Nez declares state of emergency due to COVID-19
Although there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation as of Wednesday evening, President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer decided to declare a public health state of emergency.
With New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado declaring states of emergency as COVID-19 cases emerge, and with the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, Nez said they felt it necessary to be proactive.
“The reason why we declared a public health state of emergency is because we are surrounded now by confirmed cases around the Navajo Nation,” said Nez. “This is a preemptive measure. We can’t deny it’s around us.”
The Commission on Emergency Management was established by the Navajo Nation Council to authorize, assess, verify, recommend and declare states of emergency with the concurrence of the Navajo Nation President, and with a unanimous vote from the commission today it was decided to declare the public health state of emergency.
Also on Wednesday Nez and Lizer issued a travel restriction for the executive branch until further notice. Director of Human Resources Perphelia Fowler sent out a memo recommending employees who recently returned from virus hot spot locations take precautions.
“We are mandating employees to stay home, or self-isolate, for a period of 14 calendar days from the time you returned to the Navajo Nation,” stated Fowler.
On Feb. 27 Nez and Lizer implemented the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team. Dr. Jill Jim, director of Navajo Department of Health, said this declaration is an appropriate move even with no cases confirmed on Navajo.
“We need to emphasize and advise people that there are preventable measures that we are encouraging,” said Jim. “Just being aware of not only yourself, but others around you. There is that person-to-person spread that we want to avoid as much as possible. We can prevent this.”
Lizer said this is a proactive measure and to not “lend yourself to the fear.”
“We are trying to mitigate the escalation of panic by providing hope, solidarity, unity” said Lizer. “And reliance on prayers.”
Symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It can take up to 14 days for the virus to become active after exposure. Currently, there is no vaccine available for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The public is encouraged to take the following precautionary actions to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Washing your hands with warm water and soap often for at least 20 seconds
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Staying home if you are sick
- Avoiding contact with people with sicknesses/symptoms
- Cleaning/sanitizing common areas and “high-touch” surfaces
- Avoiding large gatherings and crowds
The coronavirus has the potential to become severe. Severe cases can also lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and in some cases, death. The most vulnerable are the elders, young children, and those with compromised immune systems. Health care officials also advise that if a person has shortness of breath or has difficulty breathing, to report to your local physician and/or emergency room hospital and to call ahead to allow the facility to prepare for your arrival.