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Nevada drops mask mandate for fully vaccinated

Updated May 13, 2021 - 9:43 pm

New federal guidance announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask in most indoor and outdoor settings became effective immediately in Nevada. Yet businesses in the state may still require masks for customers and employees, if they so choose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing face coverings outdoors in crowds and in most indoor locations unless otherwise prohibited.

The new recommendations from the federal agency still call for masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but they are expected to help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues.

On May 3, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency directive updating mask and face covering requirements for the state to align with the CDC’s recommendations, including any subsequent guidance. As a result, the new guidance from the federal agency became effective immediately, according to a news release from the state.

Nevada businesses, however, are permitted to require patrons to mask up.

“Private entities and organizations may have mask policies that are more restrictive than the CDC guidance,” the state said. “Workers should consult with their employers regarding workplace COVID-19 safety protocols.”

The Vegas Chamber of Commerce recommended that area businesses keep mask mandates in place.

“Not every employee or customer may be vaccinated, so we urge businesses to play it safe by continuing to require mask-wearing,” chamber President and CEO Mary Beth Sewald said in a statement. “Keeping COVID cases down is the key to fully reopening Las Vegas for the long-term and re-energizing our economy.”

Some area businesses will be keeping the mask requirement, at least for now, including local Smith’s supermarkets.

According to a statement from Kroger, the chain’s parent company, “At this time, the Kroger family of companies continues to require everyone in our stores to wear masks.” The company is reviewing its safety practices and the latest CDC guidelines with soliciting feedback from associates “to guide the next phase of our policy.”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board in a news release underscored that its licensees “may have mask policies that are more restrictive than the CDC guidance.”

One company, Wynn Resorts Ltd., said in a statement that fully vaccinated guests will not be required to wear masks as of Thursday night, but those who are not vaccinated will be required to wear one.

“We trust our guests to take the appropriate precautions based on their personal vaccination status,” the statement read. The company also said employees will be required to wear a mask unless they can provide vaccination verification.

The new federal guidance also dropped the recommendation for social distancing among fully vaccinated people. Each county in Nevada has the authority to set its own social distancing requirements after the transfer of this control from the state on May 1.

‘A great day’

In Washington, officials framed the easing of restrictions as a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life.

“Today is a great day for America,” President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. “Get vaccinated — or wear a mask until you do.”

But Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, called the CDC guidance “confusing and contradictory,” referring to the ambiguity over who is and isn’t vaccinated.

“The public will not feel comfortable in a crowded indoor space if they are unsure if the maskless person standing next to them is or is not vaccinated,” he said.

The CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot. The country’s aggressive vaccination campaign has paid off: U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April, and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.

“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an earlier White House briefing.

Walensky said the long-awaited change was possible thanks to the millions of people who have gotten vaccinated and is based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Door to confusion

The new guidance is likely to open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not. Walensky and Biden said people who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.

“We’ve gotten this far — please protect yourself until you get to the finish line,” Biden said, noting that most Americans under 65 are not yet fully vaccinated. He said the government was not going to enforce the mask wearing guidance on those not yet fully vaccinated.

“We’re not going to go out and arrest people,” added Biden, who said he believes the American people want to take care of their neighbors. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, wear your mask for your own protection and the protection of the people who also have not been vaccinated yet.”

In Nevada, the state neither requires private entities to confirm a person’s vaccination status nor prohibits it, according to guidance from the state. Likewise, the Nevada Gaming Control Board does not require or prohibit confirmation of vaccination from its licensees.

To date about more than 154 million Americans, or nearly 47 percent of the population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 119 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer shot for children ages 12 to 15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.

‘Be patient with one another’

“All of us, let’s be patient, be patient with one another,” Biden said, acknowledging some Americans might be hesitant about removing their masks after more than a year of living in a pandemic that has killed more than 580,000 in the U.S. and more than 3.3 million people worldwide.

Just two weeks ago, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.

Walensky said that evidence from the U.S. and Israel shows the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies and that they continue to work though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading.

The more people continue to get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop — and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging everyone 12 and older who is not yet vaccinated to sign up.

And while some people still get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, Walensky said, that’s rare. She cited evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter and harder to spread to others. If people who are vaccinated do develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately put their mask back on and get tested, she said.

There are some caveats. Walensky encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That’s because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.

The new guidance had an immediate effect at the White House, which has taken a cautious approach to easing virus restrictions. Staffers were informed that masks are no longer required for people who are fully vaccinated. And Biden, who was meeting with vaccinated Republican lawmakers in the Oval Office when the guidance was announced, led the group in removing their masks Thursday afternoon.

First lady Jill Biden, who was traveling in West Virginia, told reporters that “we feel naked,” after the guidance, as she and her party removed their face coverings. Then she paused and added, “I didn’t mean it that way!”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. The Associated Press and Review-Journal staff writers Al Mancini, Subrina Hudson, Mike Shoro and Bailey Schulz contributed to this report.

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