It’s not an exaggeration to say that over the past 18 months, the Navajo Nation was one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. As of this week, the tribe reported a total of more than 31,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 1,362 deaths attributed to the virus, according to the Navajo Department of Health.
Over the past year, however, the vast tribal area that includes land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has gone from having one of the highest per capita infection rates to one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Navajo President Jonathan Nez recently said that more than 70 percent of those eligible for the vaccine have received it.
That change prompted Navajo leaders to allow a limited reopening of the Navajo Nation to tourists this month. Navajo Nation roads are now available to visitors and tribal parks are opened at 50 percent capacity. On Monday, Twin Arrows Casino Resort also reopened, which is a huge boon to our regional economy.
Prior to the pandemic, the casino’s corporate parent, Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises (NNGE), was one of our region’s largest employers, with more than 500 workers in the greater Flagstaff area. NNGE, which also runs three other casino properties in New Mexico, was able to keep its 1200 employees on its payroll for the first 10 months of the casino closures, but was forced to lay off 1,120 team members in January. There was even talk of a permanent closure, which would have cost the Navajo Nation about $460 million in the first year.
This spring, however, NNGE was able to slowly start up operations at two of its New Mexico properties, with “soft” re-openings limited to 25% capacity starting March 19. The third New Mexico property reopened on July 12 along with Twin Arrows. Masks are still required at the casinos and in public throughout the Navajo Nation, even for those fully vaccinated.
The casino at Twin Arrows is open from 9 am to 10 pm daily, with a return to 24/7 hours anticipated in the future. The Oasis and Zenith steakhouse restaurant will reopen next week, but both the Four Elements Café and Arrows Sports Bar are open now. Closed until further notice, however, are the Grand Falls Buffet, Four Worlds Arcade, bingo and the hotel’s pool and fitness center.
Even at half capacity, the opening of Twin Arrows is a welcome development. We congratulate the Navajo Nation and NNGE for its safe and thoughtful reopening. The tribe is demonstrating how a community can carefully balance the economic and health needs of its people during a uniquely challenging time.