Updated February 7, 2022 - 11:26 am
Nevada is one of nine states that still require people to wear a mask in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status, according to a new report by AARP.
The other states that require masks indoors are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.
With disease transmission still rampant in the state, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team has not discussed with either the governor’s office or the state health division about possibly ending or easing the mandate, epidemiologist Brian Labus, a member of the team, said Friday.
“At this point, we haven’t been having those discussions, especially with delta and omicron taking off,” Labus said, referring to coronavirus variants that have led to surges in cases.
Although case numbers have “stopped getting worse,” they remain very high, said Labus, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in UNLV’s School of Public Health.
Masking requirements vary widely across the country. Connecticut has an indoor mandate for only the unvaccinated, according to the report released this week by AARP, an interest group focused on issues especially relevant to those over age 50.
Rhode Island has a hybrid order that requires face coverings for everyone in large venues but gives smaller businesses leeway based on patrons’ vaccination status. Washington is the only state with an outdoor mask order, requiring masks at outside events with 500 or more people.
Many states eased or eliminated mask orders in May and June after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people could safely forgo face coverings in most public settings. Nevada suspended its mandate in May.
But as the delta variant of the coronavirus fueled a new surge in COVID-19 cases over the summer, the federal health agency in July revised its guidance, recommending that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with substantial or high rates of COVID-19 transmission.
Following the new guidance, several states, including Nevada, and a number of large cities and counties reinstated mask orders. With the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant, some jurisdictions have tightened their mandates.
Twenty-eight states that had broad indoor mask mandates have lifted them, according to the report. Eleven states did not impose mandates at any point during the pandemic. Some, including Florida, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee and Texas, have taken legislation or executive action to prevent local governments and school districts from doing so.
Silver State mandate
Nevada reimposed a mask mandate in July in counties that meet CDC criteria for high or substantial COVID-19 transmission. In counties that have maintained moderate or low transmission for at least two weeks, masks are required only for unvaccinated people.
For a county to exit the mandate for crowded indoor public spaces, it must record back-to-back weeks with a seven-day average rate of new cases under 50 per 100,000 residents and a seven-day test positivity rate below 8 percent.
On Friday, Clark County’s numbers, though dropping, remained well above those markers. The seven-day test positivity rate stood at 24.41 percent, and the case rate at 543.3 per 100,000, according to CDC data.
Since July, Clark County has never met the requirements that would have allowed it to emerge from under the mandate. Currently, all of Nevada’s counties remain under the mandate, with high levels of transmission.
When asked if the governor was reconsidering the mandate, spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said the mandate is still in place.
“The Governor continues to urge all eligible Nevadans to get their COVID-19 vaccines and boosters,” she wrote in an email.
Jade Fulce, a CDC representative, said that states have leeway when it comes to the agency’s mask guidance.
“CDC guidance is meant to supplement — not replace — any federal, state, tribal, local, or territorial health and safety laws, rules, and regulations,” Fulce wrote in an email.
‘The public is not stupid’
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, an outspoken critic of pandemic restrictions, said the time has come to end the mask mandate.
“I’m looking forward to the release of the mandate,” she said in an interview, noting she never favored a mask mandate. “I think masks are a personal choice. But we (the city of Las Vegas) have always followed the governor’s edicts.”
The mayor also said it should be up to private businesses to determine whether to require masks, and patrons in turn can decide whether to frequent the business.
“The public is not stupid,” she said.
Others were more circumspect in their comments, including the Nevada Resort Association, the trade group for the state’s gaming industry.
“As we have done from the beginning of the pandemic, we continue to follow the guidance of our state health officials who issue Nevada’s COVID safety protocols,” association President and CEO Virginia Valentine wrote in an email. “We are encouraged by the declining case load and test positivity rate, and are optimistic that the downward trend will lead to an adjusted mask guidance as soon as our health officials feel it is appropriate.”
The Southern Nevada Health District said it continues to encourage everyone to wear a well-fitting mask in indoor spaces.
“COVID-19 transmission rate remains in the high category and the Health District is supportive of all efforts to minimize transmission, this includes wearing a mask as well as testing and vaccination,” representative Stephanie Bethel wrote in an email.