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Despite governor’s order, closures of nonessential businesses are optional — except casinos

Updated March 18, 2020 - 9:20 pm

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office on Wednesday sought to clarify which “nonessential” businesses he’s ordered closed, but the strongly worded directive apparently remains optional for all companies except casinos.

The governor on Tuesday ordered casinos and all other nonessential businesses to close for 30 days to suppress the potential spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nevada. Sisolak on Wednesday continued to stress the urgency of the recommendation in the face of the pandemic, but he stopped short of making his orders mandatory.

Sisolak urged nongaming businesses to close and told residents to “stay home for Nevada” to fight the coronavirus. Other governors have also used similar cautionary urgency as opposed to announcing mandatory closures.

Local and county authorities Wednesday were interpreting the state’s guidelines on closures and trying to determine whether they were were enforceable.

The Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that officers would not respond to reports of businesses that remain open. The department said such enforcement would require an executive order from the governor, but none has been issued.

North Las Vegas police will not enforce the directive, Mayor John Lee said Tuesday.

“We’ve got enough normal things that we have to keep up on ourselves,” Lee said. “We’re not going to be monitoring businesses.”

But the city of Reno said it would enforce the closures as if ordered and issue fines, citations and suspensions to businesses that don’t comply.

“The city of Reno’s interpretation is that the governor ordered all nonessential businesses to temporarily close to the public for 30 days,” city spokesman Matt Brown said.

At a morning briefing, Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam said he was consulting with other first responder agencies on the matter. His office declined comment later in the day after the clarified guidelines were issued.

The guidance letter notes that those businesses considered nonessential “may remain open,” and they are urged to adhere to strict social distancing practices.

“The immediate implementation of aggressive strategies to create social distance and decrease close contact of people, including limiting gatherings, has proven effective in prior pandemics at delaying rates of transmission and reducing death and illness,” the guidance said.

Essential businesses

These are businesses the governor’s office considers essential:

■ Emergency service (fire, police medical)

■ Social services organizations providing food, shelter, or critical social services for disadvantaged populations

■ Utilities

■ Trash collection

■ Air transportation

■ Home maintenance/repair services

■ Auto repair services and trucking service centers

■ Grocery stores, supermarkets, hardware stores, convenience and discount stores

■ Pharmacies, health care operations and biomedical facilities

■ Post offices and shipping outlets

■ Gas stations and truck stops

■ Banks and financial institutions

■ Veterinary services and pet stores

■ Laundromats and dry cleaners

■ Food processing facilities

■ Agriculture, livestock and feed mills

■ Logistics and supply chain operations, including warehouses, storage and distribution facilities

■ Public transportation

■ Essential stays in hotels, commercial lodging, dormitories, shelters, and homeless encampments

■ Child care centers and day cares operating in accordance with requirements set forth by their licensing authorities and COVID-19 guidance

‘Nonessential businesses’

And here’s a list of the types of businesses that the governor’s team is calling nonessential:

■ Entertainment and hospitality, including strip clubs and brothels, casinos, concert venues, arenas, auditoriums, stadiums, large conference rooms, meeting halls, and cafeterias.

■ Recreation and athletic facilities including community and recreation centers, gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, yoga, barre and spin facilities.

■ Beauty and personal care services and facilities, including barber shops, beauty, tanning, waxing hair salons, and nail salons and spas.

■ Retail facilities including shopping malls except for pharmacy or other health care facilities within retail operations. Retailers are encouraged to continue online operations with pickup and delivery.

The list of nonessential businesses might be expanded. The advisory notes that other businesses in office-type environments — legal services, consulting, professional services insurance services and the like — are “encouraged to have employees work remotely or telecommute.”

For food and beverage establishments, the governor directed all restaurants and bars to close dine-in facilities. Businesses with carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service may continue.

Charitable food distribution sites, including meals being distributed to students, should remain fully open and operational, as should food services for health care and other essential facilities.

Food establishments remaining open must “immediately increase sanitizing and cleaning frequency of high contact areas,” including restrooms, and “enforce stringent hygiene practices for staff.

The advisory reiterates the shutdown of all gaming machines, devices, tables, games, and any other related equipment.

Licensed cannabis stores and medical dispensaries “should only remain open if employees and consumers strictly adhere to the social distancing protocol.” The state is encouraging consumers to use delivery services “and not congregate in stores.”

Decision left up to businesses

The advisory, for now, ultimately leaves the decision on whether to close up to individual businesses. GameStop stores in the Las Vegas Valley, for example, were open Wednesday, with signs posted saying only 10 people can be inside at a time, including employees.

Local and county governments, on the front lines of responding to virus impacts and largely acting on their own, mostly fell into line behind the governor Wednesday.

In Northern Nevada, officials from Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks backed the state’s recommendations, with Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve saying they superseded a more limited set of closures Reno enacted Monday.

Sparks Councilman Ed Lawson outlined changes to city operations and ended with a charge to the community to be “the difference in what makes us get through this pandemic.”

“I hope you choose empathy over selfishness,” he said. “I hope you choose ethics over unfairness. I hope you choose logic over lunacy, choose to be inclusive over being thoughtless.”

An exception, initially, was White Pine County Sheriff Scott Henriod, who posted on Facebook that businesses there “are to remain open until further notice.” In a subsequent post, he reversed, saying “individuals and businesses should follow the Governor’s directives,” adding that his office “CANNOT enforce the Governor’s directives because it is not yet an Executive Order.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Ben Gotz contributed.

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