Governor expected to take steps toward stemming rise in new cases
This story is being provided for free as part of our essential coronavirus coverage. Please consider supporting our work by subscribing.
Residents and tourists will have to wear a mask in public until further notice amid a sudden spike of coronavirus cases in Nevada.
Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the clampdown during a Wednesday press conference in Carson City, where he followed through on a longstanding pledge to reintroduce strict virus-prevention protocols as soon as the Silver State suffered a sustained setback in its fight against the virus.
Three weeks after the cautious reopening of casinos, and nearly a month after allowing limited operations to resume at most other “nonessential” businesses, Sisolak decided that time had come.
“Unfortunately, as you can see from the data, we’ve taken some steps backward,” the first-term Democrat told reporters at the state Legislature. “Clearly for many the excitement and enthusiasm of escaping from our confinement overshadowed the good judgement we practiced in recent months.”
Sisolak went on to apologize for his own mask-wearing lapses, acknowledging he made an “inexcusable” error in judgement after a picture surfaced of him and his wife not wearing masks while posing for a photo at a Carson City restaurant.
The governor’s latest COVID-prevention directive takes effect Friday and will apply to all but a small handful of Nevadans, including those with certain medical conditions and children between the ages of 2 and 9. It also applies to all privately owned businesses.
Operations that do not comply with the order will face action from state and local law enforcement, Sisolak said. He added that he hoped those sanctions would not include fines and fees imposed on Nevadans, who are already grappling with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.
Nevada has seen a record-setting surge of new coronavirus cases over the past week, alarming officials who anticipated a more modest swell after crowds started to stream back into casinos.
State Epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock said she didn’t know exactly how much of the increase could be explained by the state’s expanded ability to track patients and conduct coronavirus tests.
She and others seemed to pin most of the blame on those not following health and safety guidelines.
“I don’t have that information right now,” Peek-Bullock said when asked about the role of expanded testing in the state’s latest COVID spike. “We know the equation to prevent it and we know the equation to spread it. So all of us can walk around the community and see people without masks and we know that’s how it spreads.
“It ends up being individual behavior that’s going to butterfly effect this.”
Wednesday’s mask mandate arrived hours after MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment announced its guests must now wear face coverings at all times unless they’re eating or drinking.
It comes a little more than a week after Sisolak said Nevada was not yet ready to start the third phase of its post-virus economic recovery effort, again pointing to the ongoing uptick in COVID cases and hospitalizations. He also extended the second phase of his plan to reinvigorate the state’s economy through the end of June.
Since then, at least five Southern Nevada casino employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the closure of several restaurants on and off the Las Vegas Strip.
Sisolak on Wednesday did not rule out taking additional steps to halt the virus’ spread at those businesses or anywhere else that might prove a hotspot for the disease, adding that he didn’t want to have to take additional steps backward if he didn’t have to.
Sisolak has also stopped short of dismissing new tax increases that could buoy a Nevada budget battered by COVID-related business restrictions. Lawmakers are expected to take up that topic at a special legislative session scheduled in early July.
A handful of top legislators have already begun to patch COVID-caused holes in Nevada’s $4.4 billion annual spending plan.
A deeply divided panel of lawmakers earlier this month approved $116 million in new spending cuts meant to help fill the estimated $812 million budget shortfall.
The move slashed a combined $67 million from spending on higher education, health services and public safety. It also canceled $49 million in expected tech upgrades, vehicle purchases and other one-shot expenditures first OK’d by lawmakers in 2019.
Those cutbacks, coupled with a $401 million withdrawal from Nevada’s rainy-day fund, shore up nearly two-thirds of the state’s projected budget gap. Officials will look to make up the remaining balance mostly via federal coronavirus stimulus payments and transfers from other reserve funds, such as the state’s Disaster Relief Account.
State health officials on Wednesday reported 365 new COVID cases, pushing Nevada’s seven-day average test positivity rate above 10 percent for the first time since May 5.
That rate has followed a largely upward trajectory since hitting a 2.5 percent low point in late May, just before Sisolak announced phase two of the state’s virus recovery plan.
The World Health Organization had previously said the average test positivity rate should be below 10 percent before states reopen, but revised that metric to five percent several weeks ago.
More detailed information on Sisolak’s mask mandate, including a list of affected businesses, is available at nvhealthresponse.nv.gov.
Gov. Steve Sisolak will give an update on the state’s ongoing response to the coronavirus at a Wednesday afternoon press conference in Carson City.
Nevada has seen a sudden spike in virus cases in the three weeks since the governor reopened casinos. Sisolak is expected to respond to that increase with stricter rules on mask-wearing in public. Caesars Entertainment on Wednesday announced its guests must now wear face coverings at all times unless they’re eating or drinking.
Sisolak last week said Nevada was not yet ready to start the third phase of its post-virus economic recovery effort.
The first-term Democrat has not ruled out the possibility of raising taxes to salvage the state’s COVID-clobbered budget. Lawmakers are expected to tackle that topic at a special legislative session scheduled in early July.
Sisolak is scheduled to speak at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The RGJ will cover the event live from the state Legislature. Sisolak’s remarks will also be livestreamed on the Legislature’s website at leg.state.nv.us.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
Read or Share this story: https://www.rgj.com/story/news/politics/2020/06/24/watch-nevada-gov-steve-sisolak-gives-update-covid-19-response/3254017001/