‘Crisis mode’: Nez requests major disaster declaration, extends lockdown
Due to the alarming surge in coronavirus cases overwhelming hospitals on the Navajo Nation and the surrounding region, on Dec. 3 the president’s office issued new public health orders and requested a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump.
“I have determined that the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the Navajo Nation, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives, to protect property, public health, and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a larger disaster,” President Jonathan Nez stated in the letter to Trump.
If the declaration is approved by Trump, additional support could become available to the Navajo Nation, including financial assistance, crisis counseling and FEMA resources.
On Tuesday Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said that the area is “truly in crisis mode” with the increase in hospitalizations leading to a shortage of beds, oxygen supplies, medical personnel, and increasing wait times to transfer severe patients to other regional hospitals better equipped to help critically ill patients.
“Navajo Area IHS has projected that it will be drastically overwhelmed within days, and that all health facilities within the Navajo Nation will be facing shortages of critical life-saving equipment,” stated Nez.
As of Dec. 3, the Navajo Nation had confirmed 17,035 cases of COVID-19 and 658 deaths.
“Based on Navajo Area IHS surge projections, hospitals within the Navajo Nation have now surpassed the surge peak from May 2020 by three to four times,” stated Nez.
“COVID-19 is especially deadly for the Navajo Nation given the dramatic health disparities and pre-existing health conditions for a disproportionately high number of Navajo people,” he said, “and underfunded and under-resourced health care facilities.”
Health orders extend lockdown
The provisions of the new Navajo Department of Health public health emergency order (No. 2020-031) will be effective Monday, Dec. 7, through Monday, Dec. 28.
The order extends the “stay-at-home (shelter-in-place) lockdown” that requires residents to remain at home 24 hours, 7 days a week, except for essential tasks such as getting food and medications necessary to their “health, safety, and welfare.”
Exceptions to the restrictions are granted to essential workers and in cases of emergency.
Tending to livestock, and outdoor exercise within the vicinity of the home are allowed, as is wood gathering with a permit.
Residents must wear masks in public, maintain social distancing, wash and sanitize hands frequently, and refrain from gathering.
The order states, “Individuals are required to stay home and to stay on the Navajo Nation. Refrain from off-reservation travel. Individuals are also advised not to gather with anyone outside your immediate household and to stay within your local communities.”
The order includes 57-hour weekend lockdowns from 8 p.m. through 5 a.m. (Friday to Monday) from Dec. 11 through Dec. 28.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises, “Limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19” and “the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”
Essential businesses, such as gas stations, grocery stores, hay vendors, laundromats, and food establishments that provide drive-thru and curbside services, can operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday only.
Additionally, Nez issued an executive order to limit services and require Navajo Nation government and enterprises to remain closed through Sunday, Dec. 27, with the exception of essential employees.
The Nation’s roads and tribal parks will remain closed to visitors for the duration of the declared public health emergency.
“We are at a crossroads in terms of keeping our people safe and healthy and mitigating the major health care crisis that we are presently in,” said Vice President Myron Lizer.
“Hospital medical personnel including doctors, nurses, and many others are overworked because they are fighting for all of us every single day,” he said. “Let’s help them in this fight simply by staying home as much as possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”