By Riley Snyder and Megan Messerly
Gov. Steve Sisolak is asking Nevadans to voluntarily stay home for the next two weeks as COVID-19 cases spike statewide, warning that if the data doesn’t improve over that period he will be forced to take more drastic action.
Under what Sisolak is calling “Stay at Home 2.0,” Nevadans are being urged to not go out in public unless absolutely necessary, not gather with those outside their households, order groceries for delivery instead of going to the store and pick up food curbside instead of dining at their favorite restaurant. Employers are also being asked to have their employees telework as much as possible for the next two weeks and host meetings virtually instead of in conference rooms.
“For the next two weeks, we must mimic our stay-at-home behaviors from this past spring,” Sisolak said at a press conference Tuesday evening. “If we do so, we believe we can begin to turn around things in two weeks without having to place increased restrictions on our businesses or our schools.”
If the trends do not improve, Sisolak is threatening to once again put in place restrictions, though he declined on Tuesday to specify exactly what mitigation measures he is considering. In March, all nonessential businesses were forced to shut their doors for at least two months — even longer for bars, some of which weren’t allowed to open until September.
“I don’t know what restrictions we’re going to have to put in place, but they’re going to be severe, they’re going to be hard, and they’re going to be things that people aren’t going to want to do and I get that, but we don’t have to do any of that,” Sisolak said. “I don’t want to focus on what we’re going to do if this doesn’t work, because I want to believe, I do believe, this will work.”
COVID-19 cases in Nevada have now climbed to a higher level than they reached during this summer’s peak, with a record 1,959 cases reported in a single day on Saturday. Hospitalizations are quickly increasing as well, with 898 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Monday, a level the state hasn’t seen since mid-August.
State health officials have attributed the rising numbers of cases in recent weeks not to specific outbreaks but generally to high levels of spread in the community. Experts nationwide have cited what’s being called “COVID fatigue,” or a growing tiredness with coronavirus health measures such as mask wearing and social distancing, coupled with the cool fall weather, as primary drivers of the surge in cases.
“The Nevada Hospital Association reports that Nevada continues the upward trajectory of COVID-19 cases as the population appears to have disengaged from mitigation steps such as social distancing and remote working,” Sisolak said.
Renown Health CEO Tony Slonim, who spoke at the press conference, said the Reno-area hospital was planning to open an alternative care site inside a parking garage that can accommodate up to 1600 beds. The facility was prepared but never used amid the state’s first rush of COVID-19 cases earlier this year, but Slonim said the current trajectory of cases and hospitalizations made opening that site a necessity.
“We’re unable to keep pace with the virus in the way it’s currently presenting itself in our community,” he said.
Washoe County has been hit particularly hard by this recent surge in cases, though the data show that COVID-19 cases are peaking in almost every single county across the state.
In addition to actions by individuals and workplaces, Sisolak is asking colleges and universities to communicate with students and faculty that they should avoid any gatherings on campuses and in homes. He did not make any specific requests of K-12 schools and demurred when asked whether schools should discontinue in-person learning if trends continue.
Sisolak’s stay-at-home request, however, does not apply to tourists, who the governor said should continue to travel the state while following all coronavirus health and safety protocols. The state’s tourism-driven economy came to a grinding halt earlier this year when casinos were forced to shut their doors for several months and remains battered as visitors have been slow to return amid the pandemic.
“They certainly should come because those are protecting our jobs,” Sisolak said. “But when they come here and they’re staying in one of our properties, you need to wear a mask.”
The governor is also asking local governments to step up their enforcement of businesses to ensure that all COVID-19 protocols, including mask wearing and social distancing, are being followed, over the next two week period.
“I know the majority of our businesses are doing a great job,” Sisolak said. “But for those that aren’t, you are threatening Nevada’s economy in this critical moment. I do not want every business to suffer with closures because a small few refuse to follow the protocols.
Sisolak emphasized that he did not want to take “stronger action” and still wanted to get to a place where all students can return to in-person learning and convention can operate at up to 50 percent capacity by January.
“That’s the path I’ve laid out for Nevada,” he said. “We need to decide if we want to remain on it.”