By Michelle Rindels, Riley Snyder and Megan Messerly
Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the first major rollback of the state’s business reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic by ordering bar closures in counties with spiking caseloads and limiting restaurant dining to parties of no more than six people.
Sisolak, at a press conference Thursday evening, said the new requirements would go into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, and that his office would release criteria on which counties will be required to roll back bar operations to the state’s Phase 1 requirement, which required any bar that did not serve food to close. He said that Washoe and Clark counties will “certainly” be among the counties affected by the new order, though he plans to release the full list of counties affected by the bar closure order on Friday after developing criteria with state health officials.
Sisolak noted that while his directive will not prohibit indoor dining, he is “strongly encouraging” food establishments to promote outdoor dining. The six-person party limit for restaurants will be applied statewide and to both indoor and outdoor dining.
The governor said the decision was driven by a call with federal officials, including the Department of Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency, who warned that the state would soon be in a “precarious condition where hospitals are overwhelmed with patients” if the state did not take “swift policy action” to limit spread of the virus. He said federal officials were particularly concerned about the number of rising cases and the state’s hospital capacity.
“We can only take so many days of that before we’re overwhelmed,” he said. “You have to implement procedures before you get to that part, because there’s going to be a lag period to get there.”
Several states experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have also opted to close bars as part of their mitigation strategy, including California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Florida.
As of Thursday evening, there were 25,061 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide. Hospitalizations of individuals with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 surpassed the April peak on July 3 and totaled 935 as of Wednesday, the most recent day for which data is available.
“Across the country, we have seen far too many instances where hospital capacity appeared fine one day and then were overwhelmed the next with increased COVID-19 patients,” Sisolak said. “We do not want this to happen here, so we will do what we must to make sure that our hospitals are able to provide the best positive care to all patients.”
The state’s Phase 1 reopening criteria requires bars that do not serve food to remain closed, while establishments that do serve food can remain open while not allowing individuals to use bartops or congregate at a bar. Sisolak said the closure requirement will also affect any bartop with an attached casino gaming machine.
Sisolak noted that inspections conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found fewer than half of bars in compliance with his mask directive.
Sisolak said the state needed to move to a near 95 percent compliance rate on mask wearing in order to flatten the current curve of COVID-19 cases. He said business visits by OSHA indicated about 80 percent of businesses were following the mask directive but that it was “simply unacceptable” that the remaining 20 percent were not.
Sisolak said his office was also looking at actions taken in other states to close down pools, water parks and gyms, given issues with mask wearing in those establishments. He clarified that people need to be wearing masks unless they are “actively” walking into a pool, swimming in a pool, or are exiting a pool and at all times inside gyms unless “actively engaged in a high-intensity workout,” in which case they need to remain six feet apart from other people.
Sisolak also reminded Nevadans that they are “safer at home,” and if they must go out, they are safer when they wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands.
“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 comments and funny jokes about and think that they’re being cute,” Sisolak said. “It is costing lives to have people not mask.”