Nez closes executive branch for 3 weeks
As of Friday the Navajo Nation still had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez wants to keep it that way.
Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer announced Friday afternoon they are ordering “non-essential” executive branch employees to stay home for three weeks.
The closure does not include public safety personnel, firefighters, EMS personnel, Department of Emergency Management, Division of Finance, Division of Social Services, and other essential personnel.
This “soft closure of the executive branch comes a few days after Nez and Vice Lizer agreed with the Commission of Emergency Management to declare a public health state of emergency on Navajo.
“We are going to limit government operation for the next three weeks,” said Nez. “Only essential employees are going to be continuing work. We felt at this time of concern that it is important that families are together so they can comfort each other. Just to advise everyone to stay home for the next three weeks and we will reevaluate it.”
The employees will be considered on administrative leave and they will continue to receive their paychecks, said the president’s spokesman, Jared Touchin.
All the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation sites will also be closed, Parks & Rec spokesperson Louise Tsinijinnie announced at a press conference this week. These include: Antelope Canyon, Chinle campground, Monument Valley, Bowl Canyon, Window Rock Veterans Memorial Park, Little Colorado River, and Four Corners Monument.
A travel restriction is in place for both the executive and judicial branches, and a travel advisory is still placed on legislative branch. Health, Education and Human Services Committee Chair and Speaker Pro Tem Daniel Tso said during the conference that Speaker Seth Damon is on a self-imposed quarantine, along with six other delegates who had travelled to Washington, DC and other places.
“That is setting an example,” Tso said, adding that council members who travelled to Tribal Inter Budget Sessions are also on two weeks’ isolation.
Tso said committee meetings and April’s Navajo Nation Spring Session would go on as scheduled. This branch of government did not report on whether or not they will follow suit of the executive and limit employees for three weeks.
The judicial branch will continue operation. During the press conference Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne said they would strive to remain open to provide judicial services and other “mission-critical” function.
“There may be in the future — it depends on day-to-day analysis — a modified court schedule,” said Jayne. “As of now courts remain open on their regular schedule. We have over 20,000 cases in the judicial branch, so that may equate to having 20,000 individuals that are affecting.”
When it comes to schools, Navajo Head Start said it would extend its spring break by a week in response to COVID-19, but Nez said he is requesting they extend that to three weeks.
The Department of Diné Education Board of Education met and voted to recommend the closure of all public, grant, contract, higher education institutions and Bureau of Indian Education schools that are operating on Navajo.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Department of Health on Thursday announced that New Mexico K-12 public schools would close for three weeks beginning Monday, March 16. In a phone call to Lujan-Grisham, Nez thanked her for her decision and said this will make it easier for the Navajo Nation to close all school on Navajo for three weeks.
Nez and Lizer will continue to talk with Arizona and Utah governors to get them to close public schools on Navajo Nation for three weeks.
A major concern that Lujan-Grisham brought up was Navajo casinos in New Mexico. Nez said they have spoken to the Navajo Gaming Regulatory about this concern as well, and they will recommend the closure of casinos.
“We have significantly enhanced our cleaning and sanitation efforts on all guest and employee touch points, as well as providing an abundance of alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout all areas of the property and casino floor,” Brian Parrish, Navajo Gaming Interim CEO, stated in a news release. “Finally, we are frequently cleaning and disinfecting all machines, restrooms, hotel rooms, food locations and employee break areas.”
All buffets will be closed immediately until further notice.
According to Navajo Area Indian health Service Chief Medical Officer Loretta Christensen, 30 to 40 individuals have been tested for COVID-19 on the Nation. So far all tests have come up negative.
The COVID-19 concerns have also caused Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to postpone the anticipated Light Up Navajo II, which was slated to begin in April. NTUA has notified the 34 communities that signed up for Light Up Navajo II, explaining the postponement until mid-April when organizers will revisit the decision to either postpone the entire Spring 2020 project or delay it until late Fall 2020.
“We recognize and support the recommendations of health and government agencies that are working hard to mitigate the spread of COVID19,” NTUA General Manager Walter Haase stated. “They indicate that travel restrictions may have a positive impact.”
Navajo Department of Health Director Jill Jim said since January CHR, public health nurses, health educators and other partners have educated over 180,000 individuals across Navajo about Coronavirus prevention.
“On Navajo we have high rates of diabetes, hypertension … the spread of COVID-19 poses risks for health care workers, (and) Navajo Nation citizens, particularly elders and those with underlying conditions,” said Jim. “As we prevent and combat this virus that is new, we already have the knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread. We can practice the same prevention by washing our hands, self-care when we are sick and notifying health care providers in advance (before showing up at a hospital).”