Navajo Nation declares Public Health State of Emergency for COVID-19 coronavirus
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – On March 11, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez declared a Public Health State of Emergency for the Navajo Nation in response to the growing spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, also known as “Diko Ntsaaígíí-Náhást’éíts’áadah” in the Navajo language.
“Our Navajo people are strong and resilient. In times like this, we need to remember the challenges that our elders overcame. We will continue to pray for the safety and well-being for all people as we continue to be proactive. We will persevere through this,” Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation.
There are no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the Navajo Nation. The declaration is a proactive measure to help ensure the Navajo Nation’s preparedness and the health and well-being of the Navajo people.
At the request of Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer, the Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management held a meeting March 11 to consider the growing concerns related to COVID-19 coronavirus. The commission voted 4-0 in support of the declaration.
Nez and Lizer also issued travel restrictions March 11 for all Executive Branch employees, which requires all divisions, departments and programs to restrict all off-Nation work-related travel until further notice. Additionally, all employees who recently traveled to “hot spots,” or areas known to have confirmed cases of the virus have been directed to self-quarantine for approximately 14 days.
All Executive Branch offices are either canceling or postponing conferences, summits and events that draw large numbers of people from off the Navajo Nation.
“For several weeks, we’ve been planning and preparing while we monitor the growing spread of the virus. We have a large population of Navajo people that reside in many states including Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, which now have confirmed cases, so it’s very important that we remain proactive and continue to provide outreach and information to the public,” Nez said. “We don’t want to create a sense of panic, but we want our Navajo people to plan and prepare in the event that the virus reaches our communities.”
COVID-19 Preparedness Team
On Feb. 27, the president’s office established the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team to monitor, plan, prepare and coordinate precautionary efforts to address the COVID-19 coronavirus. A Health Command Operations Center is also established within the Department of Health, which is made up of five function areas including Command, Operations, Planning, Logistics and Finance/Administration.
Nez and Lizer also sent letters to members of Congress and the White House to ensure that Indian Health Service facilities and other hospitals receive financial support and resources from the recent $8.3 billion appropriations by Congress and President Trump to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. In late February, Nez sent a letter to Indian Health Service requesting a mandatory 45-day quarantine for IHS commissioned officers that are deployed to high-risk areas and return to the Navajo Nation. IHS notified Nez that they are complying with his request to ensure the well-being of IHS commissioned officers before returning them to service on the Nation.
As another proactive measure, the Division of Human Resources is also tasked with finalizing an “alternative work schedule” and a “tele-work policy” for Navajo Nation employees. In addition, the Community Health Representatives program and the Health Education Program are going door-to-door to educate and inform Navajo individuals with underlying conditions, including heart, lung, kidney disease, diabetes and conditions that suppress the immune system. They also provide information and presentations at chapters, schools, and various worksites.
“Our command center officials and health professionals are doing everything they can to inform the public and to provide as much education as possible, but it’s also up to us as individuals to do our part to prevent the spread of the virus in our communities. Please continue to check on your elders to ensure their well-being and to take precautionary measures to reduce risks,” Lizer said. “With many students on spring break, it’s imperative that parents keep their children safe by practicing good hygiene to prevent exposure to the virus.”
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.
“Our Navajo people are strong and resilient. In times like this, we need to remember the challenges that our elders overcame. We will continue to pray for the safety and well-being for all people as we continue to be proactive. We will persevere through this,” Nez said.
A list of established hotlines for the public to call with questions or concerns includes:
· Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center: (928) 871-7014
· Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Service Unit: 1 (800) 242-9271
· Gallup Indian Medical Center Service Unit: (505) 726-5888
· Tséhootsooí Medical Center: 1 (800) 232-4342
· Winslow Indian Health Care Center: (928) 289-8143
· Sage Memorial Hospital: (928) 755-4500
· Tuba City Regional Health Care: (928) 283-2501
The Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team held its third radio forum March 12 on KTNN 660 AM and 101.5 FM to provide information and receive questions. The Navajo Nation Department of Health is offering to provide presentations to communities and other groups. Please send requests by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website for additional information: http://www.ndoh.navajo-nsn.gov/COVID-19.
The Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team will continue to coordinate with the county, state and federal officials to monitor the evolving impacts of the coronavirus and continue to encourage the public to take precautions.
Information provided by the Navajo Nation