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Sisolak announces gradual reopenings

By Lucia Starbuck

Governor Steve Sisolak revealed yesterday what phase one of reopening Nevada will look like from his plan “Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery.” He intends on having all 17 counties enter phase one on May 15 — but only if over the next 14 days there is a consistent downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases, a decrease in hospitalization for COVID-19 and hospitals must be able to maintain capacity and handle a potential spike in cases

“I know this can be overwhelming. All this talk about infections, testing and ventilators over the past two months is not something that any of us are used to,” Sisolak said, “The fog feels like it’s clearing away and many of you are probably asking why you’re sitting at home. Because we’ve done such a good job, the threat of COVID-19 feels distant and abstract. To many, it might not feel as scary anymore, but I have the unfortunate responsibility to remind all of us that the threat remains real.”

Sisolak said he needs to see COVID-19 testing capacities expanded. That includes contact tracing, which is the process of interviewing an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 then notifying people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 by coming into contact with that person.

The state needs to have the ability to identify and contain outbreaks in settings like health facilities and nursing homes, the governor said. He added that vulnerable populations need to be protected, including older residents, individuals with disabilities, low-income Nevadans, racial and ethnic minorities, tribal communities and those who are incarcerated. 

Nevada could start phase one earlier if these requirements are met, but the reopening date could also be pushed back if there’s a surge of positive COVID-19 cases.

Some restrictions will be eased starting today, including allowing all retailers to conduct curbside commerce, including cannabis dispensaries, drive-up services for worship as long as participants remain in their car and social distance, and outdoor recreation like tennis and golf as long as people do it safely.

Taking a look at phase one

Social distancing and wearing masks when in public is to be continued under phase one. Individuals should still try to remain at home as much as possible and limit non-essential travel. Vulnerable populations must remain at home until the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided. Gathering in groups of larger than 10 people will remain prohibited. 

“When it comes to the vulnerable population in phase one and beyond, you must remain at home until the outbreak has subsided. I urge all Nevadans to remember all those who are at risk and heed the call to continue protecting them,” Sisolak said.

Phase one will allow some non-essential businesses to open voluntarily, allowing people in outdoor spaces, interiors of small businesses and stand alone stores, and dining inside restaurants. The reopenings must follow strict social distancing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health guidelines to protect workers. 

Bars, nightclubs, sporting events, malls, salons and concerts will remain closed under phase one. Sisolak said the Nevada Gaming Control Board will determine the best strategy for gaming to reopen, but that will not be happening during phase one. 

Phase one is expected to last two to three weeks.

Sisolak also said Nevada’s joining of the Western States Pact, which incudes California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, will not impact the state’s plans for reopening.

“A lot of the tourists we have coming here to Nevada are citizens of those four states. They’re our customers. So it’s important that we collaborate with them, we communicate with them, we share our best practices and we’ll continue to do that. That’s the idea behind the pact. It’s not to coordinate some massive effort. We’re not becoming one. It’s more for sharing of information and best practices,” Sisolak said.

Getting help from local government

All of Nevada must still continue to follow the directives put forth by the state, but individual counties are to determine best practices for reopening businesses due to the fact that each county is facing a unique set of challenges in their region.

J.J. Goicoechea, Eureka County Commissioner

Sisolak announced that he created a Local Empowerment Advisory Panel (LEAP), which comprises local stakeholders who represent different areas in Nevada. LEAP’s primary goals are to serve as a resource for counties to help them understand best practices for reopening while following state directives.

Democratic Clark County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick will represent urban counties, and  Eureka County Board of Commissioners Chair J.J. Goicoechea will represent rural counties. LEAP will also include the executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) Dagny Stapleton, a representative from the governor’s office, the director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry Terry Reynolds and the director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Michael Brown. They will consult with business representatives, labor organizations, the Nevada Hospital Association and local government officials.

Sisolak said it’s imperative that the state continues to monitor if Nevada is on the right track to move on to future phases. He is requiring county public health authorities to report personal protective equipment supply, testing and timely reporting of positive cases of COVID-19 and deaths.

“All counties will open phase one at the same time, but it will be incumbent upon them to provide the information that we’re asking for. If one county doesn’t do it, nobody’s going to open in phase one,” he said. “So hopefully every county is going to cooperate [and] provide us with that information so that we’re comfortable protecting the health and wellbeing of all our citizens and still slowly phasing in our businesses.”

Sisolak promises better communication

Sisolak was criticized this week for announcing that he’s extending his stay-at-home order two days before it expired on a national news program, instead of to local media outlets. Elected officials said the governor is leaving them out of the conversation in regards to reopening the state. 

“I know many had wanted more frequent communication from me. Frankly, I really intended to have more announcements,” Sisolak said, “Here’s the reality: The facts, not the reporting, but the real facts about the spread, impacts and reaction to this terrible virus are constantly evolving. 

“Our required actions and reactions are often happening in real time. I’ll do better. However, during the state’s reopening, I’ll make every effort to communicate constantly with our local government contacts, and keep you, the press, and all Nevadans informed and updated on our progress.”

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