35.7 F

County expected to amend COVID mitigation plan, loosen some restrictions


Washoe County Commissioners on Thursday made amendments to a COVID-19 mitigation plan that could go into effect next month as the state passes authority off to individual counties.

Although the mask mandate would remain, the following measures were proposed and are expected to be voted on at a special meeting on April 14: 

  • Allow 10 people to a group in restaurants and event settings. Currently groups can be no larger than six. 
  • Eliminate social distance minimums for outdoor events. 
  • Private gatherings in homes are un-enforceable and won’t be addressed.  
  • Masks will not be required during exercise, such as working out at a gym or athletic activities.  
  • Vaccination rate of 50 percent will lessen current restrictions (for example, to move from 6 feet of distancing to 3 feet indoors). 
  • Full reopening would depend on hospitalization rates. Metrics will be brought to the board every two weeks for review. 

If approved next week, the proposed plan will be then be reviewed by the State of Nevada COVID Task Force on April 15. Upon approval by the task force and governor, it may go into effect on May 1.  

Commissioners heard extensive public comment, mostly from those eager to see restrictions loosened.
Mike Torvinen, a member of the Reno Rodeo executive committee, said event organizers are OK with requiring masks but ask that social distancing requirements be removed by June 15.

The rodeo, which is held at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, is scheduled June 16-26 and currently has approval for 50 percent capacity but it can’t be economically viable with social distancing, Torvinen said. 
“I believe tremendous progress will be made against the virus between then and now,” Tovinen told commissioners.  “The community needs to reap the benefit of all the hard work and progress made in the past year.  The community and business support for this event is profound.  The people of Northern Nevada deserve the opportunity to make their own choice whether to attend.” 

The initial mitigation plan suggested the local vaccination rate reach 60 and 75 percent, respectively, before specific restrictions were loosened.  However, commissioners settled with 50 percent.  

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung
Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung

Commissioner Vaughn Hartung pointed out some inconsistencies in the mitigation plan that include allowing full-contact sports but still putting restrictions on gyms and limiting capacities in hotel elevators but not in apartment buildings.  He also noted it might be hard to get the vaccination rate to 75 percent.

“I feel like we’re holding the rest of the community hostage based on what vaccination rates are,” Hartung said. “It’s a little like saying, ‘We’re not going to let anyone drive cars because there’s a few people out there who refuse to wear safety belts.’” 

As of Wednesday, approximately 23.5 percent of Washoe County residents aged 16 and older had been fully vaccinated and 37.2 percent are partially vaccinated, Assistant County Manager David Solaro said.  Vaccine appointments for the general population opened Monday.

Commissioner Kitty Jung said she can’t speculate whether the county will reach desired vaccination rates but determining how many doses will get received on any given day can be a challenge for the health district.

“But as of today in Washoe County, we’ve never thrown out vaccines because we couldn’t find arms to put them in,” Jung said.  

“I’m not telling you to get a vaccination,” Jung added.  “I’m a full pro-choice feminist.  Your body, your choice.  But don’t get me sick and don’t get my family sick.” 

COVID-19 risk meter, April 9, 2021.
COVID-19 risk meter, April 9, 2021.

Solaro said the Truckee Meadows COVID risk meter is a good tool for the public to use when deciding what activities to pursue. Transmission rates are either low, moderate, high, very high or severe. 

The risk on Thursday was high, which means “elevated risk of community spread.” 

“The COVID risk meter was created to synthesize data and information about COVID in our specific community and empower residents to make personal behavioral decisions with easy to use information,” Solaro said. “The meter uses data about COVID testing, new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity to assess the current state of COVID risk in the region.”

Also, the City of Sparks entered into an agreement with the University of Nevada, Reno to develop a model to predict increases or decreases of COVID within the wastewater. Solaro said this will be an additional metric to be monitored in the review of risk meter data. 

The percentage of Washoe County residents age 16 and older who have been vaccinated will also soon will be added to the risk meter soon as an additional monitoring tool.

Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.