NAVAJO COUNTY — The White Mountains Apache Tribe has imposed a tough, 57-hour lockdown and a shelter-in-place order to contain a dangerous increase in cases of COVID-19, even as the rest of the state’s businesses remain open and people have begun to move around more freely.
Meanwhile, Navajo County continues to scramble to react to a new surge of COVID-19 cases, from making sure police officers have protective gear to convincing residents to wear masks in public.
Navajo County Health Director Jeff Lee offered a grim update on the steadily rising toll of COVID-19 in the county, with a plea for people to change their behavior to slow the ongoing spread of the virus.
“Unfortunately, we continue to trend in the wrong direction. As of this morning we have 3,166 cases and 97 fatalities. In just two weeks, we’ve had an increase of 937 cases. Now 97 families have lost a loved one to the virus,” he told the board of supervisors at its first in-person meeting in weeks.
Supervisor Lee Jack Sr. was participating remotely and Supervisors Jesse Thompson and Dwanafe Whitesinger both wore masks. Supervisors Jason Whiting and Daryl Seymore attended, but skipped the masks.
Faced with a fresh surge in cases, Gov. Doug Ducey left it up to counties and cities when it comes to issuing an order to wear masks in public. Maricopa County has issued such an order, but the Tuesday update before the Board of Supervisors didn’t touch on the issue.
None of the supervisors asked Lee whether the county should consider a mask mandate and most of the cities in the White Mountains had not issued an order as of Wednesday, June 24.
Statewide, the number of new infections and hospitalizations has more than doubled since the governor’s stay-at-home order expired on May 15. Arizona is still seeing a steep rise in the rate of new infections.
“The risk of exposure remains extremely high. We all need to do a better job in changing our behaviors and taking precautionary measures very seriously and making them a part of our daily routine,” said Jack Sr.
NCSO awarded pandemic relief funding
This week, The Navajo County Sheriff’s office landed a $260,000 federal grant to help cover extra costs caused by the pandemic. The grant will cover $205,000 in overtime costs and $57,000 in equipment, mostly masks and gloves and other equipment to protect deputies.
Moreover, the Navajo County Public Health Department also got a $209,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control to help with testing and contact tracing, in the desperate effort to halt the spread of the virus.
Navajo County has suffered one of the worst outbreaks in the country, with infection and death rates three or four times the statewide average. Moreover, the Navajo County jail has at least two employees with the virus and grave concerns about a spread in those conditions. The outbreak has been especially severe on the Navajo Reservation – with the highest infection and death rates in the country.
The Navajo County grant will cover the cost of 1,000 N95 protective masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, thermometers, coveralls, face shields and bleach – although most of the money will cover overtime costs.
An alarming 17 percent of the 12,000 tests done in Navajo County (so far) have come back positive compared to 9 percent statewide.
“We are asking our local citizens and businesses to take individual responsibility to help protect yourself and others,” said the release from the Navajo County Health Department.
Supervisor Jason Whiting said “our sense of community is a little different here in Navajo County. We’ve shown time and time again that we come together to support and help each other. Now is the time to help protect the most vulnerable among us and push our local economy forward.”
Navajo County public health director Jeff Lee said “if each person does what they can to keep themselves healthy, more people can get back to work and we can be confident that our hospitals will have the capacity to step in and help when one of us does fall ill or has other healthcare concerns.”