APACHE COUNTY — On Monday, four cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Apache County by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The number in Navajo County had jumped to 25.
The cases are part of a larger outbreak on the Navajo Nation.
According to a Monday press release “Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer were informed by the Navajo Department of Health and Navajo Area Indian Health Services that the number of positive tests for COVID-19 has reached a total of 29 for Navajo people. This includes cases from Navajo County and Apache County in Arizona, and McKinley County in New Mexico.” The press releases have been posted on the president and vice-president’s joint Facebook page.
“A Public Health Emergency ‘Stay at Home Order’ remains in effect requiring all residents of the Navajo Nation to remain home and isolated and all non-essential businesses to close to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus,” the release further states.
The Navajo Nation stretches from western New Mexico and southern Utah to Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties in Arizona.
“As of Saturday, there are no confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 for residents of the Navajo Nation,” a press release on Saturday said.
So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Navajo or Apache counties outside of the Navajo Nation.
Apache County Public Health Director Preston Raban said that his office stands ready to assist the Navajo Nation. “We’re working closely with the Nation … we’re in a holding pattern … waiting to help any way we can,” Raban said on Saturday.
During the weekend, Navajo Nation Police and First Responders worked to bring food and firewood to seniors and the sick, and to spread the word about the remain at home order.
The Apache County Board of Supervisors approved a Declaration of a County Public Health Emergency on Friday. The agenda of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors for today also includes an emergency declaration.
Furthermore, Gov. Ducey issued an executive order late on March 19 closing the dining rooms of restaurants (take-out orders are allowed), movie theaters and gyms in an effort to slow the outbreak of the coronavirus. Navajo County businesses had to comply with the order by the end of the business day on Friday, March 19. With the announcement of positive cases in Apache County, businesses there worked to comply with the order over the weekend.
Raban expressed confidence in the Navajo Nation’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“They’re doing everything they can. They’re full court press,” he said.
NAVAJO COUNTY — Restaurants and other businesses around Navajo County had to respond quickly to Gov. Ducey’s executive order issued on the evening Thursday, March 19. The order gave dine-in restaurants, gyms and movie-theaters until the end of business Friday to close, to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Restaurants are allowed to offer take-out services for food and even liquor if food is ordered. Some dine-in establishments scrambled to adjust, other decided to close temporarily.
Apache County businesses began making their adjustments over the weekend, after the first cases of COVID-19 were announced in that county on Saturday.
The following is a round-up of how some area businesses are responding.
As Celebrations Restaurant in Snowflake closed its doors on March 7, Jason and Lindsay Waldrep began renovations on the 1890 building they purchased from Dean Porter, along with the existing restaurant business from Julie Hensley.
Their plan was to open “Streets on Main,” and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner beginning April 15. And, depending on what happens with COVID-19, they will still be ready on that date to do take-out and delivery, if that is still an option.
No doubt with the initial outlay of funds necessary to do renovations and launch a restaurant, the Waldreps did not expect something like a virus to curtail their business plan.
“We had hoped to open at that time,” said Jason, “to reclaim some of the cost, and will if it (COVID-19 restrictions) does not last about six months.”
The Waldreps are not new to the restaurant business. They were the original owners and operators of White Mountain Donuts which opened in 2016 in Show Low and sold last year.
With a hopeful attitude, they moving forward. Lindsay left things on a positive note saying, “We will just start slower and get our feet wet again.”
If circumstances allow the Waldreps to open on April 15 and they start with only take-outs and delivery, they will reserve a grand opening date in the future.
“Streets on Main” is located at 123 N. Main.
When the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside held its March 19 council meeting via live stream on Facebook, many local community members tuned in. Among those was Tyrell Wiltbank, co-owner of Hushh Bakehouse, seeking answers for the survival of the business she and her mother Mina Henning operate in Pinetop.
As a two-person business, with occasional help from Aunt Susan in the kitchen, everything depends upon them. They do everything from scratch for the bakery and make it a point to “be local.” In addition to their bakery items, they are a special order operation with cakes and pies for weddings and other events.
After learning the restrictions being imposed, Hushh began taking the necessary measures to ensure they and their customers would be safe and they could stay open.
“We are not going to close,” said Wiltbank. “We will do delivery within 15 miles or curbside and counter service. We are a bakery. People just come in and look in the case, get it and take it to go. We don’t do table service.”
Wiltbank said they’ve “upped their sanitation” and have put six foot markers on the floor to help respect people’s boundaries; no more than seven people are in the shop at a time.
One of the bakery’s challenges is they don’t know how much to bake. With that in mind, it is a daily guessing game so they are, for example, baking one dozen muffins rather than two.
This is the time of year they are booking fall weddings. Those that had booked for April are now changing theirs to April next year or some time later this year.
Surprisingly, Wiltbank said that Friday, March 20 was a busy day for them. They even had a wedding tasting that day.
She attributes the day’s success to Pinetop-Lakeside’s Mayor Stephanie Irwin.
“She reminded people that we are the first you go to to ask for donations for your event and said now it is your turn to give back to them,” related Wiltbank.
“We will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. People can come in, call or text 928-242-7224.”
Wiltbank said she and her husband would be going out to dinner Friday evening, the last day for restaurants to have sit-down service inside. Referencing California’s actions regarding COVID-19, Wiltbank said, “Nobody knows when that might happen to Arizona or how long before that mandate expires.”
“We are going to have our last supper before all the craziness happens,” she concluded.
• Diamond Creek Jewelry and Pawn
One might think that pawn shops would be doing a booming business right now with some people either having reduced work hours, or worse yet a job loss, in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
But it appears to be the opposite.
Robert who works at Diamond Creek said they have seen a significant decline in business since March 9, selling nothing on March 17-18. “And it looks like we won’t do any sales today,” Robert said last Friday, Mar. 20.
When asked why he thinks there has been a decline, Robert said his guess is that people are buying food and other essentials in preparation for possible quarantines.
“They are just not buying jewelry and things like that right now,” he said.
“I’m staying open because I’ve been busy and people have kept their appointments,” says Owner Geline Ostgaard of Hair by Geline at Bison Ranch in Overgaard.
“I’m always sanitizing my hands and the chairs and counters and doors,” she adds. “I’m always talking to and visiting with my customers and they think this thing is going to fly away and things will go back to normal.”
•Mogollon Family Dentistry, as well as most dental offices are open only for emergencies. “At this time, all dental professionals have been asked by American Dental Association to postpone all non-emergency dental procedures and cleanings until April 3rd to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” informs the business voicemail.
• Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center in Show Low and Lakeside closed last week with the exception of emergencies.
• The lobby of Alta Sierra Veterinary Hospital is closed but they provide detailed information on their website about how pet owners and their pets will be received. “Upon arriving at our clinic, please remain inside your vehicle and contact us via phone to let our team know you have arrived ...”
• Cattleman’s Steakhouse Restaurant made the difficult decision to close up temporarily; they are not offering take-out service. While they did not respond to a call for comments, they posted a message on their Facebook page: “On behalf of Tim, Tiffany and the entire Cattlemen’s family, we are so blessed!! The loving support shown to us last night was amazing.. We truly have the BEST Customers/Friends!! While we are mandated to close our doors for now, soon as this is all lifted, we will be back open, stronger than ever!! Thank you so much for your continued support.. ..And we will be back soon!! Thank you!”
NAVAJO COUNTY — The U.S. is limiting testing for the COVID-19 virus to people who have specific symptoms — fever, cough, difficulty breathing. People who have traveled to areas affected by the virus or those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive are also being tested.
While health experts say not every person can be tested or even needs to be tested for coronavirus, it is difficult for public health officials to get a bead on the number of people with no symptoms who could be spreading the virus, because across the nation there are not enough testing materials available to offer widespread sampling of the population.
But what is the situation locally for testing materials? And just what are the “testing materials” that are needed?
The Independent spoke with Navajo County Public Health Director Jeff Lee to find out.
Lee said that as far as he is aware, currently there have been enough testing materials locally to test those who have needed a test — according to the current testing guidelines.
Just how long those supplies will last, he couldn’t predict.
What supplies are needed and
how much do we have?
There are two sets of supplies needed in order to conduct a test for COVID-19 — the supplies needed to gather a sample — and the supplies used at a laboratory in order to determine if a sample is positive or negative for COVID-19.
Both are in short supply, Lee said.
“The [sampling] supplies (nasal swabs and a transport medium) are supplies that the hospitals and other healthcare facilities are always buying. They are the same supplies that they would use for flu tests or other respiratory tests they would take, so it’s just normal supplies they would have,” he explained.
“They’re not just in short supply because of COVID … we’re right towards the end of flu season, so they’ve been using those swabs all year. They purchased anticipating a flu season, not a flu season then COVID. It’s just nobody’s fault, it’s just bad timing … and now mass quantities are needed across the world so the supply chains are stressed,” he said.
“The supplies needed at the lab … there’s not an abundant amount of it, but right now, if a physician sends a test to the state lab or a private lab, it will be tested,” he explained.
“Mass quantities are needed across the world … there’s just not enough of it right now and manufacturing times are not catching up with the demand … right now laboratories can run all the tests they get. I don’t know how long that will last. I don’t know how long they can keep testing if they don’t get new materials,” he said.
Lee said he was not sure how many tests had been performed in Navajo County, since his office does not track tests submitted to private labs, only tests submitted to the state lab, which must be approved by his office.
State of Arizona testing rate dramatically lower than other states
According to the COVID-19 information page on the website of Arizona Department of Health Services, as of Sunday just 408 Arizonans had been tested through the state lab. How many tests have been conducted through private labs is unclear. Only positive test results from private labs are reported to the state.
Still, compared to other states, Arizona appears to have conducted among the fewest COVID-19 tests in the nation.
According to Politico.com’s Covid Tracking Project, Arizona lags far behind even neighboring states in testing for the virus.
The COVID Tracking Project is a “volunteer-run accounting of every coronavirus test conducted in America,” according to the website. The data comes from each state’s health department websites, “because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t yet begun publicly releasing the number of people who have been tested,” they state. These numbers also may not include data from private lab testing.
Still the differences are striking. Utah has tested 3,689 people. New Mexico has tested 4,779 people, Nevada has tested 2,638 compared to 408 in Arizona.
Just why so few tests have been conducted in Arizona remains unclear.