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Health Officer won’t allow events of more than 250 as businesses limp along during the pandemic

By Sudhiti Naskar
The Glass Die in Reno. Image courtesy of The Glass Die.

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More of Washoe County reopened within the past few weeks, with businesses such as pubs, restaurants and bars opening up in phases. But as the county continues the long-haul on the road to recovery from COVID-19, the reopenings have remained messy. 

At least two local businesses, Press Start Reno and Glass Die, have experienced difficulties in reopening. Press Start Reno has had to close three times, reported KOLO TV, and Glass Die started a petition this morning to be allowed to continue board gaming.

Why are these businesses facing such difficulties where most bars and pubs have been able to reopen successfully? The reason remains embedded within the state health response team’s reopening guidelines which are followed by the county.

Both Press Start and Glass Die serve alcoholic beverages and make provision for games. Press Start offers arcade games; Glass Die has a large collection of board games. The state’s directive does not allow places to open bars and games — such as video games —  together. 

The directive states, “All standing and open congregation areas in bars that are not necessary for the preparation and service of food or beverages shall be closed. This includes, but is not limited to, billiards, card playing, pinball games, video games, arcade games, darts, dancing, and standing.” 

Casinos, of course, are open.

pool table and connect 4 games
Games, like these inside The Depot’s event space, must be closed if a bar is to remain open. Image: Kyle Young.

“Video games aren’t allowed. Bars can’t have any interactive games. They can have slots at the bar as long as there is 6 feet of social distancing,” explained Scott Oxarart from the health district.

“Casinos technically are governed by the Gaming Control Board, but they have similar restrictions. Most of them have every other slot machine unavailable or have plexiglass between them,” added Oxarart.

District health officer Kevin Dick expressed his concerns on safe reopenings during the weekly media call on Sept. 30. “I saw a picture of people that are playing pool which is not currently allowed in the bars. Particularly, I saw pictures that were taken at the Record Street Brewing and at Louis’ Basque Corner.” 

He indicated that businesses that have violated the directives on social distancing, gaming or any other regulations were going to get a notice from the City of Reno. 

It’s a rock and hard place situation for businesses that are struggling to escape  the long spell of shutdowns in order to survive while the health district works to continue the COVID-19 mitigation efforts. 

If recent events are any indication–a presidential election in less than a month, interest groups urging the governor to reopen, an historic budget shortfall and a surge of new cases–administrators are experiencing a high stress situation. The continued reopenings might be the need of the hour, but the realities around the highly infectious disease make it extremely hard for everyone involved. 

Since the first COVID infection in the county reported March 5, a total 165 COVID-19 deaths have occurred. The county this week also set a sad milestone of surpassing 10,000 COVID cases. Dick has repeatedly urged all stakeholders to understand that the county is “overwhelmed” with contact tracing and other mitigation efforts. 

County mandates reduced crowd sizes after Governor’s directive

Last week Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that most limited-contact youth sports could resume and the gatherings limits would be increased from 50 to 250 or more in continuation of the “Road to Recovery: Moving to a New Normal” action plan. 

But, at Washoe’s health district, officials have remained skeptical and even unhappy with the decision. A leaked letter from the district to the governor’s office complained that they have been excluded from the decision-making process while shouldering the responsibility to control the pandemic. 

The health district and governor’s office met Wednesday afternoon and came to a decision. Today, the district announced that it will not allow the continued reopening plans that involve large gatherings as Washoe County is leading the state in new cases per 100,000 people. 

“I cannot in good conscience allow gatherings of more than 250 to take place until we have been able to assess how the newly-allowed gatherings of up to 250 people affect disease transmission rates and contact tracing efforts in Washoe County,” Dick said. 

“I understand the desire to get back to normal, but we’re clearly not there yet and our health infrastructure is strained. I feel it is incumbent on me to make this decision to fulfill my responsibilities to the community under State statute.”

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno


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