Governor Steve Sisolak announced Thursday a new pandemic reopening plan that will culminate in local governments assuming management responsibilities from the state on May 1—though he could not say whether cities or counties would take the reins.
The announcement comes after months of government shutdowns of businesses and restrictions on gatherings designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Health officials said those mitigation measures have been successful, and with vaccines slowly being administered, Sisolak said it’s time to reduce restrictions.
Nearly 400,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nevada—more than 75,000 of them in Washoe County as of Wednesday. The state’s test positivity rate is down from a January high of 21.7% to 14.3%. Additionally, daily case counts are down to an average of 700. They had topped out at around 2,700 per day in mid-December.
Sisolak noted that more than three dozen Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies across the state will soon begin administering vaccines, too. He added that he and the state’s federal congressional delegation continue fighting to get more vaccine doses into the state.
“As you all know, each week Nevada receives a limited number of doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which is a challenge for everyone—but every dose, every single dose, is a small step forward,” Sisolak said.
President Joe Biden announced yesterday the purchase of enough vaccines by the end of summer for all U.S. citizens. The New York Times also reported today that the Food and Drug Administration will allow Moderna to put up to 40% more vaccine into each vial to bolster delivery of additional doses.
Nevada’s new, phased reopening plan will begin lifting restrictions on Feb. 15.
Part one: Feb. 15
Restaurants, bars and other businesses will be allowed to increase capacities during this first phase, though brothels and nightclubs are not included. Capacity limits will increase from 25% to 35%. Reservations will no longer be required; a maximum of six people will be allowed per table, and there will no longer be reduced capacities for outdoor seating areas.
Places like salons, massage parlors, spas and barbershops will also be allowed to increase their capacity to 35% but will need to operate within whatever rules for COVID-19 mitigation have been established by the licensing boards by which they’re governed.
Libraries, museums and art galleries will be allowed to increase capacity to 50%.
A maximum of 100 people—or 35% of fire code capacity if that is fewer—will be allowed for public gatherings. Venues that are made to host larger gatherings will be limited to 20% of their total fixed seating capacity and will need to ensure social distancing requirements are met.
Part two: March 15
The second phase of the new plan will start almost exactly one year after the governor first ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in Nevada.
Beginning March 15, businesses will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Public gathering limits will be increased to 250 people, or 50% of fire code capacity if that is fewer. These represent the limits that were in place before the last “pause” on reopening in the fall of 2020.
Places like museums, libraries and art galleries will remain limited to 50% capacity, as will recreational centers, community centers and malls.
Brothels and nightclubs are again excluded from reopening during this phase.
Part three: May 1
It is at this point in reopening that Sisolak is hoping the state will have worked with local jurisdictions on plans to turn COVID-19 business rules and mitigation plans over to their control.
In order for this to happen, Sisolak said, the state will need to see continuing decreases in COVID-19 trends and adequate testing levels and hospital capacities. Additionally, some statewide rules will remain in place to include the mask mandate.
“A critical component of a successful reopening plan is that we continue to follow the mitigation measures that are proven to work while incrementally loosening restrictions,” he said. “I also know that after making it through the very difficult winter surges and the pause Nevadans want and deserve predictability about what our path forward will look like.”
Jurisdictions across the state will have about two and a half months to hammer out their own plans for ensuring that predictability continues after control for COVID-19 business regulations is turned over to them.
“Now I want to speak directly to local leaders,” Sisolak said. “I know your communities trust you. They trust you the most. I know that you know that too. That’s why I’m asking for you to talk directly to your neighbors about the importance of getting the next 75 days right so you can go back to the local level and manage this the way you think works best for your community.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.