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Sisolak Hits Pause on “Phase Three” Following Rise in New COVID-19 Infections

Moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) told Nevadans, “We are not ready to go into ‘Phase Three’, and the timeline will be dictated by the virus.”

As Nevada has been noticing an uptick in new infections, and as two neighboring Western states experience a surge in new infections, Sisolak reminded Nevadans, “We’re not in a post-COVID time. We are in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Our objective is to reopen and keep open.” 
– Caleb Cage, Nevada Health Response (from last Thursday)

As of 5:50 PM tonight and according to The Nevada Independent, Nevada has 11,308 positively tested COVID-19 cases and 465 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths. As the Indy’s tally and the official state database show, the cumulative test positivity rate has gradually dropped to about 5.2% from the 12.2% rate that Nevada health officials reported in late April. That 5.2% test positivity rate stands at just over half of the World Health Organization’s recommended 10% test positivity benchmark, and Nevada’s hospital capacity (both overall and in ICU’s) remains high and fairly stable.

However, Covid Act Now still rates Nevada as a “high risk for reopening”, as our test positivity rate remains above the 3% benchmark that other developed countries use, and because our contact tracing remains low while our infection rate has begun to tick upwards again. Last Thursday, I watched as Nevada Health Response held a press event to describe what the state is doing to try to keep Nevada on the “Roadmap to Recovery”. 

On the question of contact tracing, Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health’s Deputy Administrator for Community Health Services Julia Peek declared, “We have successfully started implementation on [Nevada’s contact tracing program]. We’ll have 250 new contact tracers starting this Saturday. 96% of them are Nevadans, and 25% of them are bilingual in English and Spanish.”

But what about the higher reported numbers of infections? Nevada State COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage stressed, “Despite the upticks, we’re still around 5.4% of cumulative testing coming back positive [based on Thursday’s data].” He then added, “5.4% is well within the range of expected infections.” And when asked how this recent growth in new positively tested cases may affect the timeline of “Roadmap” reopenings, Cage replied, “Our objective is to reopen and keep open.”

“Viruses don’t recognize borders. […] It doesn’t stop at the Arizona border. What they think is in their state’s best interest doesn’t always match ours.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak (from earlier today)

Also during that Nevada Health Response press event last Thursday, Cage and Peek responded to questions about the sudden growth in new COVID-19 infections across the nation, including the increasingly alarming resurgence of COVID-19 in nearby Arizona. On the “second wave” of COVID-19 that’s raging next door (FYI, Utah is also experiencing a surge in new infections), Cage stated, “The virus doesn’t see any boundaries or borders. On an hourly basis, certainly on a daily basis, we’re monitoring what’s happening around the world.” 

From there, let’s fast forward to today. Just moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak joined Caleb Cage and Julia Peek to address the state of the state’s “Phase Two” of the “Roadmap to Recovery”. In response to a question on Arizona’s worsening outbreak, Sisolak stated, “We’re not in a post-COVID time. We are in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.”

Then as a possible retort to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s (R) increasingly laissez-faire approach to COVID-19 in his state, Sisolak said, “Viruses don’t recognize borders. It doesn’t stop at the California border. It doesn’t stop at the Arizona border. What they think is in their state’s best interest doesn’t always match ours.”

“We are not ready to go into ‘Phase Three’, and the timeline will be dictated by the virus.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
COVID-19, coronavirus, Steve Sisolak
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae

While Nevada hasn’t reopened businesses and society at large quite as rapidly as Arizona has over the last month, Vox recently ranked states on safety to reopen based on COVID-19 case loads, testing availability, and hospital capacity. While Nevada avoided falling to the bottom, and while we actually outperformed California, Arizona, and Utah on Vox’s health safety criteria, we nonetheless are not one of the six states that have made strong enough progress to justify larger-scale reopenings. (Those six states Vox marked for “strong progress” are Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.)

Getting back to Nevada’s COVID-19 data, Sisolak acknowledged, “Before expanding our reopening and entering into ‘Phase Three’, we must give ourselves the time to make sure […] we are protecting ourselves and our capacity to treat patients.” He continued, “As the Governor of Utah [Gary Herbert (R)] recently said, ‘We don’t want to go forward just to take the state backward.’”

Later on and in response to a reporter’s question on when he may move Nevada into “Phase Three” of reopenings, Sisolak confirmed, “We are not ready to go into ‘Phase Three’, and the timeline will be dictated by the virus.”

“We’re having a special session. I don’t know the date yet, but we’re having one.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, coronavirus
Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis next to State Treasurer Zach Conine, from left, and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, right, at a press conference at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Pool) @rookie__rae

So Sisolak is essentially hitting the “pause button” on our advancement on the “Roadmap to Recovery”. What else might the state do to try to reverse this recent spike in COVID-19 infections? And with the pandemic still raging, how will the state cope with the ongoing economic fallout?

So far, masks and other face coverings have only been mandated for workers and “strongly recommended” for casino and retail customers. But in light of the sometimes disturbing images of the “Grand Reopening of the Las Vegas Strip”, Sisolak said, “We are looking at any options we might have available” on compelling more customers to take COVID-19 prevention more seriously.

Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at a press conference at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Pool) @rookie__rae

In addition, Sisolak encouraged the state’s municipal authorities (and probably two populous counties in particular) to look at the options the state has provided them: “I will stand by and support municipalities that decide to tighten their [social distancing and shutdown] rules as needed.”

Moving closer to home, Sisolak suggested that he may extend the state’s eviction moratorium that’s currently set to expire June 30. And in response to questions on when he will call the Nevada Legislature into special session to address the state’s fiscal emergency, Sisolak stated, “We’re having a special session. I don’t know the date yet, but we’re having one,” and he suggested the Legislature may have to consider tax increases and budget cuts absent sufficient federal assistance.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For 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.

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