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Despite evidence, mask mandate met with resistance

By Bob Conrad
Although the Governor was willing to continue with answers, staff members ended the meeting while reporters were still waiting to ask questions. Image: Eric Marks

Nevada is seeing record numbers of coronavirus disease cases after the state began phased reopenings of businesses, increases that led Gov. Steve Sisolak to issue a mask mandate earlier this week. 

“I don’t know why or when protecting our health and our neighbors’ lives became a political, partisan or even philosophical decision,” Sisolak said during his press conference on June 24. “For me, it’s none of those. It’s a medical necessity, a human obligation, and it’s good for business.”

Sisolak’s mandate is already being met with denial and resistance, despite evidence suggesting its one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

Enforcement of the mandate remains elusive, and some businesses, while posting signs saying masks are required, are not requiring customers to follow those rules.

Local Teamsters accused the Regional Transportation Commission’s bus contractor Keolis Transit America of not following the Governor’s mandate.

“The for-profit operator of Washoe County’s public transit system is refusing to obey Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order requiring drivers and passengers to wear masks,” said Gary Watson, president of Teamsters Local 533. “Drivers tell me that some passengers flaunt their refusal to wear masks in sympathy with President Trump.

Keolis North America did not respond to a request for comment.

“COVID-19 safety complaints have been ignored by police officials who don’t want to be coronavirus cops,” Watson added. 

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam.
Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam.

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam sent a news release Thursday announcing that deputies would not be enforcing the governor’s mandate. 

“It would be inappropriate for deputies to criminally enforce Governor Sisolak’s mask mandate or social distancing,” he said. “Due to the minor nature of the offenses, the potential for negative encounters, and various ways the order could be violated our deputies will instead continue in an educational capacity in partnership with the Washoe County Board of Health.”

District Health Officer Kevin Dick said this week, however, health expert recommendations remain in place. Social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks and avoiding gatherings are the best ways to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. 

 “We need to remember we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. The next two weeks are a critical period,” he said.

More than 70 people have died from COVID-19 in Washoe County since March. There have been nearly 500 deaths in Nevada.

Dick also said not to patronize businesses that do not enforce the mask requirement. 

“Make the right decision for yourself and get out of there. It’s very important that the public take this seriously,” he added. 

The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a question as to whether its deputies would be wearing masks. The Reno Police Department initially said its officers would be wearing masks, but that turned out not to be the case.

Many businesses, such as the Reno airport, are making masks a requirement.

“Airport staff has been handing out masks to airport customers who show up without them,” said Annie Turner with the Reno Tahoe Airport. 

A recent research study in Health Affairs showed that mask mandates reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“The estimates suggest increasing effectiveness and benefits from these mandates over time,” the study’s authors noted.

“What you want is 100 percent of people to wear masks, but you’ll settle for 80 percent,” said University of California epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherfod. 

As many as 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October if 95 percent of people wore masks, wrote Nina Bai with the University of California San Francisco in an article called “Still confused about face masks? Here’s the science behind how face masks prevent coronavirus.

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno

UNR reports 135 COVID-19 cases

The University of Nevada, Reno on Sept. 4 reported its highest COVID-19 new case count yet: 24 students, faculty and staff.

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