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Nevada may begin penalizing businesses that flout mask rules

Updated July 6, 2020 - 12:32 pm

Slightly fewer than half of businesses surveyed were reported compliant with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mask mandate in a new state survey, prompting the governor to say Friday that he would “take swift and decisive actions” against those that don’t comply.

Of 204 businesses, 49 percent were found in compliance with the face-covering mandate in the survey conducted Thursday by the Division of Industrial Relations Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Half of bar and restaurant bar areas were found in compliance, and the remaining businesses, including car sales and maintenance shops, gyms, hair and nail salons and tattoo shops, showed a 61 percent compliance rate.

“To those businesses operating in violation of the directive by not implementing safe social distancing and face covering protocols, you’re not only jeopardizing people’s health but you’re also jeopardizing your fellow businesses, your industry, and our overall economy,” Sisolak said in the statement.

On Friday, 985 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide, marking the second-highest one-day increase in Nevada, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Department officials have said the highest one-day total, 1,159, on June 26, was inflated because of delayed reporting.

State inspectors on Friday were sent to retail shops large and small, including grocery stores, clothing stores, gyms, salons and home improvement stores, to see which businesses were complying with the face-covering mandate. They are working alongside valley police departments, OSHA, licensing boards and local jurisdictions to help businesses enforce the governor’s mandated health and safety protocols.

“If these concerning reports on noncompliance continue, I will not hesitate to take swift and decisive actions next week directed at targeted industries or areas that are experiencing concerning COVID-19 trends and noncompliance,” Sisolak said.

Pleas from above

Scofflaw businesses in unincorporated Clark County face pressure sooner. Effective Friday, those not complying with the new safety requirements may be given a written warning, a fine or citation, or have their business license suspended and immediately closed, Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said in a news release.

In the Las Vegas Valley, some businesses are “at 99 percent compliance, some are (at) 12,” Kirkpatrick said at a Tuesday news conference. Kirkpatrick, who sits on a state advisory panel that helped develop the business compliance plan for reopening guidelines, pleaded with the public to wear a face covering to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“I’m gonna ask every single day, 50 times a day, because I love this state, I love this county, and I wanna see us thrive,” she said. “I wanna see us get back to some sense of normalcy, but I can’t do it today if everybody doesn’t do their part.”

Sisolak’s mask mandate began June 26 and requires that people wear masks when they leave the house, with some exceptions, including those for children under 10, people with medical conditions and people eating or drinking in restaurants or bars. COVID-19 cases in Nevada are again on the rise, and Sisolak also extended Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan with hopes that a mask mandate would help combat the increases.

Collective failure to wear a mask could cause Nevada to return to tighter restrictions, Kirkpatrick warned.

“If you value your business, if you value the health of everybody, please step up and do your part,” she said.

Customer not always right

Las Vegas Valley police departments have decided against criminal enforcement of the mandate, and they emphasize education for the public. Education remains the primary way to address complaints of businesses out of compliance.

In unincorporated Clark County, county staff members will visit businesses to check on compliance Friday through Sunday, a news release said.

Spokesman Dan Kulin said earlier in the week that the county issued one verbal warning out of 89 total businesses that were the subject of a complaint. Of those 89 businesses, 73 fall within the county’s jurisdiction, and most have received multiple complaints. An additional 40 complaints are under review, and 32 weren’t substantiated.

More than a third of the county’s complaints were about retail shops. The second- and third-most-complained-about businesses were restaurants and fitness facilities.

Kulin said 82 complaints mentioned people not wearing masks, 31 cited social distancing, and 11 reported inadequate sanitizing.

Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Division doesn’t categorize complaints by specific allegation, and its complaint data dating to June 26 wasn’t available by Tuesday, spokeswoman Teri Williams said.

She noted that the division has authority to warn or cite businesses but not the public.

Las Vegas has received 59 mask mandate complaints within its jurisdiction since June 26, none of which has resulted in a response further than education, city spokesman Jace Radke said. Radke also said that the city has visited 804 businesses without notice since June 26 for proactive education, though most licensing staff were off on Sunday and Monday and didn’t conduct checks those days.

Henderson’s business licensing bureau hasn’t been tabulating compliance data since the governor’s first reopening mandates began early May. City spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said the bureau has “just sort of flooded” businesses with education on the mask mandate as it has with previous mandates. The city will use a three-strikes rule once the education campaign has concluded.

The agency that oversees salons, the Nevada Board of Cosmetology, had received nine complaints regarding the governor’s directives since June 26. Six of those complaints mention masks, though it’s not clear if those complaints are about staff or customers, compliance coordinator Leah Easter said Tuesday.

North Las Vegas has received five complaints under the governor’s new directive, all at businesses, city spokeswoman Sandy Lopez said. The city hasn’t been able to validate those complaints, though it has called those businesses to remind them of the mandate.

“It is usually a customer who violates the governor’s directive of not wearing a mask, and staff cannot be there to observe the violation,” she said.

In-group, out-group

Though public health experts agree that wearing a face covering slows the spread of the virus, some people still choose to forgo one. Sisolak previously hesitated to issue a mask mandate out of concern for potentially violent backlash.

“I think it’s a matter of people not wanting to be told what to do,” Sisolak said during a May 22 webinar with the Vegas Chamber.

Sisolak expressed dismay at a news conference last week that some choose not to wear a mask.

“I don’t know why or when protecting our health and our neighbors’ lives became a political, partisan or even philosophical decision. For me it’s none of those,” the governor said. “It’s a medical necessity, a human obligation, and it’s good for business.”

People may feel reluctant to do something if they feel they’re simply being ordered around, especially “if they perceive the power of the state as something to coerce or control” rather than acting in everyone’s best interest, UNLV psychologist Stephen Benning said.

Penalizing or shaming people who won’t wear a mask could backfire and exacerbate an in-group, out-group mentality those people may harbor, he said. There is a partisan element to why some won’t wear a mask, and their choice not to wear one represents an in-group or out-group identifier, he said.

Messaging that appeals to a person’s particular values, like individuality or caring for others, may prove more effective, he said.

So might education, Benning said, “to the degree that everyone can agree on the validity of the sources of information and the content of that information.”

There are other interplaying factors that could lead someone to arrive at the conclusion they don’t need to wear a mask, Benning said. For one, it’s easier to dismiss a problem you cannot see.

If people could see the microscopic effects of a mask holding back COVID-19, they may feel more inclined to wear one, he said. Masks also better protect the wearing from spreading the coronavirus to others than vice versa, Benning said.

“It requires a degree of altruism that is greater than other activities that we take for own own personal safety,” like seat belts or wearing a bicycle helmet, Benning said.

Additionally, they’re not particularly comfortable to wear. He said those factors compound upon one another, leading people to seek out information that confirms their own biases regardless of that information’s validity.

‘It could be their job’

Under the directive, businesses are asked to implement a “no mask, no service” policy. Owners can turn away customers if they’re not wearing a mask and not exempt from the mandate.

Businesses in the Vegas Chamber haven’t mentioned significant trouble in getting customers to wear masks since the mandate, spokeswoman Cara Clarke said. Business owners recognize the mandate protects their employees and could reduce the spread of the virus, she said.

Clarke agreed with Kirkpatrick’s warning that continued increases in COVID-19 cases could cause another shutdown, which Clarke said may mean businesses close their doors for good. She hopes valley residents view face coverings as an economic measure, too, one that could help keep businesses open.

“It could be their job that’s suddenly lost,” Clarke said.

Most customers have followed the mask mandate in the early going, added Randi Thompson, director of Nevada’s National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“It really is a small request that will help keep our economy open,” she said.

Hospitality industry consultant Greg Chase noted a “a lack of consistency” among businesses enforcing the mask mandate since its inception.

“I think it’s been a little bit more of a mixed bag than it has been on the Strip,” Chase said.

Some restaurant owners are taking the pandemic seriously and concerned about “the greater good” of safety and public health, Chase said.

Others who are more lax about enforcing the mandate may see wearing face coverings to limit the spread of the coronavirus as a political decision. Chase said business staff sets the example: If an employee wears masks, it’s harder for customers to ignore the mandate.

Leslie Owens hasn’t yet turned away a customer at her dog grooming business for refusing to wear a mask.

“Every once in a while we’ll get some old grumpy butt who complains,” said the 47-year-old co-owner of Bark Place Grooming. But otherwise, customers to the business at 6446 N. Durango Drive have largely worn their masks.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

R-J staff writer Amanda Bradford contributed to this report.

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