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Sisolak Unveils New County and Business Driven COVID-19 Response Plan

Moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) declared, “We have developed a sustainable, targeted response model” to tackle our ongoing and still severe COVID-19 outbreak. So what is it? Basically, the state will be ditching statewide phases for increased enforcement of health safety rules and more targeted measures in counties that are still struggling.

So where does Nevada stand in our COVID-19 outbreak?

Earlier today, Nevada Health Response updated the state’s official COVID-19 database. As of today, Nevada’s cumulative test positivity rate rose further to 10.6% while the seven-day average hit 21.5%. The latest one-day test positivity rate appeared to top 45%, but state health officials said during their daily press call that “reporting issues” involving how they calculate the one-day rates, mainly how they count people who have taken multiple COVID-19 tests, may have thrown their numbers off.

Getting back to numbers that are not in dispute, state officials reported that Nevada’s overall hospital occupancy rate is 76%, and that ICU occupancy sits at 66%. Remember that last month, federal and state officials changed how they report hospital occupancy. Nevada now has 1,152 overall (confirmed and suspected) COVID-19 hospitalizations, just eight below the July 23-24 record high of 1,160.

Today Nevada reported 14 more COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the state’s total COVID-19 death toll to 847. Our seven-day average for COVID-19 induced deaths lies at 15.4, which remains dangerously close to the record high we hit just two weeks ago. And according to Covid Act Now, our infection rate has finally come down to 1.00 (or every infection leads to one more infection), but our caseload remains at a dangerously high 34.1 per 100,000 cases, and only 8% of our COVID-19 infections are being contact traced within 48 hours of testing positive.

“This virus is no less dangerous now than it was when we began our work in March. […] We’re still responding to this emergency, and our response needs to be sustainable for the long term.”
– Caleb Cage, Nevada Health Response
Steve Sisolak, Nevada Legislature
Photo provided by the Office of Governor Steve Sisolak

Last Monday, Governor Steve Sisolak promised, “No more phases: In an effort to create more predictability, we’re moving away from phases.” So if we’re not doing phased reopenings and re-closings any more, what are we doing exactly?

At tonight’s press conference, Sisolak responded, “Shutting down our entire economy is not sustainable.” And a little later, Nevada Health Response Director Caleb Cage added, “This virus is no less dangerous now than it was when we began our work in March. […] We’re still responding to this emergency, and our response needs to be sustainable for the long term.”

So what is the State of Nevada about to do instead? Cage described a process where the Nevada Health Response crew will continue to monitor test positivity rates, caseloads and infection rates, and hospitalization data, but they will break the data down county by county to monitor progress (or regression) in each county instead of just using statewide data to determine statewide phases for reopenings. (You can read the full response plan here.)

If the data suggest a certain county faces increased risk of a more severe COVID-19 outbreak, then an additional assessment will happen, followed by the development of an action plan. Counties will be responsible for and empowered to enforce the action plan. But if the county refuses, Cage declared, “The [state] task force and the Governor maintain the right to take action.”

“I will do everything I can to protect the workers in this state. […] At the same time, I need to protect these jobs.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Photo by Andrew Davey

So what changes? At the surface, not much, particularly since bar closures remain in effect for Clark, Elko, Nye, and Washoe Counties. But going forward, future closures will either affect specific businesses that are found to be in violation of the state’s health safety rules or larger groups of businesses in specific counties where the above mentioned data merit stronger actions, such as reducing businesses’ maximum capacity back down to 25% and further restricting the size of allowed gatherings.

Speaking of businesses, Sisolak was asked about what’s finally become SB 4. Why should Nevada’s health safety plans include corporate legal immunity when the root of the problem is the danger of this disease? Sisolak insisted, “I will do everything I can to protect the workers in this state. […] At the same time, I need to protect these jobs.” 

COVID-19, Culinary Union
Photo by Andrew Davey

Though The Nevada Independent’s Riley Snyder reported earlier today on an earlier draft of SB 4 that suggested the state’s mask rule and social distancing rules would be the only criteria used to determine if businesses would qualify for such immunity from any and all lawsuits in state court, the current version of SB 4 now points to “substantial compliance with controlling health standards” that may include all of Sisolak’s orders and directives in addition to federal COVID-19 safety standards, other state agencies’ rules (such as the Gaming Commission’s rules for casinos), and local ordinances. 

According to Sisolak, “This liability immunity only exists if they are utilizing best practices. […] This protects them from lawsuits when they’re doing the best they can.”

“It is extremely important to me that our citizens do not have to decide between their health and their right to vote.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Photo by Andrew Davey

Earlier today, Sisolak signed AB 4 despite President Donald Trump’s continuing threats. In response to questions on Nevada doing (near) universal vote-by-mail again for the general election, Sisolak debunked Trump’s attacks on the integrity of vote-by-mail and declared, “It is extremely important to me that our citizens do not have to decide between their health and their right to vote.”

On Trump’s new moniker for Sisolak, he replied, “When I saw his tweet this morning, I had to Google ‘Clubhouse Governor’ because I didn’t know what that means. I still don’t know what that means.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

And in response to a question on continuing racial injustice, including the potential for heightened inequities due to the budget cuts Sisolak signed into law last month, Sisolak replied, “We’re doing all that we can with the CARES Act money we’ve received. I think [COVID-19] has pointed out the frailties and the faults in our system.” He promised to do more to advance equity here in Nevada. But when it comes to the dollars and cents of it all, Congress remains in a stalemate due to Republican leaders’ refusal to negotiate on sticking points like unemployment insurance income and direct aid for state and local governments.

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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