Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Following a wide-ranging discussion that veered from the length of time it takes to get COVID-19 test results and OSHA fines of businesses for mask compliance, the Lyon County Commission approved a letter to Governor Sisolak requesting he lessen restrictions on businesses in the county and instead consider restrictions by community rather than by county.
The action came at the end of a special meeting held Thursday morning via Zoom.
The idea of sending a letter to Sisolak was proposed by Commissioner Jay Dini at the Commission’s June 19 meeting, where Dini read a statement where he said the Governor’s restrictions are hurting the economy and creating fear among residents.
After prefacing his remarks by saying his heart goes out to those who have contracted the disease, especially those who have died, he reiterated those statements in opening the discussion at Thursday’s meeting. He also said people have waited up to two weeks to get tests results.
“The amount of time it takes to get tests back is ridiculous,” Dini said.
County Manager Jeff Page said the average turnaround from the state lab is 5-7 days.
The letter approved by the Commission states that Lyon County has made every effort to implement and adhere to Sisolak’s emergency directives to reduce the exposure of COVID-19. However, with p=five distinct populated areas, the county is concerned that decisions are being made about its economy based on numbers in the county as a whole, when only two of the populated areas meet the requirements to limit businesses.
“The Lyon County Board of Commissioners request that you open our businesses with common sense requirements of wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing and sanitation,” the letter states. “The Lyon County Board of Commissioners also requests that the State of Nevada recognizes that each county’s population is spread out differently and look at tighter restrictions by community or zip code rather than by a County.”
The letter also asserts that the data provided by the State of Nevada and Carson City Health and Human Services to test, trace and document the COVID-19 pandemic does not warrant the limiting and closure of some businesses in Lyon County.
In his most recent directive, Sisolak ordered bars in some counties, including Lyon County, to close, and he also placed added restrictions on restaurants.
When Sisolak announced the closures of bars and restrictions on restaurants, he did it using a three-criteria formula based on testing, the rate of positive cases, and the percentage of positive tests. Those restrictions were placed on counties that were performing fewer than 150 tests per 100,000 of population, that had more than 100 cases per 100,000 of population, and which had a case rate higher than 25 per 100,000 and a test positivity rate higher than 7 percent.
At the time of the directive, Lyon County met criteria 1, averaging only 79.8 tests per day per 100,000 of population, and criteria 3, with a 13 percent positivity rate. On criteria 2, Lyon County had a case rate of 55.2 per 100,000 in the last 14 days, falling well below the criteria of 100 per 100,000.
Lyon County would need to nearly double its rate of testing get off the list of restricted counties, or have enough tests be negative to drop the county’s positivity rate below 7 percent.
Page said the information behind Sisolak’s directives comes from the federal government. Counties and states receive a weekly report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. In the July 19 report, Lyon County is listed as a yellow code for COVID-19 cases, which means they have between 10 and 100 cases per 100,000 of population in the previous week, and a positive test rate between 5 and 10 percent. Other counties on the yellow zone are Washoe, Elko, Nye and Churchill counties, as well as the cities of Reno, Elko, Pahrump, Carson City, Fernley and Fallon. Clark County is listed as a red zone, meaning they have more than 100 positive cases per 100,000 of population. Nevada is also among 18 states listed as red zones.
Policy recommendations for counties in the yellow zone include limiting gyms to 25 percent capacity, closing bars until positive rates are less than 3 percent, limiting social gatherings to 25 people or fewer, ensure that businesses are requiring masks.
“The decisions that are being made in Carson City come out of Washington,” Page said.
However, Page said it has been difficult for the county to conduct more testing because the activation of the National Guard to help with testing has ended. He also said there has been a reluctance among county residents to get tested. In addition, Page said the county is seeking clarification on whether state employees who live in Lyon County, particularly those work in the Department of Corrections who are regularly tested, are counted in Lyon County or Carson City. He said those tests of state employees who live in Lyon County could significantly increase the county’s test numbers if they were counted in Lyon County.
Commissioners Joe Mortensen and Ken Gray said they agreed with the reluctance of people without symptoms to be tested.
“If I wanted to keep my job, I wouldn’t get tested if I didn’t have symptoms,” Mortensen said.
“Why anybody would take the test if they have no symptoms is beyond me,” Gray added.
In the letter, the Commission also asked that Sisolak reactivate the National Guard to assist with testing.
Commissioners Bob Hastings, Ken Gray and Vida Keller also decried fines being levied on businesses for not requiring customers to wear masks. Gray also questioned how the directive can be enforced as law. He said one business was fined an amount that nearly equaled an entire week’s payroll.
Hastings said the fine for noncompliance should be more like $250 than several thousand dollars.
“For some businesses that’s a part-time employee losing their job,” he said.
Page said the fines that have been issued in Lyon County have been because businesses did not have proper signage requiring masks, or because employees were not wearing masks.