for three weeks, which started Monday and extends to April 3. The closure will not affect the tribe’s police and fire departments, the Department of Emergency Management, finance and social services, emergency medical services, or agencies providing essential services, according to the news release.

The Navajo Nation Board of Education, including schools, early childhood programs, after-school programs and higher education institutions, will also be closed until April 3, according to the news release.

The closures were announced Friday, before anyone had tested positive for the virus. But Tuesday afternoon, Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer announced a 46-year-old member of the Navajo Nation had tested positive for COVID-19 – the first confirmed case of a Navajo Nation member.

According to the news release, the individual was from the community of Chilchinbeto, Arizona, and first reported symptoms to the Kayenta Health Center in Kayenta, Arizona. After being transferred to a hospital in Phoenix, a COVID-19 test was done. Nez’s and Lizer’s offices said health and emergency officials were taking steps to screen and isolate the individual’s family members.

Nez’s office also announced he would be calling on the Navajo Nation Council to reconvene to appropriate additional funds for health and emergency responders to address COVID-19. The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry said Tuesday it was contributing $1 million to the Navajo Nation’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

After the announcement of the Nation’s first confirmed case, Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise announced it would temporarily be closing all casinos and resorts to “protect the health, safety and general welfare of the Navajo people.”

The Nation’s actions and the first confirmed case come almost a week after New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall introduced legislation that would allow tribes to apply for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health emergency preparedness program. Tribes currently are not eligible to access those federal resources.

“We must do everything we can to make sure tribes don’t bear the worst costs of this public health crisis,” Udall said in a statement announcing the bill. “This legislation will ensure that IHS facilities, tribal health departments and urban Indian organizations have access to the emergency medical supplies they need.”

Udall and 27 senators also asked Vice President Mike Pence to include all Indian health departments and tribal leaders in federal conversations around fighting COVID-19 and access to federal funding. The relief package passed in the House of Representatives this month included an allocation of $64 million to the Indian Health Services. IHS currently serves about 2.5 million people.

“Tribal communities face unique challenges in responding to public health threats – that is why it is critical that we listen and respond to tribal leaders and experts at IHS who say they are likely to face shortages of essential equipment and medical supplies that are needed to respond to this public health crisis,” said Udall, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The Navajo Nation had already declared a state of emergency earlier this month, and Nez said the elderly and other vulnerable members of the community are having door-to-door checks by community health representatives. And one of the early measures the Nation took to help in spreading the word about the viral outbreak was to translate COVID-19 into the Navajo language: Dikos Ntsaaígíí-Náhást’éíts’áadah.

The Navajo Nation, the largest tribal reservation in the United States, is also a popular tourist destination at the crossroads of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. As of Tuesday afternoon, Arizona was reporting 12 positive cases, New Mexico had 23 confirmed positive cases and Utah had 41 confirmed cases.


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