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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Even with tribal casinos beginning to reopen in parts of Indian Country, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise’s board of directors on Friday extended the closure of all Navajo gaming operations.

The Navajo Nation is being hit hard from the coronavirus. As of Saturday night, the Navajo Nation reported a total of 3,912 of COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths.

Last week, President Jonathan Nez extended the Navajo Nation’s Declaration of a State of Emergency until at least June 7, 2020.

"During this time of closure, the board of directors also approved keeping all team members on a paid status. With 82 percent of our staff enrolled members of the Navajo Nation and residing on the Nation, we want to make sure our team does not have to face additional hardships as they continue to do their part by staying home and helping flatten the curve. We continue to monitor the situation and focus on how gaming can help slow down the spread of COVID-19 in our nearby communities and region,” Quincy Natay, Navajo Gaming board chairman, said.

Throughout the casino closure period every team member at Navajo Gaming has maintained their health care benefits extended to them through Gaming's self-funded program.  And, since the COVID-19 pandemic an additional benefit was added with a new Employee Assistance Program, provided by Jorgensen Brooks. Some of the specialized services provided are: marital and relationship, stress management, parenting, substance abuse, financial concerns, loss and grief, depression, in addition to personal care consultation with a sundry of legal advice to how to prepare for college.

"We are very pleased and proud to keep our team members employed with all health benefits during this pandemic," Interim Navajo Gaming CEO Brian Parrish stated.

Navajo Gaming and its executive team members have worked in partnership, monitoring the COVID pandemic and its spread, with Navajo Area Indian Health Service, Navajo Nation Department of Health and the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, as well as the Navajo Nation Legislative Branch.

"While we continue to do our part to 'flatten the curve,' we've also prepared a phased reopening plan with extensive countermeasures so patrons and team members are assured they'll have a safe and sanitary casino/resort experience to visit once it is prudent to reopen," Parrish said. "These actions and decisions by our organization reinforce our commitment to protecting our guests and team members. We want to thank members of our community for their support during this time and let them know how much we look forward to the time when it is again safe to serve them at our fine Navajo Gaming locations."

Navajo Gaming is one of many Navajo Nation-owned and operated enterprises that is charged with the mission of creating jobs, increasing revenues and stimulating incremental economic development.

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Levi Rickert
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Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].