Video of an empty downtown Reno March 29, 2020. Reno Gazette Journal
With COVID-19 deaths ticking upward across Nevada and the economy at a standstill, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday ordered a new round of restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the deadly virus.
The restrictions are aimed at preventing gatherings of people and included limits on churches, golf courses, car and appliance showrooms and real estate open houses.
“This is not a game, this is serious,” Sisolak said. “People are dying.”
The new directives are in addition to a March 16 order that closed schools, a March 20 order that closed non-essential businesses and an April 1 stay-at-home order.
Throughout the crisis, Sisolak has expressed frustration that efforts by the majority of Nevadans who are taking adequate precautions are being undermined by people who ignore public health advice against coming into close contact.
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“My primary purpose is to keep people alive and to stop the spread of this disease,” Sisolak said. “When groups gather together, the disease will spread.”
As recently as Monday, Sisolak said golf was a sensible way for people to get outside and exercise provided they used separate carts and didn’t congregate closely.
In the days since, however, he said he’s seen photos of golfers ignoring the advice.
“What has changed since then is I had a multitude of pictures sent to me that showed people were not practicing good social distancing,” he said. “Some folks again chose not to follow the rules and as a result we are closing the golf courses.”
New restrictions on churches and other forms of religious service include limiting them to no more than 10 people and requiring people to be more than six feet apart.
He acknowledged that in practical terms, it means most formal religious services won’t be allowed under the new rules.
He said the decision to go ahead with the restrictions came after reading about outbreaks of dozens of new infections in other states that were traced back to specific services.
“I know that if we allow these services to continue as usual, we will see a spike in cases in Nevada,” Sisolak said. “Clusters will appear where people congregate.”
Car and appliance showrooms closing
In addition to restrictions on church gatherings and golf courses, Sisolak ordered car and appliance showrooms to shut down. He said retailers could continue to sell those products but not via showrooms, which encourage people to linger and repeatedly touch common surfaces.
He also prohibited barbers and hair dressers from providing in-home services to clients.
“I haven’t had a haircut in six weeks. I’ve adjusted,” he said. “The first lady is sticking by my side.”
Real estate open houses are also newly restricted. Agents can show or sell houses and apartments, but they shouldn’t hold open showings for multiple clients at one time.
He also called for new restrictions on how essential businesses, such as grocery stores, operate. Stores will no longer be able to sell any food buffet-style or in bulk containers that require customers to scoop their own products, such as nuts or candy.
“We don’t want customers touching the same scoop handles over and over and over,” he said.
Sisolak also reminded the public the disease has already killed two health care workers and urged people to remember them when considering activities that run afoul of social distance advice.
“If you don’t stay home for yourself, stay home for the family of two health care workers who gave their lives,” Sisolak said.
The VA system in Reno has lost two people to coronavirus: emergency room nurse Vianna Thompson who died Tuesday and Bruce McAllister, who helped veterans file for benefits.
The speech, which lasted nearly an hour, also included updates on the number of people infected, hospitalized and killed. And he discussed state efforts to procure medical supplies.
So far, 2,318 people have tested positive and 18,248 have tested negative. He said 81 people have died and 329 are in hospitals.
Statewide, 62 percent of hospital beds are occupied, including people who are hospitalized for injuries, illnesses and other issues unrelated to the pandemic.
The state’s intensive care units, or ICUs, are 71 percent occupied, he said. And of the state’s 889 ventilators, 49 percent are in use. Another 50 ventilators arrived on loan from California today and another 450 are on the way from the federal government, he said.
The limited supply of hospital beds and ventilators makes preventing the spread of the virus critical, Sisolak said.
“If we slow down the spread, we have a real chance of avoiding a situation that would overwhelm our health care system,” Sisolak said.
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Better data reporting needed to assess full scope of spread
Looking forward, the governor said he is watching some statistics more closely than others to determine when the pandemic has crested and consider loosening restrictions, which could take weeks or months.
He said he’s watching for the number of people hospitalized, placed on ventilators and dying to start going down.
Watching those numbers is difficult, though, because reporting on local level has been coming to the state in spurts and sometimes without time data. In practical terms, it means deaths will show up in groups when they are reported without information about when they actually occurred.
The information on timing is important because it makes it easier to see trends in the numbers. Real-time data helps health experts more accurately predict when the state is reaching its peak and determine when it may be safe to begin opening businesses again.
“We need the local entities to report the figures as we are seeking them,” he said.
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