Governor Steve Sisolak (D), himself recovering from COVID-19, warned his fellow Nevadans of the consequences of unfettered spread of COVID-19 as he admitted, “The time has come, with cases rising as they are. Something had to be done.”
Moments earlier, Sisolak announced new rules effective Tuesday morning. It’s not a shutdown order, but a whole lot of businesses will be returning to 25% maximum capacity for the following three weeks.
First, let’s understand why this is happening. Here’s your Thanksgiving week COVID-19 check-up.
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday week, Nevada’s COVID-19 stats remain eye-poppingly awful. According to Covid Act Now, our statewide infection rate remains very high at 1.19, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 119 new infections. Though Lyon (0.86), White Pine (0.95) and Churchill (0.99) Counties’ respective infection rates are lower than the rest of the state, Carson City (1.23) and Douglas (1.03), Nye (1.05), Elko (1.10), Washoe (1.18), Clark (1.20), Humboldt (1.21), and Lincoln (1.48) Counties continue to suffer rapid spread. And while Eureka County only averages seven new daily cases per 100,000, Nevada’s 16 other counties all continue to report over ten new cases per 100,000 daily.
According to the Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 tracker, Nevada’s cumulative test positivity rate has inched even higher to 14.5% (according to the Indy’s calculation), and the seven-day test positivity average has recently surged above 35%. Our seven-day average is now just over seven times the WHO’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.
According to the Nevada Hospital Association, our hospitals were treating a total of 1,283 (confirmed and suspected combined) COVID-19 patients as of last Friday. That amounts to 24% of Nevada’s total number of hospitalized patients, and this comes after we hit all-time record highs of COVID-19 patients in Nevada hospitals earlier last week. Overall hospital capacity stood at 79% of staffed beds, adult ICU occupancy stood at 68%, and 34% of Nevada’s ventilators were in use. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 2,022 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, and we again began to average over 10 COVID-19 deaths per day in the last week.
“We are on a rapid trajectory that threatens our health care workers and your access to care.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
As Governor Steve Sisolak opened tonight’s press conference, he provided a brief update on his own health: “I’m feeling good, and I’m not experiencing any symptoms.” But from there, Sisolak pivoted to offer his condolences to the 2,000+ Nevadans who have died and those who have lost these loved ones.
For the first time since the early days of the pandemic, Sisolak didn’t hold back in laying out in full view the devastating toll COVID-19 has taken on our state. “We have surpassed 2,000 deaths. We just experienced a record number of daily cases. Today, we had over 2,000 new cases alone,” Sisolak noted. He continued, “Our case growth rate is at a wildly high level. Over 10% of our COVID-19 cases here in Nevada have been reported over the last seven days.”
Sisolak then offered a preemptive justification of the new rules he was about to announce. “Whether you believe in the science of COVID-19 or not, it’s simple: COVID-19 is filling up our hospital beds, and that’s a threat to all Nevadans,” Sisolak warned. He soon added, “You won’t be able to access care if our hospitals are full and we don’t have enough staff. We are on a rapid trajectory that threatens our health care workers and your access to care.”
So what changes on Tuesday?
Effective 12:01 AM Tuesday, casinos, restaurants, bars, gyms, galleries, museums, libraries, and other not-exclusively-retail businesses can only admit up to 25% capacity. For bars and restaurants, that includes both indoor and outdoor spaces. Also for bars and restaurants, bar and countertop seating will be forbidden (again), and only parties of up to four can be seated at socially distanced tables.
For gyms, customers must work out with their masks on at all times. For everywhere else, unless customers are actively eating or drinking, they must keep their masks on. Retail stores can continue to operate at up to 50% capacity, but larger “big box” stores must count their workers toward 50% capacity. Salons, spas, and tattoo shops can remain open under current rules, but they and all other businesses must adhere to the rules.
Theaters and showrooms can only seat up to 25% capacity or 50 attendees, whichever number is lower. For other gatherings, they must be no higher than 50 people. And for at-home indoor events, everyone must wear masks at all times, parties can be no larger than groups of ten, and parties can not involve any more than two households. These new rules will remain in place for at least the next three weeks beginning Tuesday morning.
“In Southern Nevada, we have a one-industry town. We have a balancing act of protecting our health and protecting our economy.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
When reporters asked why Sisolak is going this route when public health advocates, such as the team behind Covid Act Now, call for even tougher restrictions, Sisolak said state officials have a “tough balancing act”. At one point, Sisolak lamented, “In Southern Nevada, we have a one-industry town. We have a balancing act of protecting our health and protecting our economy.”
When asked how the outgoing Trump administration’s laissez-faire approach to COVID-19 and sclerotic approach to economic relief aid are affecting his efforts here in Nevada, Sisolak vented, “I wish there was a more unified national standard. Unfortunately, [Vice President Mike Pence’s] COVID-19 task force did not choose that avenue. Governors were left on their own.”
Sisolak later addressed something that’s been a constant source of frustration for both medical experts and public education advocates: “Let’s be honest: Our casinos, bars, and restaurants will remain open to protect our economy, yet our schools remain closed, and our kids suffer. As long as our schools remain closed, our economy can not fully reopen.”
With the state’s budget crisis continuing to worsen, and with Nevada and other states and territories having to wait until President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January to see if he can reach a deal with the new Congress on renewed COVID-19 and economic relief aid, it’s unclear when Nevada school districts will get the money they need to ensure a safe learning environment for all. Yet as Washoe County School District prepares for a possible transition to full distance learning, and as Clark County School District’s in-person reopening plan remains a point of heated controversy, Sisolak suggested that these new health safety restrictions will eventually help kids return to school: “The cost to these kids is devastating. We need to get them into the classrooms.”
We have three weeks to wait and see if Sisolak’s latest effort works.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, Sisolak acknowledged the awkward timing of these new rules. But again, he stressed that these new rules are needed to prevent further tragedies in the days ahead. He also (again) called on county leaders to step up and offer more concrete policy and enforcement solutions so that he won’t have to tighten the statewide rules any further.
Sisolak warned that if public health officials don’t notice improvement in our COVID-19 stats in the next three weeks, he may finally have to reimpose mandatory closures on high-risk businesses like bars and restaurants. Yet just as he declared before today’s big announcement, Sisolak once more voiced confidence that he won’t have to go there: “I am hopeful it won’t come to that. I am hopeful people will do it.”
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.