Gov. Steve Sisolak says Nevada schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year during a press conference where he detailed the criteria that will signal when the state’s economy can begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sisolak on Tuesday unveiled a detailed framework to gradually restart the state’s COVID-clobbered economy — starting with gyms, certain restaurants and some outpatient surgery facilities, and working slowly toward casinos and other nonessential businesses first shuttered on March 17.
The first-term Democratic governor said he didn’t have a firm date when the first of those businesses can expect to reopen, a process he said would depend on the state’s progress toward an array of virus testing and containment criteria set by state and federal health experts.
The state’s school districts, meanwhile, will continue distance education for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Sisolak wouldn’t speculate if the 2020-21 school could be affected.
Sisolak repeatedly stressed that the Silver State is now in “phase zero” of its economic rebound efforts.
But if the state sees a 14-day decline in positive tests and hospitalizations — and can maintain healthy capacity at its hospitals while protecting virus-vulnerable populations — he said officials would begin the shift to phase one.
“The lives of Nevadans are more important than profit,” Sisolak told reporters at a press conference in Carson City. “We want to move into a phase where saving lives and our economy are not mutually exclusive.
“The reopening of our economy is highly dependent on expanded testing and tracing capacity. Our No. 1 priority is always the health and safety of Nevadans.”
Sisolak said the first phase of Nevada’s reopening plan will require the elderly and other vulnerable populations to continue to shelter in place and avoid socializing in groups of more than 10. He said the plan would also retain existing travel restrictions and perhaps even tighten current guidance on wearing face masks in public.
The governor did not provide details on which businesses could expect to reopen during subsequent phases of the plan. He said bars would remain closed and in-person hospital visits would still be prohibited under the first phase of the framework.
Tuesday’s reopening plan came days or weeks too late for Sisolak’s partisan political rivals and local leaders who have pushed for a quicker end to the statewide shutdown.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, a particularly vocal critic, last week called widespread business closures “total insanity.”
A day later, state Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, told the governor “there is room to improve” his office’s communication about efforts to reopen Nevada’s economy.
Then, on Monday, Assembly Republicans released their own four-point reopening plan that included a proposal to establish a curbside pickup model for retail stores.
Sisolak showed little interest in adopting that recommendation, though he said his administration was already in touch with restaurant and gym owners about the possibility of reopening their businesses to a limited number of customers.
Coronavirus-related travel and social distancing protocols have crushed the Nevada’s tourism-driven economy in recent weeks, prompting huge waves of casino worker layoffs that have overwhelmed the state’s unemployment office.
Casino resort closures have also staunched the flow of crucial sales and gaming taxes that pay for most of the state’s budget, threatening huge chunks of cash promised to thousands of teachers, health care workers and corrections officers.
Sisolak said he was working closely to coordinate Nevada’s recovery efforts with other western governors working on similar plans, including top officials in California, Oregon and Washington.
As for the state’s overloaded unemployment claim system, Sisolak said all claims would be retroactive to the date the claimant was eligible. He also said individuals can now reset their own passwords, which should help the filing system.
“I totally understand the frustration,” Sisolak said. “No system was set up to handle this kind of surge, that’s not an excuse, that’s simply the way it is.”
Sisolak also thanked Nevadans for cooperating with social distancing policies.
“You’ve been staying home for Nevada,” Sisolak said. “You are the reason we have avoided thousands of deaths and a breakdown of our health care system.”
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