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Employees, not public, must wear masks indoors in Clark County

Updated July 20, 2021 - 8:52 pm

Workers throughout Clark County must wear face masks when in public indoor spaces starting Thursday, even if they are vaccinated.

The County Commission issued the mandate during an emergency meeting Tuesday. It came as lawmakers work to slow a rise in local COVID-19 cases that has been attributed to the more contagious delta variant and a plateau in vaccinations.

But the measure stopped short of requiring the general public to wear masks indoors, a broader recommendation that public health officials announced Friday. So tourists will not be forced to mask-up — at least not yet.

“We’re talking here about doing something — getting going,” Commissioner Jim Gibson said during the Tuesday meeting, noting that officials have been told by medical advisers that the county is facing a “medical crisis.”

“Yeah, there is probably a more perfect way to address things,” he added, “but you don’t let the crisis just linger for a while until you come up with the perfect solution.”

The county does not have control over gaming properties. But the employee mask mandate was supported by the Nevada Resort Association, representing the state’s largest industry.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce also supported the county mandate, which applies to employees in cities as well.

“This is our second-most effective tool next to vaccinations, which we and our membership continue to push,” David Dazlich, the chamber’s chief lobbyist, said.

Tense meeting

The mandate technically goes into effect at midnight on Wednesday. And while it does not affect the general public, dozens of people sounded off against the lingering potential of a renewed public mask mandate during the tense Tuesday meeting.

Some argued against masks and vaccinations. Many expressed concern that the government would be overstepping its bounds.

The commission will revisit the requirement on Aug. 17.

Dr. Cortland Lohff, chief medical officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, described the health district’s Friday advice as a “simple but also very effective” recommendation in response to a surge in cases that officials fear will cause a proportional uptick in hospitalizations and deaths

Commissioner Ross Miller said county officials need to better illustrate to the public where the county stands and what could happen if the situation worsens.

“If the public is not abiding by those voluntary recommendations, this will have consequences,” Miller said, suggesting that the health district’s recommendation may still turn into a mandate.

In neighboring California, Los Angeles County reinstated a public mask mandate Saturday. L.A. county’s top health official also recommended last week that residents there reconsider traveling to Nevada and other states where coronavirus rates are increasingly high.

Clark County officials acknowledged that such travel warnings can be economically damaging.

Vaccines the focus

Gov. Steve Sisolak said he supported the commission’s use of local authority to address the pandemic; the state handed over such authority to local jurisdictions on May 1.

He pointed to continuing a statewide effort to “increase access and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines.”

About 160,000 more initiated vaccines are needed for Southern Nevada to reach a 70 percent threshold for immunizations. But the rate of doses has slowed to 4,000 daily, according to the health district.

Commissioner Justin Jones said he did not believe that an employee mask mandate would have much of an effect on virus transmission, calling for county lawmakers to do more to increase area immunization rates.

“If the headline from this meeting is that we imposed a mandate on employees, then we will have failed,” he said. “We need to get people vaccinated.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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