Fairs, graduations a go: New health orders relax restrictions with limits
With COVID-19 cases continuing to trend downward, on April 5 the Navajo Department of Health issued three new public health emergency orders transitioning the Navajo Nation from “orange” to “yellow” status, which indicates the Nation now at “moderate” risk for COVID-19 transmission.
The orders ease COVID-19 restrictions another notch and, barring another surge, means fairs, parades, graduations and other community events can take place with capacity restrictions and prevention measures in place.
These include wearing a mask in public, practicing social (physical) distancing, disinfecting highly-touched surfaces, washing hands, avoiding unnecessary travel, and avoiding unnecessary public gatherings.
“Capacity limits will increase for businesses and most gatherings, but we will keep the face mask mandate in place in all public places and this applies to all visitors and tourists that come to the Navajo Nation,” said President Jonathan Nez.
Specifically, the orders increase maximum indoor capacity to 75% for schools and most businesses on the Navajo Nation, including restaurants, casinos, hotels and personal care services.
The orders increase in-person gathering limits from 15 to 25 people, including for social gatherings, traditional ceremonies, churches, youth programs, and in-person meetings and trainings.
All in-door events are limited to 50% capacity and outdoor events are limited to 75%. This applies to sports events, fairs, parades and graduations.
As of press time Wednesday, no word had been received about the Navajo Nation Fair, usually held in September, or any other regional fair.
For those who still wish to adhere to stricter safety measures, holding events virtually or in the protection of their automobiles is still an option.
“Drive-in” gatherings are limited to 100 vehicles.
The new order also allows gyms, wellness centers, and recreation facilities to operate at 25% capacity, while maintaining six-feet physical distancing between patrons.
Flea markets and roadside markets are allowed in accordance with guidelines issued by the Heath Command Operations Center.
“We are taking careful steps to reopen and we will continue to rely on the public health experts to guide us along the way,” said Nez. “Please continue to be very cautious, wear a mask in public, and please get vaccinated if you haven’t already.”
‘Keep your guard up’
In a town hall on Tuesday, Division of Health Director Jill Jim said her team is working with the Health Command Operations Center and the Environmental and Occupational Health work group to finalize guidelines this week that will accompany events like graduations and fairs.
For example, some events might require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
“We’ll have updated guidelines for all of the different areas of the public health order that need guidance,” said Jim. “We don’t know what is ahead of us but we can continue to prepare and practice those prevention measures.”
She said Navajo Nation government programs are also slowly re-opening some in-person services, with safety protocols in place.
For example, senior centers will be fully reopening, she said, but will still offer drive-thru meals and food delivery services.
“Just check with each of the offices,” she said. “Each program is going to be slightly different.”
Navajo Area IHS Deputy Director Capt. Brian Johnson said while it’s great news that COVID-19 numbers are coming down it is still important to remain aware and vigilant, especially with gatherings.
“Hopefully at some point we’ll be able to call an end to the pandemic, but there are still areas in the U.S. that are still having high case counts,” he said. “This can spur other waves of COVID-19.”
He said that is why it’s important for the Navajo Area epidemiology teams, HCOC and leadership to continue to keep an eye on the numbers.
“We need to remain steadfast,” said Johnson. “We need to monitor our environment, the places we go and continue looking at the data so that if we start seeing an increase in cases, we can catch those and prevent unnecessary transmission of the virus.”
He also cautioned that there is some flu activity on the Navajo Nation.
“Keep wearing masks,” he advised. “Those are very helpful with both COVID-19 and influenza in terms of preventing transmission.”
Johnson said it is also important to stay current with vaccinations.
Second COVID-19 booster shots are now available to persons 50 and older and those with weakened immune systems at least four months after their first booster.
On Monday, Nez advised if you have to travel off of the Navajo Nation, continue to wear a mask.
“Many areas off the Navajo Nation have reduced or even eliminated all COVID-19 protocols, but here on the Navajo Nation we are taking a more cautious approach,” said Nez. “Keep your guard up and continue to take precautions.”
As always, individuals with COVID-19, who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, are required to stay home and away from other people.
Any COVID-19 cases and exposures on the Navajo Nation should be reported to the HCOC.