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Ute Mountain Tribe sets up roadblocks, implements curfew

Access into Towaoc, White Mesa will be heavily restricted
Ute Mountain Ute community members help sort food being distributed to residents during the coronavirus pandemic. There are no reported cases on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has implemented a stay-at-home advisory, a curfew and roadblocks controlling access into Towaoc and White Mesa, Utah.

Residents are asked to stay home except for essential travel for supplies, medical needs and employment, said Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart.

The curfew is effective from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. All non-emergency persons are to remain in their homes. People are encouraged to practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, wear face masks when out in public and sanitize their homes frequently.

Checkpoints manned 24 hours per day are set up on Mike Wash Road and Road 201 entering Towaoc, and at White Mesa, Utah, to prevent exposure to the disease, said public safety director John Trocheck. Tribal Council members will be present at the checkpoints explaining the situation to residents.

The Towaoc community is adjusting to the advisory, according to traffic numbers.

On April 11, officials recorded 1,022 vehicles that passed through a checkpoint, and on April 12 it dropped 654 vehicles. In White Mesa, traffic through checkpoints dropped from 100 vehicles to 50 vehicles for the same days.

Access to the towns is limited to residents, tribal members who live on the reservation, central personnel and essential business. All other roads into the reservation in Colorado and Utah are closed. Only people who must be in Towaoc or White Mesa will be allowed to enter. Contractors who need access should contact their contracting officer with the tribe for admittance.

The New Mexico portion of the reservation remains open.

The Ute Mountain Casino, hotel and RV park are closed until further notice.

The Travel Center remains open for fuel sales 24/7, but the pumps will be unmanned from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., and only credit card sales will be accepted overnight. The truck parking facility remains open.

The Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprise continues to sell hay. Trucks for delivery and pick-up will be allowed through the checkpoint at Highway 201 or can enter through Mike Wash Road.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has no reported cases of COVID-19.

“Let’s save lives,” said Chairman Heart during his weekly broadcast on Facebook. “Please listen and abide by what we are asking of you. We are in a very crucial time right now with this coronavirus all around us.”

He said the tribe is concerned about the growing number of cases in neighboring states, counties and particularly on the adjacent Navajo Reservation.

On April 21, the Navajo Department of Health reported 124 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death. The Navajo Nation has a total of 1,321 cases of COVID-19 with 45 confirmed deaths.

The tribe has a drive-up testing site for COVID-19 behind the Towaoc Recreation Center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

There is a process to go through for testing. First, anyone showing symptoms of cough, shortness of breath and fever should call the Indian Health Service clinic at (970) 565-4441.

From there, people will be referred to the testing site behind the Towaoc Recreation Center. If it is not on the days when it is set up, people will be referred to the drive-up site in Cortez at Southwest Memorial Hospital.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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