Navajo Nation cases climb, president hails curfew

Navajo Nation police enforce the curfew. (Photo via Facebook)

Indian Country Today

COVID-19 related news for Monday, April 13, 2020

The coronavirus continues to batter the Navajo Nation, which saw a total of 216 new cases and six additional deaths over the weekend.

The new cases reported between Friday and Monday evening bring the total to 813, with 28 deaths, according to the Navajo Department of Health. The Navajo Epidemiology Center reported an additional 85 positive border-town cases.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the tribe is considering another partial lockdown, or “curfew,” after what he called a successful 57-hour one that ended Monday morning. People were allowed to leave home only for groceries or essential work.

During that time, the Navajo Nation Police Department issued 177 citations: 119 for traffic violations and 58 criminal nuisance complaints, said Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Navajo Nation President and Vice President’s Office. Penalties include up to $1,000 in fines, up to 30 days in jail, or both.

Nez told Indian Country Today that the curfew was “successful enough that we would like to do another one,” though he wasn’t sure when.

“A supermajority of the Navajo people abided by the 57-hour curfew,” Nez said. “People listened, and I want tell the Navajo people thank you for listening to the healthcare workers, the doctors, the nurses, the police officers, first responders, to the 698 positive patients out there and listening to the families of the 24 members of our nation who lost their lives to COVID-19.”

The coronavirus numbers Nez mentioned were from Saturday. Updated numbers of positive cases were released late Monday. No update was given on Easter Sunday because of limited staff working the holiday, Nez said.

Nez said citizens disobeying curfew need to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

“They don’t see what they’re doing may affect others,” he said. “I think they are being a little selfish, just thinking of themselves when they should be thinking of our most vulnerable population out there in our children. If you can have them recognize and understand that, maybe they’ll think twice about leaving their house next time.”

McKinley County in New Mexico passed an emergency ordinance Monday encouraging residents to self-curfew between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. after seeing a huge increase in cases in the county. There are a total of 144 positive cases in the county. Part of the Navajo Nation and Zuni Reservation falls into McKinley County. Gallup, a border town just off Interstate 40, is also part of McKinley County.

Other Indian Country case updates

The White Mountain Apache Tribe has nine more positive coronavirus cases since Friday. The tribe is now at 20 positive cases as of Monday, according to Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood on Facebook.

Seventy tribal citizens have been tested and 45 tests have come back negative, with five pending, according to the post. A citizen of the tribe who didn’t live or work on the reservation died from coronavirus-related complications in late March.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation announced three new positive cases on April 13 which makes a total of six cases tested positive for COVID-19. The nation reported its first case on March 27. There are 75 pending tests out of the 238 tests conducted since March 1.

The Colville Tribes reported three more cases in Washington on its territory in Okanogan County in Washington state.

There are a total of 1,114 confirmed positive cases and 39 deaths in the Indian health system, according to Indian Country Today’s data.

Census operations adjusted

Census Bureau officials say they are postponing all field operations until June 1, and the deadline for wrapping up the nation's head count is being pushed back to Oct. 31.

Field operations for the 2020 census have been suspended since mid-March and were set to resume this week. The deadline for finishing the head count also had been pushed back from the end of July to mid-August because of the pandemic.

Lorenda T. Sanchez, executive director of the California Indian Manpower Consortium Inc. is “grateful” for the extension of the 2020 Census.

“After reviewing the response rate for our California Tribes as of April 12, 2020, 98% of the 109 tribes are less than 15% response; with those responding by internet,” she wrote in an email to Indian Country Today. “That response rate is not surprising as most of our Tribes will be responding by mail due to address issues and/or internet (broadband) issues. “

She also said the additional four months gives more time for the non-response follow up. Census takers knock on doors and collect information at the door when a household hasn’t responded by phone, paper or online. This happens in hard-to-count communities, which is a large percent of Indian Country in rural areas.

“With the COVID-19 guidelines across the country, outreach and follow up will be a challenge. We cannot express the critical need to have an accurate count throughout Indian Country both on and off tribal lands,” she wrote. “The added months will hopefully contribute to our American Indian and Alaska Native Census 2020 Count.”

Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the bureau, said they are seeking to delay the deadline for delivering state population counts used for apportionment — the process of carving up congressional districts — from the end of this year to the end of next April.

They also want to push back the deadline for giving states data for redistricting from the end of next March to the end of next July.

Both deadlines are established by federal law and any changes would require congressional approval.

(Related: That other story: It’s Census time)

The White House arranged a call Monday with congressional leaders about the requested changes, but no one from the Census Bureau was on it. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will carefully examine the request, said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the committee.

“The director of the Census Bureau was not even on today’s call, and the administration has refused for weeks to allow him to brief members of our committee, despite repeated requests," said Maloney, a Democrat from New York. “If the Administration is trying to avoid the perception of politicizing the census, preventing the Census director from briefing the committee and then excluding him from a call organized by the White House are not encouraging moves."

The Census Bureau said the goal of the delays is to ensure a complete and accurate count.

When field operations start in June, workers will be given personal protective equipment and guidelines for social distancing, the bureau said in a statement.

COVID-19 forces June’s NABI cancellation

A popular weeklong basketball event in Phoenix that attracts hundreds of Native youth has been canceled because of the coronavirus.

The 18th annual Native American Basketball Invitation, better known as NABI, had been set for late June. Teams can receive a registration refund, or option for next summer’s registration, according to a news release.

“The decision was based solely on the health and welfare of all the youth and communities we serve,” the NABI Foundation said in a Facebook post Monday. “With the state of Arizona and many parts of the country still considered unsafe, and social gatherings are restricted due to the current virus, the NABI Foundation strongly feels a full cancelation is warranted.”

The basketball tournament is one of the biggest in Indian Country and gives high school athletes an opportunity to play in front of college scouts. NABI routinely attracts dozens of boys’ and girls’ basketball teams across the Southwest and as far away as Alaska, Canada and New Zealand.

The tournament is usually held in gyms across the Phoenix Valley with the title games at Talking Stick Resort Arena. During the past couple of years, the Ak-Chin Indian Community near Maricopa has hosted the tournament early games.

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Dalton Walker, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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