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Kirkpatrick ‘confident’ most will wear masks

Updated July 7, 2020 - 6:42 pm

Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said Tuesday she was confident that most people in Southern Nevada will wear face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“I believe that we can get to 99 percent compliance,” said Kirkpatrick, who represents urban counties on the state’s Local Empowerment Advisory Panel.

Her expression of optimism came during a news conference called to underscore the importance of wearing a face mask covering the mouth and nose to protect public health and also avoid any setbacks in the statewide economic recovery.

Dr. Fermin Leguen, the acting chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, said that wearing masks, combined with social distancing and washing hands, “maximized the individual ability” to decrease the transmission rate of the virus.

Kirkpatrick described the news conference as part of an ongoing effort to educate the public and businesses on the importance of masks, but the lesson has not been quickly digested by everyone since Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive June 26 that people in the state must wear one.

“We haven’t been wearing facial coverings or masks as consistently as we should and also the social distancing has been a challenge,” Leguen acknowledged.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on Monday that businesses in Southern Nevada have had only a 66 percent compliance rate for facial coverings since Sisolak’s order.

But Kirkpatrick said Tuesday that she believed most businesses were doing their part or trying. She said she visited roughly 15 places over the weekend and saw no blatant skirting of the rules. For businesses that are not following those rules, she said she has sought the commitment of Southern Nevada cities to enforce the governor’s directive.

She pointed to an unlicensed rave held over the weekend in the North Las Vegas desert as an example of the type of event that can undermine the efforts of the public, health officials and government. Since late June, local government officials have visited more than 3,000 local businesses to provide education and guidance on the public health regulations, according to the county.

An appeal to young people

As coronavirus cases rise in Nevada, hitting the Hispanic community particularly hard, since the state entered into the second phase of its recovery plan and reopened casinos, officials are keeping an eye on metrics including transmission rate and available hospital beds.

University Medical Center CEO Mason VanHouweling said that 74 percent of acute care beds and 84 percent of ICU beds in Southern Nevada hospitals were occupied, with 12.7 percent and 31.4 percent, respectively, connected to confirmed coronavirus cases.

Where most patients during the infancy of the pandemic were older, health officials are beginning to see more young people diagnosed with the virus, which Leguen attributed to increased social interaction and relaxed compliance with public health guidelines.

Forty percent of confirmed cases in Southern Nevada involve people in their 20s and 30s, according to VanHouweling.

“I just want to underline to our young population: I know that everybody’s been at home and wants to get out and enjoy Las Vegas, but think about those that you love, think about your family, your co-workers,” he said. “Just because you are asymptomatic or feeling good, you can still spread the virus.”

Moving to the next phase

Yet Kirkpatrick remained assured that with continued increases in available testing and adherence to public health rules, coupled with education efforts, the state will reduce its transmission rate and be able to move into the next phase of economic recovery.

“I myself don’t feel comfortable moving to a Phase Three at this point,” she said. “However I do think if everybody complies as we did early on in March, wears a mask, that we will see a significant change in the numbers and we’re still testing just as many.”

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

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