Council urges states to ban liquor sales
The Navajo Nation Council Monday voted unanimously to urge the New Mexico and Utah governors to stop liquor sales within state, leased or private lands located within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Navajo Nation.
In the wake of increasing COVID-19 cases, the Navajo Department of Health has already issued a stay-at-home order; an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and all-weekend curfew; made face masks mandatory in public; and is encouraging social distancing if people have to be out.
But Delegate Edmund Yazzie, the sponsor of the New Mexico bill, suggested mitigation is difficult when people aren’t adhering to the curfews because they’re leaving their homes to buy alcohol. The same reasoning goes for the Utah bill.
“Within our area of Smith Lake there is one liquor establishment, two in Thoreau and one that’s near Iyanbito and the other liquor establishment is by Pine Hill,” said Yazzie.
“These are on the outskirts of the chapters I represent,” he said. “There is one near the Zuni and Navajo borderline. The rest is in the city of Gallup.”
Alcohol sales in nearby border towns were a topic of concern last month and President Jonathan Nez sent a letter to the Utah and New Mexico governors asking them to shut down liquor establishments in Mexican Hat and the Sagebrush Liquor store just outside of Window Rock.
Sagebrush has since closed, following an April 7 order from the governor banning sales at stand-alone liquor stores.
The city of Gallup has banned liquor sales at convenience stores. Recently the Gallup Detox Center has seen a surge of positive COVID-19 cases.
Roselyn Tso, director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said the first case of COVID-19 at the center had been identified on April 8, but IHS believes there had been cases as early as March 30.
“What we are trying to coordinate at a very high level is tracing,” said Tso. “This group is not the most obedient group to try to do self care. We were able to track down 170 individuals who would’ve had contact with the first cases. At this point we’ve tested 81 and 59 came back positive.”
IHS has been unable to locate at least 89 of the 170 people believed to have been exposed. This is not a good situation because they are likely to spread the virus.
Yazzie said his bill shows the governor that Navajo is concerned about the high numbers.
“I’m not saying this is going to stop or lower case numbers,” said Yazzie. “We all hear stories from people that either mom or dad are coming home intoxicated. God knows where they’ve been and who they’ve been consuming alcohol with. The main intent is controlling the numbers.”
Alcohol withdrawal is a concern and Law and Order Committee Vice Chairman Otto Tso said from what they’ve been told by the Gallup Indian Medical Center, alcohol withdrawal needs medical attention and takes up beds that could be used for COVID-19 patients.
“They had concerns of suspending alcohol sales in that community,” said Tso. “Some of these individuals need so much to operate and function throughout the day as they go through their withdrawals. If we get an alcohol case and it’s a withdrawal, we are moving the resource over to the alcohol withdraw person.”
The McKinley County Board of Commissioners voted to temporarily stop alcohol sales at convenience stores last week.
But on Monday the McKinley County Board of Commissioners voted to revoke its ordinance restricting alcohol sales and reinstated all liquor sales on county lands outside of the city of Gallup (see separate story).