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Sisolak begins to open up Nevada, relaxes gathering limits

Updated February 12, 2021 - 10:12 am

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced a phased pandemic reopening plan for the state that starts Monday with relaxed restrictions on business operations and certain public gatherings, with local authorities assuming management from the state on May 1 if current declining infection trends continue.

The changes come as Nevada, with other states, registers steadily dropping COVID-19 numbers. The governor said, however, that the decision to begin reopening the state remains fraught and will be driven by science.

“Some people want you to open everything up, some people want you to close everything down. Some people want you to have no capacity limits, others want strict capacity limits,” the governor said. “It is a difficult tightrope balancing act to attempt to keep our people as safe as we can by vaccinating them, protecting our health care workers, and our hospital capacity, and at the same time, get our economy moving. We’ve got unemployment that’s still too high. I’ve got too many people that are out of work that are looking to go to work and businesses that are struggling and hanging on by a thread.”

The governor noted that 390,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nevada. With the state’s test positivity rate down from a high 21.7 percent in January to 14.3 percent, and with daily case counts that topped 2,700 in mid-December now averaging below 700, he outlined the following reopening guidelines:

Beginning Feb. 15:

Moving to 35 percent capacity limit (up from 25 percent): places of worship, gyms, fitness and other health studios, gaming floors, arcades, racetracks, bowling alleys, pool halls and similar activities. Restaurant and bar indoor capacities at 35 percent; no outdoor capacity limit.

Reservations no longer will be required; maximum patrons per table will rise from four to six.

Moving to 50 percent capacity: libraries, museums, art galleries, aquariums.

Public gatherings and events can increase to 100 individuals, or 35 percent of fire code capacity.

Venues eligible for large gatherings will be capped at 20 percent of total fixed seated capacity with strict social distancing requirements.

Beginning March 15:

Businesses operating at 35 percent will be able to move to 50 percent capacity. Public gatherings will move to 250 people, or 50 percent capacity. Those were the limits before the state initiated its reopening “pause” last fall.

Remaining in place until May 1: Retail stores, indoor malls, community and recreational centers at 50 percent. Spas, massage establishments, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and the like will continue to operate under strict social distancing requirements guided by applicable licensing boards.

Certain “high-risk businesses and activities” — adult entertainment establishment, nightclubs and day clubs, and brothels — will remain closed until at least May 1.

On May 1:

Mitigation management returns to local control. To reach the goal, counties have until end of April to show a decrease in COVID trends, adequate hospital capacity and evidence they can sustain adequate levels of testing. Specific statewide protocols will remain in effect, including mask mandates and other social distancing requirements.

Sisolak asked local officials “to talk directly to your neighbors about the importance of getting the next 75 days right so you can go back to the local level and manage this the way you think works best for your community.”

The governor issued a statewide “pause” in November, which he subsequently extended to mid-February. He dropped capacity limits to 25 percent on many businesses, including restaurants, bars and casinos. He limited group gatherings to 50 people or less and placed restrictions on the number of people allowed in private residences.

Numbers still high

In spite of declining infection trends, Nevada’s case numbers, test positivity rate, hospitalizations and deaths all remain high, and public health authorities urged cautioned on the easing of restrictions.

“Now’s not the time to relax,” said Oscar Alleyne, an epidemiologist and chief program officer with the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “If you look at all four major (disease) indicators … you’re (Nevada) still ranking high.”

The new strains of the coronavirus are the “proverbial monkey wrench” in improving COVID-19 statistics because they may be more contagious and could offset gains, he said.

UNLV School of Public Health epidemiologist Brian Labus, a member of the governor’s medical advisory team, agreed.

“Especially given the potential of the new strains that spread more easily, we could very quickly see the numbers turn around and go right back to where we were in December, which is the highest we’ve been at all pandemic,” Labus warned. Comparing the pandemic to a partially contained wildfire, he said people should not interpret the easing of restrictions as an end to social distancing.

“If they back off, it’s going to flare right back up again,” Labus said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mary Hynes contributed to this report.

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