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Nevada Gov. Sisolak drops phased reopening to focus on long-term enforcement strategy

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    LAS VEGAS, NV (KVVU) — Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced on Monday that bars in Humboldt, Lander and Lyon counties may reopen at 50% capacity while those in Clark, Elko, Nye and Washoe counties would have to remain closed until further notice.

He made the announcement Monday night at a press conference in Carson City to address the state’s COVID-19 response. The governor said that the decision to allow bars to reopen was based on the average number of COVID-19 tests administered per day, case rate and test positivity rate with consideration for regional population size.

“In the previous directive, we closed all the bars. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was the fairest way to do it because we had a lot of bars that were being extremely proactive and extremely effective in terms of mitigating and taking protocols,” Sisolak said.

In July, 37 Nevada bars and taverns filed a lawsuit accusing Sisolak and the state of ordering their closures “arbitrarily and capriciously.” The governor has declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Sisolak said that the Nevada Health Response Team is working to finalize a long-term mitigation strategy for the state, to be released next Monday. He emphasized that there will need to be a shift from regulation and enforcement on the state level, to a more local level.

The governor said he would like to see enforcement officers operating in municipalities, zip codes and specific industries that are seeing increases in cases, hospitalizations and contagion rates. He also expressed frustration at the efficacy of some local enforcement efforts.

“I’m tired of educating. I’m tired of ambassadors that deal with this stuff,” Sisolak said. “I need enforcement officers that are going to go out and punish the bad guys and not punish the good guys.”

The city of Las Vegas responded to Sisolak’s comments by saying the city is taking the directives seriously:

Last week the city worked to put another 100 people in the field to step up our enforcement efforts. Our compliance ambassadors are added eyes to help our enforcement officers. They are concentrating on businesses and on sports fields. We believe this is many more field staff than other jurisdictions.

Other goals of the statewide long-term mitigation strategy include working with the Department of Health and Human Services to develop more in-depth, data driven criteria to inform localities’ responses; and to define “mitigation levels” so that each county would know what benchmarks need to be met, before lifting restrictions.

Sisolak announced that COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage would lead a new advisory group composed of agency directors in charge of enforcement and public health, as well as local officials and hospital representatives. The group will review data on a weekly basis and work with local officials to target mitigation efforts.

In July, case count, hospitalizations and fatalities have been on the rise in Nevada. The state has had more than 43,000 confirmed cases and more than 700 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the state seen an increase of testing, compliance and mask-wearing.

State Deputy Administrator Julia Peak said on Monday the state’s contact tracing is slated to make strides in the next few weeks with additional case investigators and contact tracers forthcoming.

Sisolak stressed that wearing face coverings, social distancing and other health guidelines should be the norm now, and emphasized the need for local governments to cooperate to prevent the disease from spreading further. He took aim at some local officials he said are not taking the health mandates seriously enough.

“This isn’t a joke, when someone’s wearing a doily on their face and says that that’s a mask. Or another city council person says, ‘I don’t want them coming into my area to mom and pop businesses and closing anybody down,'” Sisolak said. “The violators need to be punished and those that are following the rules need to be rewarded and allowed to stay open.”

Sisolak’s last press conference on COVID-19 was held July 9, when he ordered bars in some Nevada counties to return to Phase 1 protocol.

Nevada has remained in Phase 2 reopening since May. In June, Sisolak said Nevada was not ready for Phase 3 plans and extended the Phase 2 protocol through the end of July.

Since then, cases have spiked in Nevada, namely in Clark County, which was recently deemed a “red zone” for coronavirus by the White House.

Sisolak also said a second special session for the Nevada Legislature was tentatively scheduled to start Thursday. One of the issue to be discussed was in-person voting, however the governor did not go into detail on the matter.

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