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Nevada examines vaccine mandates for college students, mitigation efforts for others

By Jeri Chadwell

Gov. Steve Sisolak provided an update on the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus on Thursday afternoon. Noting that the more contagious Delta variant now accounts for 90% of new cases in the state, he outlined three requests he has sent to his medical advisory team.

First, he has asked his medical advisors to look at vaccination requirements for all students attending in-person classes at public colleges and universities under the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE).  The Nevada Faculty Alliance, which represents higher education faculty in Nevada, earlier this week called for mandatory testing and/or vaccination for all faculty, staff and students.

University of Nevada, Reno officials this week said it would require all employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing at their own expense.

Should the medical advisory team recommend required vaccinations for students, the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health will bring forward proposed regulations to the State Board of Health for consideration.  

Public health officials have already begun discussions with NSHE to explore implementation on a timeline that would consider how long it takes to complete full vaccination with the upcoming academic calendar, Sisolak said.

He also said the request will not affect the ability of students to return to classes when they start this semester in just a few weeks; however, the state Board of Health is expected to discuss the proposed requirement for college students at a meeting next week.

Sisolak’s announcement on Aug. 4 that all school staff and students in K-12 education throughout the state will be required to wear face masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, was met with ire by some and relief by others. Children younger than 12 years of age are ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines at this time.

Sisolak also asked his team for a vaccination recommendation regarding people who work with vulnerable populations, including in institutional settings, those working with the homeless community and people working in health care. He said the recommendations will help guide actions taken by the state moving forward and that additional updates will be provided when the recommendations are made and reviewed and conversations are had with affected parties and local government officials.

The last thing the governor asked his team to look into is how Nevada can make large gatherings safer in the face of the Delta variant, the most infectious variant of the disease so far. He cited the Aug. 1 soccer match between the United States men’s national team against Mexico for the Gold Cup—noting that people were masked up when they entered Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, but that most unmasked within minutes. The crowd of spectators at the match was estimated at 65,000.

Sisolak said the state will work with local officials, event managers and operators of the state’s large venues to discuss how they can implement safety protocols after recommendations from the medical advisory team are made. 

“Unless we increase our vaccination rates quickly, the virus will have time to mutate,” he said. “The unvaccinated will continue to fill our hospitals and place unnecessary strain on our ability to treat all patients, and our economic progress will be threatened. That’s why we’re masking, to slow the spread as more Nevadans—as soon as possible—roll up their sleeves and get their shots.” 

Though he implored people throughout his press conference to get the jab, Sisolak said he is not yet considering requiring people to show proof of vaccination to do things like dine indoors or go to movie theaters or gyms, as other jurisdictions have done. Officials in New York City said earlier this week that proof of vaccination will be necessary to enter many types of businesses—including all indoor restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms—starting Aug. 16.

“I certainly hope that … we don’t have to get that far,” he said. “No one wants to mandate. No one wants the government telling them what they have to do.”

View the full press conference:

 

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