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COVID-19 task force working with state to address inconsistencies

By Carla O'Day
Washoe County student athletes protested at a recent Board of Trustees meeting over regulations that prohibited them from participating in school sports.

Some frustrated Washoe County commissioners on Tuesday discussed inconsistencies regarding local response to some state directives that address coronavirus.

Emergency Directive 33, issued Sept. 30 allows gatherings of 250 or fewer or 50% of fire code capacity, whichever is less. The previous cap was 50 or fewer people.

Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said enforcement requires uniformity, but he told County Manager Eric Brown and the board that he sees equity issues because it appears not all establishments are being treated fairly.

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung
Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung

“Is Wild Island (Family Adventure Park) still open?” Hartung asked.

“Yes,” Brown said. “To my knowledge, yes.”

“And do we limit them to 250?” Hartung probed.

“I can’t answer that for you,” Brown replied.

“I don’t think we do,” Hartung said. “That’s the point.”

The state directive includes capacity limits on restaurants, breweries, classrooms, museums, playgrounds, and open houses for single- and multi-family residences.

Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler noted that guest rooms at some hotel-casinos are being inspected by health officials while rooms at weekly motels are not.

Brown said the county’s business licensing staff and Health District are tasked with enforcing state directives. The Washoe County COVID-19 Incident Management Team recently set up an enforcement branch and is working with the Nevada Division of Business and Industry and gaming officials to streamline noncompliance responses and check for inconsistencies.

Hartung said some businesses deemed non-essential closed permanently as a result of the pandemic and could’ve been saved if things were more equitable. He suggested rules need to be clear and simple for businesses drafting reopening plans.

“Do they have a plan? Is it a reasonable plan? How does it get policed? Who becomes the officiant, so to speak, to make sure these kinds of things happen? What’s the penalty? All that needs to be laid out,” Hartung said. “The Health District has been charged so far with those things. We’ve been taken out of the loop.”

Commissioners were equally vexed over how to approach enforcement at sports fields.

Emergency Directive 34, issued Oct. 2, allows for youth and non-professional adult organized minimal-contact and non-contact sporting activities. Full contact sports are allowed on a limited basis for athletic conditioning, drills and practices. Gathering restrictions, social distancing and facial covering requirements for participants and spectators must be observed.

Commission Chairman Bob Lucey said Washoe County owns and maintains many area athletic fields. Games can start now if social distancing guidelines are followed, although any organization planning to hold tournaments must submit plans to the Health District.

As much as Lucey said he’d like to see children back on the fields, he said the situation can be a sticky one for parks staff. Full-contact sports, such as basketball, football, lacrosse, rugby and wrestling still aren’t allowed in Nevada.

“How do we get our parks staff to go and be policemen of baseball games, policemen of soccer games, policemen of things of that nature?” Lucey asked.

On the other hand, if children can’t play sports locally or if rules are too restrictive, Lucey said they might go somewhere else and could contract COVID-19 and bring it back to the community.

“If we don’t flatten our 7-day running average, it impacts our businesses,” Lucey said. “It impacts our ability to re-open businesses and increase from 50% to more, whether those are gyms, restaurants or whatever, but our numbers are directly affected by the entire population.”

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno


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