Moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced an extension of the current “statewide pause” of somewhat heightened COVID-19 health safety rules through January 15. And with federal rent assistance set to expire at the end of the year, Sisolak also reinstated the statewide residential eviction moratorium and extended it to March 31.
During today’s press conference, Sisolak defended the nature of this “statewide pause” and effectively blamed the Trump administration for putting him and other state and local leaders in an untenable position.
Tonight’s COVID-19 check-up: Infection rate holds steady, but test positivity and death rates continue to climb.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s overall infection rate has inched a little lower to 1.07, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 107 new infections. Humboldt (0.68), Lincoln (0.73), White Pine (0.81), Elko (0.92), Lander (0.93), Churchill (0.98), and Washoe (0.99) Counties have all managed to get or keep their respective infection rates under 1, but Clark (1.09), Nye (1.09), Carson City (1.17), Lyon (1.23), and Douglas (1.29) Counties continue to suffer more rapid spread.
Humboldt (0.0), Pershing (9.9), and Storey (17.3) Counties are now reporting under 20 new cases per 100,000 per day, but Eureka (28.2), Nye (45.8), and White Pine (48.0) Counties are well over that benchmark. And even worse, Lincoln (55.1), Elko (75.5), Lyon (76.0), Clark (81.8), Washoe (84.1), Churchill (90.6), Douglas (119.5), Lander (142.0), Mineral (142.7), Esmeralda (245.5), and Carson City (250.1) Counties are all reporting over 50 new cases per 100,000 per day. According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 tracker, Nevada’s cumulative test positivity rate has hit a new record high of 17.4% (according to the Indy’s calculation), and our seven-day average has exceeded 40% for nearly a week. These test positivity rates remain far above the WHO’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.
According to the Nevada Hospital Association, Nevada hospitals were treating 1,697 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 157 patients who probably have COVID-19 as of Friday, for a total of 1,854 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. This amounts to 33% of Nevada’s total number of patients in our hospitals. As of Friday, Nevada’s hospitals were reporting overall occupancy rates at 82% of staffed beds, 70% of adult ICU beds, and 44% of ventilators being used. While Northern Nevada hospitals have seen somewhat lower demand for treatment in the past week, Southern Nevada hospitals continue to hit new record highs in COVID-19 patients needing treatment.
Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 2,539 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of today. As we’ve previously warned, the death count tends to be a lagging indicator. Now that we’re about seven weeks into this autumn surge, we’re averaging over 25 COVID-19 deaths per day. To put this into a more focused perspective, Nevada is experiencing a loss of life on the scale of the 1 October Shooting just from COVID-19 every 48 hours.
“It’s going to take some time for the State of Nevada and for the entire country to get the vaccine.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup today completed their concurrent & thorough review of the federal process & has confirmed the Pfizer Vaccine is safe & efficacious. The Workgroup provided their confirmation to the Governors of CA, NV, OR & WAS this morning
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) December 13, 2020
As we’ve been explaining in recent days, the very early track record for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine looks very promising. Yet despite the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Friday, Pfizer beginning to ship out vaccine orders today, and the Western States’ coalition (California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) independently confirming the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s efficacy and safety today, we’re probably four or more months away from this and/or other vaccine candidates becoming readily available to the general public.
Today, Sisolak reiterated the state’s existing plan to deliver the vaccine to frontline health care workers first. From there, nursing home workers and residents will be next in line for vaccinations. As we noted last week, the Trump administration only ordered enough Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses for 50 million Americans to get it. Federal and state officials are hoping for an imminent approval of Moderna’s vaccine candidate to grow the federal government’s supply, but even the addition of a Moderna vaccine only means additional vaccine supply for another 50-60 million Americans.
As Sisolak acknowledged himself, “It’s going to take some time for the State of Nevada and for the entire country to get the vaccine.” Still, he added, “We’re hopeful we will get more in the weeks and months ahead.”
“If [casinos have] to shut down again, the state stands to lose $52 million in gaming tax revenue per month.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
As state officials largely have to figure out the actual logistics of vaccine delivery on their own, and as they’ve mostly had to fend for themselves on most everything else COVID-19 related, Sisolak vented his frustration over the continued impasse on new COVID-19 relief dollars for individuals, businesses, and state and local governments. He also expressed outrage over the White House’s latest COVID-19 report that shifts blame onto state and local governments for refusing to enact tougher health safety rules.
At certain points, Sisolak actually said the quiet part out loud: “We’re in a unique position in Nevada. We rely on one industry: hospitality. This is the only big industry we have in Southern Nevada. It’s incumbent upon us to protect it.” He also declared, “If [casinos have] to shut down again, the state stands to lose $52 million in gaming tax revenue per month.”
Throughout the program, Sisolak vigorously defended his decision to allow casinos to reopen in June, as well as his subsequent decisions to allow casinos to stay open (albeit with on-paper regulations on face coverings and a 25% casino floor capacity limit). Instead, Sisolak declared, “A shutdown is unrealistic without additional support.”
At one point during this press conference, he even dared U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and other key Republicans blocking relief aid legislation to visit Nevada and see the devastation for themselves. It’s to be determined whether any Congressional Republicans will take up Sisolak on his offer, but it’s looking increasingly likely that no additional federal COVID-19 relief funding will pass Congress before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated next month despite overwhelming popular support for such relief aid.
“We must do what we can to protect the health and safety of the public.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
With continually dimming hopes for any additional federal aid before February, state and local officials still must figure things out on their own. Here in Nevada, that means more of the same: “We will keep the current restrictions for now,” though Sisolak also said, “I will be forced to come before you all with tougher actions,” if the state’s COVID-19 stats don’t improve before January 15.
This means that mostly non-retail businesses will continue to have to operate under the 25% capacity rule, retail stores can operate up to 50% capacity, most gatherings remain capped at 50 people, and in-home private parties can not exceed ten people and can not involve more than two households.
But with evictions on the rise again, and with the Clark County Justice Court rejecting Sisolak’s and the Clark County Commission’s pleas to “pause” evictions, Sisolak took some action on this front: “I must reinstate the [residential eviction] moratorium to make sure Nevadans can stay in their homes during this most critical phase of the pandemic.” The new moratorium will mostly operate under the same parameters as his prior moratoriums, and this one will remain in place through March 31, 2021.
As he has done in past addresses to the public, Sisolak called on Nevadans to wear their masks, practice social distancing, and do more on their own so that state and local authorities won’t feel obligated to enact stricter health safety rules. Or as Sisolak put it, “We must do what we can to protect the health and safety of the public.” Sadly, it still remains to be seen just how much federal, state, and local policymakers are willing to do to actually protect Americans’ health and safety.
If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check with Nevada Health Response on testing in your area, and check with Nevada 211 for more health care resources. If you’re in need of additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square. And for goodness sake, please wear your masks and maintain social distancing from people outside your household.
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.