Following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive requiring face coverings in public settings starting June 26, the Nevada Division of Industrial Relations (DIR) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began ramping up business inspections in the beginning of June. OSHA reported some businesses had high ratings, while others did not.
“Ensuring compliance with the Governor’s directives and guidance issued by Nevada OSHA is a vital component of ensuring the health and safety of Nevada’s workers and helping businesses stay open,” Victoria Carreon, DIR Interim Administrator said in a statement. “The Division of Industrial Relations is taking a proactive and cooperative approach by canvassing businesses to make them aware of the requirements before taking enforcement action.”
Under Sisolak’s directive, members of the public are required to wear masks in public indoors, and also outdoors where social distancing is not possible. Employees must wear face coverings at all times at work, and the onus is on businesses to ensure that patrons wear face coverings before entering a building.
Wide variation in compliance rates
Recent OSHA observations revealed higher compliance rates in northern Nevada versus southern Nevada, with some industries following directives at a much higher rate than others.
On July 1, OSHA observed 347 businesses, including gaming establishments, bars, gyms, hair and nail salons, vehicle sales and maintenance, along with retail stores like grocery stores, home improvement stores and clothing stores. Out of the 347 businesses, 79.8 percent were found in compliance with the mask mandate. Businesses in northern Nevada had a compliance rate of 84.3 percent, whereas southern Nevada had a 75 percent compliance rate.
The following day, July 2, compliance at the 204 Nevada businesses OSHA observed was much lower. Canvassers found that just 49 percent were compliant with the mask mandate. Only half of the 180 bars and restaurant bars that were visited were found to be in compliance. Compliance was slightly higher for vehicle sales and maintenance businesses, gyms, hair and nail salons and tattoo shops, with61 percent of locations compliant.
OSHA outlined some of the worst performing businesses from that day: 61 percent of home improvement stores were found noncompliant, 48 percent of bars were noncompliant, 40 percent of grocery stores were noncompliant and 33 percent of casino hotels were noncompliant.
On July 3, leading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, OSHA visited casino hotel pools, a water park, bars and casino gaming floors and found a 76 percent compliance rate across the state, with northern Nevada at 82 percent compliance and southern Nevada at 75 percent compliance. While casino hotel gaming floors and bars were 80 percent compliant, their pools fared much worse with just 40 percent in compliance. The water park was not even given a score; it was found not in compliance.
Following the holiday weekend OSHA observers noted an increase in compliance within the 169 business observed on July 6, reporting an 87 percent overall compliance rate. Northern Nevada had an 89 percent compliance rate whereas southern Nevada had a 79 percent compliance rate. OSHA found the following compliance rates: 74 percent of convenient stores; 82 percent of pharmacies; 87 percent of general retail stores; 93 percent of restaurants; and, 100 percent of vehicle sales and maintenance establishments.
“I do like the increased compliance that we’re seeing here,” Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage said during a call with members of the press on July 6. “I think that’s a positive. I don’t think anybody is ready to rest satisfied on any of our compliance numbers right now.”
OSHA has received over 1,000 COVID-19-related safety complaints state-wide since mid-March. Since the governor’s late June mask mandate the volume of complaints has increased significantly.
If businesses are found out of compliance with the mask mandate, they are provided with a written notice and request for compliance. OSHA will revisit the business within five days and if the business is still noncompliant it could face a fine of up to $134,940.
The state is not expecting to see results from the governor’s mask mandate until another week or two, Julia Peek with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services said on July 6.
Nevada transmission rates decrease
A little over a week ago, a website tracking the transmission rates of COVID-19 rated Nevada as the state with the highest rate of transmission. The rate is a calculation of the average number of people who become infected by a person with the virus. If the rate is over 1.0, the virus will spread quickly, according to the website.
On June 28, Nevada had a transmission rate of 1.61, but now has a rate of about 1.2. Cage warned that the website should be looked at more critically.
“The figure does not appear to be related to any medical or epidemiological analysis, but rather data analysis alone,” Cage said. “It is complex to estimate and also consider levels of person-to-person contact, PPE [personal protective equipment], contact tracing, and so on.
“Please note that this information is not intended to diminish the problem of COVID-19 in Nevada. It is clear we are seeing an increase in cases. Wearing masks and social distancing are more important now than ever. However, it is essential that the public be given reliable medical information from reputable, widely cited medical sources,” Cage added.
Contact tracers face challenges
Contact tracing is the process in which a person is contacted and interviewed after they have tested positive for COVID-19, to determine who of their close contacts have potentially been exposed to the virus.
Nevada’s contact tracing workforce has about 500 staff members, according to Peek.
Contact tracing is crucial to limiting the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Peak said 20 to 25 percent of positive COVID-19 cases have been identified through contact tracing, but the state is having a difficult time getting ahold of people.
“Contact tracing is not perfect,” Peek said. “It relies on timely reporting of results from labs, timely collection of contact information on cases as provided by the clinician who collected the specimen, and reaching out to the cases to interview. We have been challenged with having limited information on the cases for followup.
“Recently, we’ve been challenged with having inaccurate phone numbers and only access to email addresses. We are fully reliant on the individual responding to our call or email. They could think our communication is a scam and we have been unsuccessful in reaching that person as a result,” Peek added.
Peek said the state is working on an avenue for individuals to reach out themselves to connect with a contact tracer if they have tested positive for COVID-19.
Lucia Starbuck is a graduate of University of Nevada, Reynolds School of Journalism. She has reported on issues impacting Northern Nevada, including the affordable housing crisis, a lack of oral healthcare and challenges voters with disabilities face while trying to participate in the election process. She has directed and filmed two documentaries about homelessness.Through reporting, Lucia strives to shine a light on the challenges vulnerable populations face in our community.