Gov. Steve Sisolak tightened the clamps on some coronavirus-related restrictions Wednesday, including prohibiting large church gatherings and closing all golf courses and public sports venues across the state.
Also, the new order from the governor makes it so grocery stores cannot offer self-serve food, including salad bars and sales of unpackaged foods like rice, nuts and other bulk items during the pandemic. It also prohibits barbers and stylists from going to a customer’s home to provide haircuts or other services, which he said “circumvents the very rationale behind” the state’s initial closure of nonessential businesses.
Sisolak’s latest directive comes two days after he urged Nevadans to avoid large Easter dinners and indicated that he might “tighten the faucet” to enforce the guidelines in response to those who are flouting them.
“This isn’t a game. This is serious. People are dying,” Sisolak said during a news conference Wednesday.
The directive explicitly bans any gatherings of 10 or more people at churches and other places of worship. He previously issued a general ban on gatherings of 10 or more people last month, but at least one church had said it was still planning to hold Easter Sunday services.
“This wasn’t easy,” Sisolak said of the decision.
He spoke to about 20 faith leaders about it, all of whom supported the move, Sisolak said. But he said as a churchgoer himself, he understands how difficult this will be for some.
“We are living in unique times. Science tells us that putting larger numbers of people together for any reason … is an invitation for disease to do its work,” Sisolak said.
He encouraged religious leaders to find alternatives to in-person services, such as online-streaming.
Golf courses shuttered
At a news conference earlier this week, Sisolak said he had decided to keep golf courses open because they offered good exercise options and people could keep a safe distance between other golfers.
But golfers keeping their distance has not been the case, Sisolak said. He said he has seen a “multitude of pictures” that show people gathered together on greens and golfers riding two to a cart.
“We tried it. It didn’t work because some folks again chose not to follow the rules. And unfortunately as a result, we’re closing golf courses,” Sisolak said.
Passing out equipment
With the new directive, the governor provided other updates related to the state’s COVID-19 response.
■ Sisolak said that the state has distributed more than 1.3 million pieces of personal protective gear across the state, which was up some 300,000 from Monday. He said that includes supplies that have come from the federal government and what was in the state’s stockpile. It does not include the items that have been donated in recent weeks from the private sector.
■ The governor acknowledged the state’s COVID-19 dashboard has not always had up-to-date totals relating to coronavirus deaths. He said the problem occurs because the dashboard is updated when the local health districts report the deaths to the state, and those deaths are not reported in real time but rather in batches.
To provide more real-time data, the state sent a directive to all health care providers and facilities requiring them to immediately notify the state when a COVID-19-related death occurs.
“We’re working to correct that so you can get an accurate depiction of when those deaths are actually occurring,” Sisolak said.
■ Sisolak said 71 percent of the state’s ICU beds are occupied but noted that the Nevada Hospital Association has told him that most of those beds are not being used by COVID-19 patients. He added that 49 percent of the state’s ventilators are in use, up from 44 percent on Monday. The state has an order to FEMA for 450 additional ventilators and have been told to expect them to be sent 72 hours before the state’s expected surge in hospitalizations.
■ Meanwhile, the state will apparently be getting fewer ventilators than it expected.
During Monday’s coronavirus task force briefing in Washington, Vice President Mike Pence announced Nevada would get 100 of the 500 ventilators California was donating to the national effort to fight the coronavirus.
But then Tuesday, Pence disclosed that Nevada would get 50 ventilators from the California cache.
According to Brian Ferguson, California’s deputy director for crisis communications, the state made the decision with FEMA and the presidential task force. Why did Nevada get fewer ventilators? “I assume that there’s a great demand many places.”
Ryan McInerney, Sisolak’s spokesman, explained: “The determination was made by the state of California, and the governor is appreciative of the help from our neighbors.”
Review-Journal reporters Debra J. Saunders and Blake Apgar contributed to this story.