The Navajo Nation

Office of the President and Vice President

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 13, 2020

Nez-Lizer Administration issues guidelines and plan to carefully reopen the Navajo Nation with phased-in approach

“This will not be a rushed reopening. We spent many weeks working together with the health care experts and many others to develop the phased-in reopening plan.”

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer present the “Navajo Nation Reopening Plan,” which will serve as a guide to safely and gradually reopen business on the Navajo Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Plan includes safety-guidelines for Navajo Nation residents to follow through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, directs places of business to implement COVID-19 policies and procedures meeting certain standards, and provides a color-coded system for progressively reopening business on the Navajo Nation based on data-driven analysis and input from health experts.

“This will not be a rushed reopening. We spent many weeks working together with the health care experts and many others to develop the phased-in reopening plan. The first case of COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation was confirmed on March 17, and that is the day we faced an invisible monster like we never dealt with before. Since that day, we have combated the virus together, and it has made us stronger and more resilient. In May, we saw the highest number of positive cases and now we are seeing a consistent flattening of the curve. We have had 48 consecutive days with less than 100 reported daily cases of COVID-19, and 13 consecutive days under 50 daily cases. We commend and thank our Navajo people for listening to our health care experts, law enforcement, leaders, and others. Our frontline workers, such as firefighters, EMTs, police officers, doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, and custodians, were working around the clock saving lives. Together, we helped each other through our way of life teachings to flatten the curve,” said President Nez.

According to the data, wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, staying home, and being mindful of one’s surroundings has helped to flatten the curve on a consistent basis, he added.

“Through contact tracing we are learning more about the movement of the virus and we know that the fight is not over, but we have to find new ways to move forward. We cannot rush to reopen the Nation. We must reopen slowly and cautiously, and most importantly, rely on the data and advice of our health care experts. When states reopened in May, we saw how quickly the coronavirus can re-emerge and spread and that’s what we want to avoid,” President Nez added.

In regards to the new school year, President Nez and Vice President Lizer publicly stated on July 31 that they support and recommend implementing a virtual learning platform at schools, as opposed to in-person classroom instruction for the safety of students and teachers.

The Navajo Nation Board of Education passed resolution NNBEAU-658-2020, approving and recommending that all Navajo Nation schools provide virtual or online options. In addition, the Department of Diné Education conducted two surveys, one for parents and one for school principals, regarding options for the upcoming school year. According to the Department of Diné Education, preliminary results indicate that an overwhelming majority of parents support virtual/online learning for the safety of their children.

On Monday, President Nez spoke with U.S. Asst. Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney and Bureau of Indian Education Director Tony Dearman and informed them that he does not support the reopening of BIE schools for in-person learning for the current semester.

“There is a possibility that parents may choose to move their children out of BIE schools if they feel that BIE schools are unsafe and enroll them in other schools that offer online classes. If the number of enrolled students goes down within BIE schools, that may provide the federal government with justification to cut funding for BIE schools, which would be very disappointing and unfortunate – we hope this is not their intention. BIE Acting Associate Deputy Director Charles Sherman assured us that they respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and will proceed with online classes,” said President Nez, adding that state schools are also supportive of online learning.

Since March, the Nez-Lizer Administration has focused on flattening the curve, protecting the most vulnerable residents, and ensuring access to testing, essential items, and hospital capacity.

The Navajo Nation Reopening Plan prioritizes elders and individuals that are at higher-risk for severe illness. It ensures the Nation’s healthcare system is responsive to increases in admissions and responds to future crises and any resurgences while allowing a phased path to recovery.

Per the Plan’s directives, all places of business on the Navajo Nation must develop policies and procedures to ensure physical distancing between personnel and customers, provide special accommodations for staff who are members of a vulnerable population, provide sufficient and appropriate personal protective equipment for personnel, carry sufficient disinfectant products, require hygiene practices and cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces, provide regular COVID-19 screening, provide COVID-19 training, and have in place plans to respond to suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Additionally, places of business on the Nation are directed to implement certain measures in their policies and procedures designed to further reduce the risks of COVID-19 exposure and spread, such as increasing facility ventilation, frequent screening and testing for employees, installing physical barriers, implementing flexible work schedules, and providing employees with flexible leave policies.

Business on the Nation will reopen progressively, in accordance with a color-coded status schedule, each color in the schedule representing a different level of reopening activity. The statuses include red (high restrictions), orange (moderate-high restrictions), yellow (moderate-low restrictions), and green (low restrictions). Public health data trends will drive the determination of the Nation’s status.

Depending on data trends, the Nation may move from a less-restrictive to a more-restrictive status and vice versa. The Navajo Nation Health Command Operations Center is responsible for declaring the Nation’s status at any given time, and will do so by public health order. The decision to move between reopening statuses will depend on the rate of new cases of hospital service units, general hospital capacities, COVID-19 testing availability, and availability of contact tracing and case management resources.

The Health Command Operations Center has issued its first public health order declaring the Nation to be in Orange status. In addition, the order states that all businesses shall be bound to the conditions and requirements of Orange status.

The Navajo Nation Executive Branch has also created the “Navajo Nation COVID-19 Worksite Safety Guidelines,” specifically for its Divisions and Departments to follow as administrative leave of non-essential Executive Branch employees comes to an end on Aug. 16, and as Divisions and Departments resume and revitalize services that have been reduced or placed on hold during administrative leave. Divisions and Departments have been directed to utilize the recommendations of the Executive Branch Guidelines—e.g. provide personnel with sufficient and appropriate PPE and disinfectant products, create alternative work schedules, etc.—in crafting their plans to resume and revitalize services. The Executive Branch Guidelines can be found here.

“Until a safe treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 is available, we will have to continue to adapt to the risks associated with the coronavirus. We each have a collective responsibility to ensure that reopening the Navajo Nation proceeds smoothly and safely. We all have to follow public health guidelines and use our best judgment to protect ourselves, our relatives and neighbors, and vulnerable individuals. Key public health metrics will determine if and when it is appropriate to proceed through reopening phases,” said Vice President Lizer.

“As we move forward with reopening the Navajo Nation, we have to stay vigilant. We have to continue to practice preventative measures, such as social distancing, washing our hands, cleaning and disinfecting high-touched surfaces, and wearing our face masks. These basic precautions will limit the spread of COVID-19 and facilitate reopening safely,” said Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim.

For more information on the “Navajo Nation Reopening Plan,” please visit: https://www.navajoreopening.navajo-nsn.gov

For more information on the “Navajo Nation COVID-19 Worksite Safety Guidelines,” please visit: https://www.navajoreopening.navajo-nsn.gov/NAVAJO-NATION-EXECUTIVE-BRANCH

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