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“We Have One Chance to Get This Right”: Sisolak Promises a “Gradual Process” for Reopening Businesses

Moments earlier, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) provided some details on the State of Nevada’s tentative plans for ending his shutdown orders. But on the rapidly intensifying debate on when to begin reopening businesses, he declined to endorse any specific date to reopen any specific sector of businesses.

Rather, Sisolak cautioned that the state must go with whatever the medical data suggests is most prudent. As Sisolak described it, “The emergency is not over yet, but we are entering into a new phase. Think of this as Phase Zero. This is what we need to do to get to Phase One.”

“We’ve seen data suggesting a plateau, and it took several days of data to feel more confident of this.” 
– Kyra Morgan, Nevada State Biostatician

While President Donald Trump and his apparatchiks continue to peddle discredited “ideas” that amount to throwing millions of Americans directly into harm’s way, Governor Steve Sisolak has had to contend with the likes of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman continuing to deny the science on how COVID-19 spreads (Goodman) and four Washoe County Commissioners promoting a lawsuit demanding unregulated access to hydroxychloroquine despite growing evidence that it’s not the “game changing miracle cure” as Trump claimed.

Before Sisolak made his announcement, state officials and a representative of the Nevada Hospital Association unveiled a new report from the Los Alamos National Laboratory suggesting an 82% chance that Nevada has hit its peak in COVID-19 positively tested cases. However, they also warned that we may yet hit a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. And Nevada State Biostatician Kyra Morgan specifically warned of a “double peak” in late May or early June if the state reopens businesses too rapidly (a la Florida and Georgia).

As Morgan later explained, “We’ve seen data suggesting a plateau, and it took several days of data to feel more confident of this.” In addition to Morgan’s analysis, Nevada State Epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock announced that the state will expand testing criteria to include anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Keep in mind that expansion of testing is one of the goals state officials have said is crucial in determining when it’s safe to begin reopening businesses.

“Nevadans took this seriously, and I’m proud of you. […] You are the reasons why we avoided thousands of deaths and the breakdown of our health care system.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
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

Sisolak himself remarked on these numbers, “The lower numbers of infections and deaths should not be seen as indication that our actions were unnecessary. Rather, they should show that our aggressive control measures were necessary and effective.”

Sisolak then thanked Nevadans for adhering to the shutdown orders and social distancing rules. As Sisolak put it, “Nevadans took this seriously, and I’m proud of you. […] You are the reasons why we avoided thousands of deaths and the breakdown of our health care system.”

So when will the shutdown orders end? According to Sisolak, “The actions going forward will determine whether we save more lives, or if we take a more destructive path.” As the program continued, Sisolak refused to mark any specific date on the calendar for reopening any businesses. Rather, he laid some groundwork for gradual phases or waves of reopenings.

“If we don’t do this in a controlled manner, we will be hit by a tidal wave [of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations] in two to three weeks.” 
– 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

Why is Sisolak moving so slowly, even as some Republican Governors elsewhere are rushing to reopen? For Sisolak, “Because we’re an international tourism destination, we have a special responsibility to get this right.” He then continued, “If we don’t do this in a controlled manner, we will be hit by a tidal wave [of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations] in two to three weeks.”

So instead of a Southern style rapid reopening across the board, or even the fully loaded timeline of phased-in reopenings that Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) released earlier today and plans to embark upon next week, Sisolak indicated that Nevada needs to further expand COVID-19 testing capacity and secure a hard confirmation that we’ve experienced 14 consecutive days of declining positively tested cases and hospitalizations.

Sisolak then cautioned. “The emergency is not over yet, but we are entering into a new phase. Think of this as Phase Zero. This is what we need to do to get to Phase One.” He confirmed that retail stores will largely be part of that Phase One of reopening, and that bars and nightclubs will be among the last to reopen.

“We have one chance to get this right. The health and safety of Nevadans is our #1 priority. We need to keep all Nevadans safe.” 
– 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 what about Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox’s widely discussed “Plan to Reopen Nevada”? Sisolak confirmed that Maddox sent him his plan late last week. However, Sisolak added, “It’s a plan for his company, not for the entire industry.” Sisolak then indicated that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development will seek input from a broader array of gaming companies, and that all gaming license holders will ultimately need approval from the Gaming Control Board before reopening. 

In response to questions on whether the state will in any way match Maddox’s mid-to-late May target date for reopening casino resorts, Sisolak stated, “We have one chance to get this right. The health and safety of Nevadans is our #1 priority. We need to keep all Nevadans safe.”

On that note, Sisolak and Nevada Superintendent for Public Instruction Jhone Ebert confirmed that all Nevada schools will remain physically closed and open for virtual learning for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. And when asked about SEIU 1107 leaders’ charge that Southern Nevada hospitals continue to lack adequate PPE supply, Sisolak suggested that the state will seek to remedy this ongoing shortage.

“Would I like more federal help? Sure, but I’m not going to count on it. We’re going forward with what we have.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Photo by Andrew Davey

Earlier today, the U.S. Senate approved a $484 billion COVID-19 interim(?) relief package that will replenish the CARES Act’s “Paycheck Protection Plan” (PPP) with $310 billion in small business loans that can be forgiven if these small businesses fend off any layoffs. That $310 total for the PPP includes about $60 billion that will specifically be set aside for small lenders serving small businesses in historically underserved communities, such as communities of color and rural regions, and the bill adds another $60 billion for emergency disaster (EIDL) small business loans. In addition, Congressional Democrats succeeded in securing another $25 billion to implement a national strategy to expand COVID-19 testing and securing another $75 billion for hospitals that are understandably being swamped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortly after voting to approve the $484 billion bill, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) released a joint statement echoing Reps. Susie Lee’s (D-Las Vegas) and Steven Horsford’s (D-North Las Vegas) promise to get more help on the way. In their statement, the Senators declared, “While this package provides critical support to small businesses and health care providers, there is still much more work to be done. We will continue to fight to reverse the Small Business Administration’s discriminatory rule that denies small gaming operators access to the PPP program, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Nevada workers, and we will work to make sure that additional state, local, and tribal government funding as well expansions for health care coverage are included in the next coronavirus funding bill.”

U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen Join Governor Steve Sisolak to Discuss the Affordable Care Act and Health Care in Nevada at First Person Care Clinic in Las Vegas: Photo by Andrew Davey

Indeed, Congressional Democratic leaders are promising to include more funding for state, local, and tribal governments, along with additional “corona checks”, direct “paycheck protection” for workers, and further reinforcement of the social safety net, in their upcoming “CARES 2.0” package. And earlier today, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin seemed to suggest the Trump administration will support a “Phase Four” relief package, though it remains to be seen what Donald Trump actually agrees to beyond his latest unilateral attempt to hijack federal immigration law.

When asked about the ongoing debates in Congress and in the White House over “CARES 2.0”/”Phase Four”, Sisolak said he’s working with Nevada’s Congressional delegation to try to secure more funding for Medicaid and the overall health care system, along with more overall federal funding to fill the state’s suddenly burgeoning budget deficit. However, Sisolak seemed resigned to continuing intransigence from Trump as he replied, “Would I like more federal help? Sure, but I’m not going to count on it. We’re going forward with what we have.”

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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