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Sisolak announces closure of all nonessential businesses

Updated March 17, 2020 - 9:05 pm

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday significantly ramped up Nevada’s response to COVID-19 by announcing a statewide closure of all casinos, restaurants, bars and other nonessential businesses for 30 days, and he urged Nevadans to stay inside to reduce their chance of becoming infected and spreading the virus.

The closures could be extended beyond the one-month mark, as Sisolak said he would evaluate them at the end of the shutdown period. Affected businesses must be closed by noon on Wednesday, Sisolak said during a press conference Tuesday night. All gaming machines, devices and tables inside casinos were to be shut down by midnight, he added.

“Today it is clear additional steps must be taken immediately to slow the spread of this deadly virus in our state,” Sisolak said.

Beyond the edict on gaming establishments, the rest of what the governor announced came in the form of directives. By turns, he implored businesses and residents to heed guidelines medical experts have put forth to slow the spread of the virus. But he couched his strong language ultimately in terms of recommendations and, when asked about enforcement, stressed public safety.

“People are looking for a loophole here, this is affecting the lives of our citizens,” he said in response to a question.

His office promised that official guidelines would be released on Wednesday to clarify the order. Sisolak strongly urged Nevadans to stay inside amid the outbreak, but he did not characterize it as a “shelter in place” mandate similar to one ordered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Businesses that should stay open include grocery stores, gas stations, medical offices, banks and other financial services, Sisolak said. Restaurants that can provide delivery, drive-through, pick-up or curbside service also could stay open, but sit-down dining establishments should not.

The governor’s announcement follows on a limited set of business closures ordered Monday by Reno, the state’s third-largest city. It follows the statewide closing of K-12 schools Sisolak ordered Sunday. So far, 55 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Nevada, with one death.

State officials had not previously ordered closures or limits on public gatherings that would directly apply to casinos, leaving the decision to close or scale back operations to gaming establishments themselves.

Several of the Strip’s casinos, including those owned by MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, and numerous businesses across the state had previously announced plans to shutter amid the outbreak.

But to curtail the spread of coronavirus, the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend gatherings of no more than 50 people — a limit that would affect even modest-sized gaming rooms.

Sisolak cited data from the World Health Organization and other experts on the infection rates of the virus showing that four out of five people infected will have mild or no symptoms.

“But in order for those who will need critical care to be able to receive it, the rest of us need to do our part to stay healthy,” he said, urging people to “stay home for Nevada.”

Governors in more than 10 states, including California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, have ordered bars and restaurants closed. Six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area are under a shelter-in-place order instructing all residents to remain indoors and avoid unnecessary travel.

Sisolak said emergency services, transit and health care operations would remain open as would businesses that provide food, shelter and social services for disadvantaged populations.

“Nonessential services such as beauty shops, barber shops, nail, tanning, waxing salons should close until further notice,” he said. “Only essential businesses should remain open, such as pharmacies grocery stores, drug and convenience stores, banks and financial institutions, hardware stores and gas stations.

All gatherings should be postponed or canceled, as should outings to concerts, the theater and athletic events.

“Every social contact increases your risk of exposure,” he said. “The bigger the group, the higher the risk. This means that you should stay away from auditoriums, stadiums, arenas, large conference rooms, meeting halls and cafeterias.”

Fitness centers also should be avoided, he said.

“Until this risk goes away, find other ways to exercise, such as at home workouts, hikes, or other outdoor activities,” Sisolak said. “But as you do so, remember to maintain social distancing from others doing the same.”

As for food businesses, only restaurants that serve takeout or have window drive-through service can remain open. Food courts, coffee shops, catered events — any venue where dine-in food is served — are to close.

“I know there will be some who will disagree with my decision, some who will think this is an overreaction,” Sisolak said. I want you to know I’ve spent countless hours working with medical experts, the White House, the CDC, labor and industry leaders, and I fully believe that this is an appropriate and informed reaction.”

“I know the impacts of this decision will reach far and wide into the homes and lives of our Nevada families. This was not an easy decision to make.”

He added later: “I ask you, what are you willing to do to save your own life and the lives of those you love? We absolutely must take this step for every Nevadan’s health and safety. Please, please take this seriously. Lives are at stake and each day passing this pandemic is growing.”

Culinary Local 226, which represents 60,000 workers at most of the casinos and resorts in Las Vegas and Reno, endorsed the governor’s move. The union’s membership stands to lose wages for an extended period if casinos don’t make provisions to pay them during the shutdown.

“Health and safety are priorities as we face this global crisis,” union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said in a statement. “Governor Sisolak’s order today is necessary in protecting Nevadans, workers, and customers in the fight to contain the spread of Covid-19.”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus also weighed in with her support.

“Governor Sisolak’s decision was difficult, but necessary,” she said. “Las Vegas is a resilient city. We’ve proven that before, and soon we will prove it once again.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @coltonlochhead on Twitter. Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @Dentzernews on Twitter.

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