By Lucia Starbuck, This Is Reno
CARSON CITY, Nev. — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on the rise, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced yesterday that bars in certain Nevada counties will have to close at 11:59 p.m. on July 10.
Spiking cases of COVID-19 and noncompliance with mask requirements were cited as the reasons for the closures.
Sisolak called the press conference to make this announcement while Nevada State Legislature was in the second day of its 31st special session, talking about reductions to state agencies to offset the $1.2 billion budget deficit from Nevada’s General Fund due to business closures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“These difficult budget situations we are now in [are] a direct result of the public health crisis caused by COVID-19, and while we must turn our attention to the historic budget shortfall, we cannot forget that we are still in the midst of a highly contagious and deadly pandemic, and many areas throughout Nevada are currently experiencing a spike,” Sisolak said.
The cumulative test positivity rate, which is the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 out of everyone who was tested was 5.2 percent on June 17 and has been steadily rising. The cumulative test positivity rate was 7.7 percent as of July 9.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have also been on the rise. There were 100 people in intensive care unit (ICU) beds for COVID-19 in Nevada on June 22. Since then, that number has more than doubled. There were 248 individuals in ICU beds for COVID-19 as of July 9.
“When you need a hospital room, you need an ICU room, you need it now, you don’t need it next week, you need it when you’re the most sick, and these cases are surging,” Sisolak said. “You can see these dashboards, when you look at them, they’re going up 40, 50, 60, a day. We can only take so many days of that before we’re overwhelmed and you have to implement procedures before you get to that part.”
Sisolak said he had a call with the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on July 9.
“The federal representatives advised us that if Nevada did not take swift policy action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout our state, we would likely soon be in a precarious condition where hospitals are overwhelmed with patients in the very near future,” Sisolak said. “This information based on the increasing trends we’ve experienced led me to my decision. The decision is based on targeting high risk areas, where infection is more likely to occur.”
Bars that do not serve food and bar tops at restaurants are to close. Additionally, parties of over six people cannot be seated at a restaurant, inside or outside. Restaurants are permitted to sell alcohol, but people are not allowed to gather or order drinks at bar tops.
“The decisions that we made were made on advice of medical professionals Dr. [Anthony] Fauci [and] our own medical professionals,” Sisolak said. Bars are one of the hotspots, “so that’s why we started with bars.”
The Division of Industrial Relations Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) observed 204 businesses, including bars, on July 2. OSHA found that only half of the bars the division visited were compliant with the mask mandate. Sisolak stated that this was unacceptable.
Sisolak said about 20 percent of businesses in Nevada are not compliant with his mask mandate. It will also take a few weeks to determine the directive’s effectiveness, he added.
“I’m just going to go off script here. Masks are not partisan. They’re not political. They’re not a joke. They’re not funny. They’re not things that people go to social media and make all kinds of, you know, comments and funny jokes about, and think that they’re being cute. It is costing lives to have people not masked,” the governor admonished.
Sisolak also provided further clarification that masks must be worn in a gym, including yoga and dance studios, unless engaged in a high-intensity work out. Face coverings must also be worn when near a public pool and immediately before entering and exiting one.