CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday declared a state of emergency to deal with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Nevada, following similar moves by governors in states across the country.
Sisolak, speaking on a day when four new positive tests for coronavirus pushed the total number of cases in the state to 11, said the declaration will allow the state to tap more easily into its emergency management resources as it deals with what he repeatedly described as a “rapidly developing situation.”
The order also activates the state’s emergency operations center and the Nevada Health Response Team, which he said will “be leading our fight against COVID-19,” the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Sisolak’s order, however, does not go as far as measures taken by governors in other states also battling the spread of the disease that the World Health Organization has now classified a pandemic. For example, he did not call for the closure of any school districts, nor did he announce any limits on the size of gatherings or events.
“This measure is not something I take lightly but it is my sworn duty as governor to protect our citizens,” Sisolak said at an evening news conference at the state office building in Las Vegas.
The governor said there “are no immediate plans” to shut down casinos on the Strip and said resort operators are “making individual decisions” on whether to remain open. But he said officials were “very concerned” about what an economic downturn from the rise of infections will do to the state.
“We’re aware that we rely on gaming and sales taxes … and hopefully we’ll be able to weather the storm,” he said.
On his decision to not mandate the closures of schools, as other states have done, the governor said Nevada “is a unique state. It’s not a cookie cutter approach. What’s good for one district is not necessarily in the best interest of another district. “
What the declaration does
The declaration will allow the state to more easily tap into federal relief funds, such as the roughly $8 billion emergency spending package passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last week to help combat the spread of the disease.
State law grants the executive branch broad power under a state of emergency declaration, including whatever is deemed “necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.”
Specifically, it allows the governor to assume direct control over the state’s response to crisis situations and to make, change or rescind any order or regulation deemed necessary to respond, among other powers.
Sisolak stressed that the declaration “is not a reason to panic” and will more easily allow the state to tap into its emergency management resources and respond more rapidly as the situation unfolds.
“This is an extra step that is necessary in order to meet the moment to ensure the public health and safety of our citizens,” Sisolak said.
The declaration came hours after the Southern Nevada Health District announced that three more people had tested positive for the new coronavirus in Clark County and Carson City officials confirmed the first case of the illness in the state capital.
The health district provided no details about the new cases, which brought the number of Clark County cases to eight. Seven of those are presumptive positives, where the individuals have tested positive, and one has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Carson City Health and Human Services reported a presumptive positive test for a Carson City woman in her 70s who returned to the area by plane from San Jose, California, to Reno on March 2. She was asymptomatic at the time of her travel.
The woman is isolating at home and has reported “feeling better,” said Nicki Aaker, director of Carson City Health and Human Services. The woman’s husband is being monitored.
Sisolak said the emergency declaration and the funds obtained from it would also help the state gather and update information on testing through the state. He announced a new “Nevada Health Response” state website to provide updated information, guidance and news on COVID-19.
“For those of you who know me, I’m not shy about calling up the federal government and telling what we need,” he said. “And I intend to do that as soon as we get reliable information that we will provide to you on a regular basis. There are no secrets.”
Several other states, including California, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Arizona, have declared states of emergency or public health emergencies in recent weeks and days in order to respond to the growing health crisis.
Many of those states announced temporary closures of K-12 schools and bans on mass gatherings and events with more than 100, 250 or 500 people depending on the state. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, for example, instituted a ban on public gatherings and events of more than 250 people, which as mirrored Thursday by bans announced in Oregon and California.
Federal agencies ‘infuriating’
Sisolak said the “lack of information or the misinformation that is being communicated or not communicated from the federal agencies is infuriating” and that he was working with Nevada’s federal delegation “to try to get answers.”
“We are in uncharted territory,” he said. “I know there has been a lot of discussion about mass gatherings and large-scale events. I have no doubt that this is something we need to act on, but I’m not going to arbitrarily pick a number out of a hat.”
The governor said he had formed a team of medical experts to provide an assessment and recommendations on so-called social distancing.
He said expanded testing “is one of the only ways we can determine to the extent of what we are dealing with” but that the state faced challenges on capacity: of test kits, lab equipment and personnel who are “working around the clock in the state to collect specimens and process these tests. These individuals are on the frontlines of this fight.”
He added: “We are frustrated that we’re not receiving more tests in a prompt manner. We continue to stay on top of that.”
He said he had spoken to “probably 40 or 45” of the 50 Nevada passengers stuck on a quarantined cruise ship and said they were frustrated that plans to bring them home to wait out their quarantine period have not yet come to pass.
“They promised one thing and it hasn’t come to fruition yet,” he said, referring to federal authorities who would arrange air travel for the passengers back to the Silver State. “We only have control once they hit Nevada soil, and it’s my hope to get them on Nevada soil as quickly as we can.”
Contact Colton Lochhead at 775-461-0661 or CLochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Bill Dentzer at BDentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mary Hynes contributed to this report.