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Navajo Nation reports 54 new virus cases, 5 deaths

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Hundreds of people who had been on paid leave from their jobs with the Navajo Nation’s gambling enterprise are no longer being paid.

Brian Parrish, who heads the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, said 900 employees began receiving letters and phone calls over the weekend about the layoffs.

Another 125 employees will be paid for another week, he said. A skeleton crew will remain on the payroll to handle human resources work, security, management and finances, Parrish among them.

The enterprise had been preparing to reopen its three casinos in northwestern New Mexico, and a resort casino and new travel center east of Flagstaff when the tribal president extended a closure of some executive offices. That order now expires in mid-August.

The ability to continue paying 1,180 employees had been a source of pride for the gambling enterprise.

The revenue from tribal casinos often is considered a stand-in for property tax that isn’t paid on reservations. It helps fund tribal governments and social services like health care.

Parrish said the Navajo enterprise exhausted its cash reserves and money it received from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to pay employees and no longer can afford it.

The enterprise has submitted proposals to Navajo leaders for a share of federal coronavirus relief money that went directly to tribal governments. The leaders are considering a wide range of proposals that add up to more than the amount available.

“We have enormous trust and faith in our leadership,” Parrish said. “They’ve got a lot of needs to balance.”

The Navajo Nation once had one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus infections in the U.S. The daily number of reported cases has declined overall, but nighttime curfews, weekend lockdowns and a mask mandate remain because of recent surges in COVID-19 off the reservation.

As of late Sunday, tribal health officials reported 54 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths. The total number of people infected on the reservation now stands at 8,891 with 439 known deaths.

Tribal health officials said 77,156 people have undergone testing and 6,547 have recovered from the virus.