On Sunday, Navajo Nation’s leaders announced that its residents were no longer required to stay home. However, tribal officials were still asking residents to stay home if possible to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
The announcement comes as the Navajo Nation took its first steps to reopen on Monday. The tribe has experienced for nearly two months a decline in COVID-19 cases — specifically, 52 consecutive days with less than 100 new daily cases and 17 consecutive days under 50 new daily cases.
As of Sunday, the Navajo Nation had 9,447 identified COVID-19 cases and 480 confirmed deaths.
“The public health order does not require individuals to stay home, but we continue to encourage Navajo residents to limit their travels and leave their place of residence only for emergencies or (to) perform essential activities and errands,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a news release.
“We all play an important role in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases low,” he continued. “As the Navajo Nation is taking small and responsible steps to reopen the economy in a phased approach that is data-driven, it is important to stay alert and prepared to protect ourselves and others.”
Since March, Navajo Nation residents had been required to stay at home except for essential activities.
The Navajo Nation Department of Health on Sunday rescinded the stay-at-home requirement under a reinstated “Safer at Home” order stating “individuals are required to exercise personal responsibility to remain safe but are not ordered to stay home.”
“There are many recoveries but we must still practice preventative measures, such as planning, wearing face masks, washing our hands, maintaining a distance of six feet from others and cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces,” Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer said in the news release. “We must not let our guard down and protect each other.”
The “Safer at Home” order — which first went into effect June 5 — outlines requirements for drive-in gatherings.
Under the “Safer at Home” order, drive-in gatherings such as religious services, funerals and graduations of any size could be held during non-curfew hours so long as residents stay in their cars, vehicles are parked at least 6 feet apart and participants wear masks. Organizers of the drive-in gatherings were also required to limit bathrooms to no more than 10 people, make handwashing and sanitizers accessible and regularly disinfectant high-touch surfaces, the order states.
The tribe’s nightly curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and its 32-hour curfew on the weekends of Aug. 22 to 24 and Aug. 29 to 31 also remained in effect under the order. All residents were required to stay home during the curfews except for emergencies, the order stated.
The tribe’s roads were still closed to tourists and visitors.
“Visitors are advised to refrain from traveling to the Navajo Nation at this time,” the order stated. “Tribal parks will not be accessible to visitors and tourists during this time.”
The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise announced on Monday it would extend closures of its four casinos until at least Aug. 31, according to a news release. The enterprise oversees the tribe’s casinos in Flagstaff and New Mexico.
The announcement preceded another on Monday from the Navajo Nation’s leaders about its approval of $475 million in expenditures from the tribe’s federal COVID-19 aid, including $24.6 million in emergency assistance to the enterprise.
The enterprise in late July laid off about 900 casino employees, citing a financial strain caused by a combination of casino closures and the enterprise’s continuing to pay its employees during the closures. Officials previously stated an allocation from the tribe’s federal COVID-19 aid would allow its employees to return to paid administrative leave while the casinos remain closed for several more weeks.
However, that hasn’t yet happened as the enterprise was waiting to receive the funds, Interim Chief Executive Officer Brian Parrish said. He explained that agreements between the enterprise and the tribal government had to be drafted and signed before the funding could be released.
He did not know when exactly the funding would be released but said they’d have a better understanding by the end of the week.
“We’re very, very grateful to leadership for doing that,” Parrish said. “That helps us with reimbursement of specific expenses related directly to COVID emergency- and medical-related, and then, of course, payroll and some fixed expenses, so it helps us with reimbursement and puts us back in a situation where we’re going to be able to reopen again when it’s prudent for Navajo Nation.”
“The Nation continues to do better and better with the new cases of COVID, so we’re very, very pleased with that,” said Parrish.
Click here to read the full press release.