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COVID-19 Update: Steve Sisolak Tightens Nevada’s Social Distancing Rules, and Steven Horsford Updates Constituents on Federal Relief Efforts

“This isn’t a game. This is serious. People are dying. […] We need to do everything we can.” Governor Steve Sisolak (D) said this during tonight’s public briefing on Nevada’s COVID-19 response and relief efforts, and he said it after announcing strict new social distancing rules that extend business shutdown orders to golf courses, car dealer showrooms, realtors’ open houses, and more.

We also listened in to two events featuring Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) answering constituents’ questions on federal, state, and local COVID-19 relief efforts. There’s a lot in tonight’s report, but I promise you’ll find plenty of worthwhile information below the fold.

So how bad is it now?

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

As of 5:00 PM tonight, Nevada has 2,318 positively tested cases of COVID-19 and 80 COVID-19 related deaths according to The Nevada Independent’s round-the-clock tally and the official state count. Amidst these continually worsening numbers, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) again addressed Nevadans and provided some updates.

Sisolak noted that the Trump administration has still sent just 3,000 testing reagents and 4,000 swabs, unchanged from Monday. He also promised that the state will continue pursuing “private sector solutions”, even as states like New York and Colorado have run into obstruction and outright sabotage by the Trump administration.

Photo by Andrew Davey

On the state of Nevada’s hospitals, Sisolak said, “Hospital occupancy has been stable at 62% bed. ICU occupancy has also been stable at 71%, though most ICU patients have not tested positive for COVID-19.” Sisolak then noted that ventilator use has ticked up to 49% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but FEMA will only deliver more ventilators to the state 72 hours before expected “peak demand”.

On the state of the state’s fiscal situation, the Nevada Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee released $6.25 million for COVID-19 medical relief and $2 million for United Way for housing aid. And yet, the state may soon make some severe budget cuts. On the state’s new budget woes, Sisolak cautioned, “There will not be across-the-board cuts, but there will be cuts. It will depend on additional federal [aid] and [post-shutdown economic] recovery, but I’ve told all departments to prepare for cuts.”

“This isn’t a game. This is serious. People are dying. […] We need to do everything we can.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Photo by Andrew Davey

Speaking on his shutdown and social distancing rules, Sisolak stated, “This is serious, folks, and I know the vast majority of you understand this. […] But there’s more that we can do, and that’s why I’m acting today.”  

Sisolak then set a new mandate that golf courses (not just clubhouses, but also the greens) and other publicly accessible sports grounds (like basketball courts at parks and football fields on school campuses) close until he lifts the emergency shutdown orders. He also banned on-demand, in-home beauty services like Priv, and he promised to lead by example: “I haven’t had a haircut in six weeks. The First Lady has stood by me on this. We can do this.”

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

Sisolak then added, “Places of worship are forbidden from congregating in groups of ten or more, including drive-in and pop-up services, for the duration of this emergency. Religious groups are encouraged to find safer alternatives to in-person services.” In addition, Sisolak ordered the closure of business showrooms, grocery stores’ self-serve bars, and realtors’ open houses (though private showings arranged in advance are still permitted).

On reporters’ noting of some Nevadans’ complaints over the social distancing rules, Sisolak responded, “This isn’t a game. This is serious. People are dying. […] We need to do everything we can.” He then said he understands how hard it can be, but repeated that it’s necessary. As Sisolak put it, “These are heart wrenching decisions and sacrifices that people have to make. […] My primary purpose is to keep people alive and stop the spread of this disease.”

“We know Nevada was one of the hardest hit states economically. Already, over 200,000 have applied for unemployment and more are trying to apply.” 
– Rep. Steven Horsford 
Photo by Andrew Davey

Shortly after Sisolak spoke, Rep. Steven Horsford kicked off his evening of town halls with constituents. First off, Horsford spoke with Mesquite to Moapa Democrats. He promised continued coordination with and assistance for local authorities after noting Mesquite now has five positively tested cases of COVID-19.

Horsford then echoed promises from Reps. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) and Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) that House Democrats will soon unveil a “CARES 2.0” fourth relief package, then he went through what the CARES Act (or the third relief package) includes. On unemployment insurance expansion, Horsford noted, “We know Nevada was one of the hardest hit states economically. Already, over 200,000 have applied for unemployment and more are trying to apply. […] I’ve already spoken with the Director [of Nevada DETR] on the need to expand their phone and online capacity.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

In addition to unemployment insurance expansion, Horsford touched upon the CARES Act’s $1,200 “corona check” program and up to $10 million “paycheck protection” convertible loans for small businesses. And while Horsford struck an encouraging note on “positive signs” federal health officials are claiming in terms of the U.S. hitting a possibly imminent peak of hospitalizations, he echoed Sisolak’s call for continued social distancing and expressed his support for the State of Nevada continuing its shutdown and social distancing rules until medical professionals signal it’s safe to begin reopening businesses. 

Horsford then answered constituents’ questions on the CARES Act. In response to a question on work search requirements for unemployment insurance, Horsford assured that the CARES Act waives the federal government’s typical work search rules while adding $600 per week to typical state and federal benefits and expanding eligibility to “gig economy” workers who didn’t previously qualify.

“We want everyone to have great health care, and we want everyone to have access to care.” 
– Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick
Photo by Andrew Davey

After hopping off Mesquite to Moapa Democrats’ virtual meeting, Horsford then held a telephone town hall with constituents through his Congressional office. He also brought on Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D) and Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine (D) to provide local information and answer constituents’ questions.

After Horsford walked constituents through the CARES Act and promised more help in the form of “CARES 2.0,” Kirkpatrick chimed in to explain what Clark County is doing. She touched on growing complaints over Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) reporting of COVID-19 cases, then she detailed that 727 of the 1,836 positively tested Clark County COVID-19 patients have successfully recovered. She then added that another 500 of the 1,836 are still hospitalized, and that 100 of the 500 are in hospital ICU’s.

On hospital capacity, Kirkpatrick stressed, “Our #1 priority is our medical surge facility.” Kirkpatrick assured constituents that Clark County is working to prevent hospital overcrowding and/or denial of critical care to patients, and she declared, “We want everyone to have great health care, and we want everyone to have access to care.”

“I don’t know who your landlord is, but I know what your landlord is doing is wrong. Because of the Governor’s order, you are not in the wrong.” 
– Rep. Steven Horsford, in response to a constituent who said her landlord has threatened retribution over unpaid rent
Photo by Andrew Davey

Kirkpatrick then promised that the county is working to continue and expand social services to all who need them. And in response to complaints over the City of Las Vegas sending people suffering homelessness to inhumane facilities like the Cashman Center parking lot, Kirkpatrick stated that Clark County is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on new emergency shelter space(s).

Horsford then took constituents’ questions. On the $1,200+ “corona checks”, Horsford explained that the Treasury Department will begin direct deposits next week for those who filed 2018 and/or 2019 federal taxes, then do direct deposits the following week for Social Security recipients, then begin sending paper checks to everyone who’s not in the IRS’ direct deposit database in May. In response to a constituent who expressed worry about her utility bills, Kirkpatrick urged her to contact her office for help on directing the utility companies to provide forbearance relief.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Another constituent asked about what’s being done to help those suffering homelessness, and Kirkpatrick responded that while the county awaits completion of the new shelter space, county officials are doing outreach to the homeless population and providing additional services. And  when another constituent lamented that her landlord is harassing her with late rent warnings and threatening to withhold food bank aid despite Governor Sisolak’s eviction moratorium, Kirkpatrick, Conine, and Horsford all condemned the landlord’s actions and promised immediate help.

Kirkpatrick reassured this constituent, “Please don’t let anyone intimidate you and tell you that you can’t participate.” Conine then added, “The thing you’re describing sounds extremely illegal,” and he asked her to contact his office for help. Horsford then reassured her, “I don’t know who your landlord is, but I know what your landlord is doing is wrong. Because of the Governor’s order, you are not in the wrong.”

“This is our time to think outside the box to help our families, make sure our students continue learning, and help keep our businesses afloat.” 
– Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick
Photo by Andrew Davey

When another constituent asked about her business falling behind on commercial rent, Conine also reassured her, “This is a holistic break. Everyone must take a break on evictions and foreclosures until this [COVID-19] emergency ends.” 

Conine later encouraged all residential and commercial renters and borrowers to work with their respective landlords and/or lenders on future payment plans after the emergency orders are lifted, and Horsford noted that the new federal relief laws include provisions that are meant to prevent banks from foreclosing on and evicting mortgage borrowers.

Photo by Andrew Davey

A local teacher then asked how his students can access the food aid they need, including students in immigrant families who fear retribution from the Trump administration. Horsford promised that he will continue to advance legislation to repeal President Donald Trump’s public charge rule that penalizes immigrants who utilize social services they’re legally entitled to access. 

Kirkpatrick then asked the teacher to contact her office so she can connect him to a local food bank and delivery service. She then declared, “This is our time to think outside the box to help our families, make sure our students continue learning, and help keep our businesses afloat.”

“In my view, that is going against the intention of Congress in what we passed. […] There is money, and there will be more money coming to meet this demand.” 
– Rep. Steven Horsford, in response to a constituent reporting delays in receiving small business aid
COVID-19, coronavirus
Photo by Andrew Davey

Over an hour into Horsford’s virtual town hall, the questions kept pouring in. Another constituent said that his bank has paused approval and distribution of federal “paycheck protection” small business aid. Horsford reassured him that Wells Fargo has been approved to disburse more aid, and he condemned Bank of America’s attempt to limit aid to businesses that had previously secured loans from them. 

On Wells Fargo’s and Bank of America’s foot-dragging in disbursing “paycheck protection” aid, Horsford decried, “In my view, that is going against the intention of Congress in what we passed. […] There is money, and there will be more money coming to meet this demand.” He did not, however, specify whether Congressional Democrats will demand stronger oversight of this and other programs in light of Trump already beginning to revoke the little oversight Congress passed as part of the CARES Act.

health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

Another constituent later stated that her two “essential worker” relatives currently lack health insurance. Horsford directed her to Nevada Health Link, as the State of Nevada has reopened its Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) insurance exchange enrollment through next Wednesday. Yet while Nevada has reopened ACA insurance enrollment, Trump is refusing to do the same for states that are in the federal ACA exchange.

And when a constituent described a letter from February that notified him of imminent termination of his SNAP benefits, Horsford reassured him that new state and federal rules should guarantee an extension for everyone receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Horsford then ended the call and implored constituents needing additional assistance to contact his office.

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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