CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a three-week “statewide pause” that starts Tuesday to fight the wildfire-like spread of coronavirus across Nevada, but said he was not yet ready to again shutter the state’s economy to battle spiraling infection rates and caseloads.
“I am not issuing a shutdown order,” the governor, in quarantine recovering from a mild COVID-19 case himself, said in a Sunday virtual press conference. “My goal is to aggressively try to attack this spread, while maintaining some portion of our economy and our daily lives.”
The governor ordered stricter requirements on mask usage and a rollback on permitted crowd sizes in both public and private settings, but no additional business closures. The pause is effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and includes the following:
— Masks usage at all times “when you are around someone who is not part of your immediate household, whether indoors or outdoors,” the governor said. The requirement includes private gatherings. An existing exception for those doing strenuous exercise indoors at gyms and other fitness places, such as running on a treadmill, is going away.
— Capacity at restaurants and bars will drop to 25 percent, from 50 percent, with no more than four people per table. Reservations are required, and no walk-ins will be allowed.
“I know the majority of our bars and restaurants are doing their best, but these settings have proved to be high risk because they allow the opportunity for people to remove their face coverings in indoor settings around people outside of their households. That’s how the virus spreads,” Sisolak said.
Also, gaming operations will be restricted to 25 percent occupancy and must operate pursuant to rules issued by the state Gaming Control Board. Gyms, fitness, dance and martial arts studios, museums, art galleries, libraries, zoos and aquariums, arcades, racetracks, bowling alleys, miniature golf, amusement and theme parks also must go to 25 percent capacity.
— Public gathering size limits return to 50 people from 250, or to 25 percent of capacity, whichever number is lower. Private gatherings are limited to 10 people “from no more than 2 households, whether indoors or outdoors,” Sisolak said.
Affected venues include places of worship, indoor movie theaters, live theater performances, casino showrooms, weddings, funerals, celebrations of life, milestone celebrations and “any other event where members of the public may be gathered together at the same time in the same place for the same purpose,” he said.
No large gathering plans will be approved, and any existing events already planned during the next three weeks must be canceled. Adult and youth sports tournaments are paused starting Tuesday.
— Retail stores may continue to operate at 50 percent capacity. Stores with more than 50,000 square feet of space have to count patrons as they enter to ensure compliance with capacity limits.
Hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, businesses that provide esthetic skin services, spas, massage therapy and massage establishments, body art and body piercing businesses may continue to operate under current guidelines.
— Brothels, adult entertainment establishments, day clubs and nightclubs stay closed.
And community and recreational centers will continue to operate at 50 percent capacity because they provide critical child care services.
Coronavirus cases grow
The governor’s latest order comes nearly two weeks after he asked Nevadans to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus amid another surge. Since then, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have only continued to spike, with the state seeing new record highs in both its seven-day moving average of new cases and for new positive cases reported in a single day; more than 2,000 new cases have been reported four times in the past nine days, including Sunday.
Since the beginning of October, Nevada has tallied nearly 40 percent of the total 130,000 cases accumulated since the first state was reported on March 5. Its seven-day moving average of new cases has quadrupled, confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations have nearly tripled, and deaths — the lagging indicator on infections — are rising: The state has reported 240 deaths in November compared to 177 in October, and about half of the record 475 set in August.
Asked how the new rules would be enforced, particularly in private settings, the governor acknowledged, “We are certainly not the mask police,” adding that it was “incumbent upon all of us as residents in Nevada to do our part.” He said he decided against another shutdown because the first one, imposed in the spring, wrecked the state’s economy and put “our unemployment at an all-time high.”
The governor said the restrictions were devised in consultation with county and local health authorities who, in addition to being responsible for front line enforcement, also can impose stricter requirements.
“Unfortunately, that has not happened to date and the time has come that I had to take a stand,” Sisolak said. “I had to implement strong restrictions. Washoe (County) was breaking records on a daily basis. I had to do something.”
‘Very measured steps’
UNLV epidemiologist Brian Labus, who serves on Sisolak’s medical advisory board for COVID-19, said the governor had introduced “very measured steps” that would “stop disease transmission without completely shutting down Nevada.”
“The whole point of those restrictions is to reduce transmission by reducing the amount of close contact that people have,” Labus said. “Anything we can do to reduce that contact will help us slow the spread of disease.”
He added that enforcement could be difficult but if the new restrictions change “the way people act, that’s definitely going to have an effect on transmission in our community.”
Officials in Southern Nevada were also supportive, though they said they hadn’t always been kept in the loop.
“He might be calling the County Commission, but he’s not calling the mayors of the valley, and he hasn’t throughout this process,” said North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, who encouraged Nevadans to heed the new rules.
“I understand these are uncomfortable times, but this is a serious situation and we need to learn how to adapt, so we can overcome it and get back to the quality of life that we had in the past,” Lee said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at email@example.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Michael Scott Davidson and Alexis Ford contributed.