Updated February 10, 2022 - 6:21 pm
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday lifted Nevada’s mandate that masks be worn in indoor public places, though school districts and businesses still have the discretion to require masks if they so choose.
In doing so, he joined several other Democratic governors, including those in California and New York, who this week lifted or eased broad mask mandates aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Declining case rates and hospitalizations, as well as new treatments for the disease, all contributed to his decision, Sisolak said, which comes as resignation sets in that the country likely will need to coexist with the virus rather than vanquish it.
“I think that students and parents have been clamoring for this for a long time,” Sisolak said. “Our businesses have been asking for this, our population has.”
Unlike states such as California that will still require masks for those who are unvaccinated, Nevada’s mandate is lifted for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Sisolak said he did not want to place the burden on frontline workers to determine whether a person is vaccinated.
“I think that’s unfair to ask of people,” he said.
The governor’s decision was effective immediately except at schools, where the masking requirement was to stay in place through Thursday to avoid disrupting the school day.
Although school districts may continue to require masks, the Clark County School District signaled that it would not do so.
The district said in a statement that it “welcomes Governor Sisolak’s updated directive to end the statewide mask mandate for Nevada. … Because COVID-19 continues, students and employees of CCSD can make the individual choice to continue masking.”
Under federal rules, masks still are required on school buses, public buses and planes, the governor said.
New guidance for casinos
Masks no longer are required by the state at Nevada’s casinos. Following the governor’s announcement, the Nevada Gaming Control Board issued new guidance to gaming operators that casino employees and patrons no longer need to wear a mask. A representative of the Culinary Union, which represents many frontline casino workers, said that some casinos still will require their employees to wear masks.
The governor’s emergency directive states that a local government entity may enact its own policy requiring face coverings. Local governments in the Las Vegas Valley said they do not plan to do so.
However, first-responders, public safety employees and some others may still be required to mask up, according to Clark County and city of Las Vegas representatives.
The Metropolitan Police Department announced Thursday evening that its employees would no longer be required to mask up in the workplace, with a few exceptions.
Police personnel in detention facilities will be required to wear masks when “in proximity” of inmates with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. Department personnel will also be required to comply with mask mandates at airports and other businesses that require masks.
It was not immediately known what impact the governor’s directive might have on a universal masking requirement at hospitals and other health care facilities imposed during the pandemic by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.
“We received little notice that the mandate was being lifted. We are still working with DHHS regarding how hospitals are, and will be, impacted,” said Amy Shogren, a hospital association representative.
A representative of HCA Healthcare hospitals in Southern Nevada said that as far as he knew, changes had not been made to the state’s masking requirement for hospitals.
The requirement is that all hospitals and health care settings continue with universal masking, said Antonio Castelan, a representative of HCA Healthcare’s Sunrise, Southern Hills and MountainView hospitals in Las Vegas. “We plan on following those orders.”
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services is “working with facilities to provide guidance and support regarding state and federal regulations for facilities that care for vulnerable people,” said representative Shannon Litz.
Nevada hospitals remain under considerable strain from patients with COVID-19, workers out sick with the virus and staffing shortages. Staffing shortages at hospitals in southern and rural Nevada remain at crisis levels, according to the hospital association.
‘Based on science’
Nevada’s mask mandate had been tied to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for masks in jurisdictions where there is high or substantial transmission of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, all of Nevada’s counties were experiencing high transmission except for rural Eureka County, which had substantial transmission rates.
Since the mandate was reimposed in July, Clark County’s transmission rates have never dropped low enough to come out from under it.
Sisolak said his directive was “based on science” and that he considered the CDC’s guidance more relevant to the earlier wave of cases from the delta variant than to the current omicron surge, which has been characterized by milder illness.
The directive, he said, reflects “the precipitous drop in positive cases, the considerable drop in hospitalizations,” and analysis of coronavirus levels in wastewater — an early indicator of disease spread — showing a downward trend.
Some Republicans characterized the decision as politically expedient.
“The science changes when it’s politically convenient,” Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington, said in a statement.
Titus, a physician, said that Democratic governors, fearing election losses, are “repealing their own imposed mask charade.”
“The science hasn’t changed, only the political science has,” she said.
Some public health authorities believe lifting mask mandates now is letting our guard down too soon, a result of pandemic fatigue and annoyance.
“A reasonable case scenario is that there will be some resurgence of infections and hospitalizations … here and there in different parts of the country, that prolong our transition from pandemic to endemic,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease professor.
‘The pandemic is not over’
The governor encouraged people who wish to continue wearing masks to do so, including those at higher risk for disease such as those with compromised immune systems.
“And I ask everyone to be respectful and kind when it comes to other people’s decision as relates to mask-wearing,” he said.
He cautioned that it’s too soon to say that the emergency is over.
“The pandemic is not over,” he said. “We’re still getting far too many cases, far too many hospitalizations, and far too many deaths.”
But if more people get vaccinated, and cases continue to decline, “then we’ll be able to remove more restrictions,” he said. Currently, 56 percent of Nevada’s population age 5 and older is vaccinated.
Sisolak did not rule out reimposing the mask mandate in the future.
“I never say never,” the governor said. “I’m hopeful that there won’t be another variant, or more severe variant, coming forward.
“Omicron is becoming more under control,” he continued. “So I’m hopeful and confident based on the data that we have that we’re in a good position to drop this, to give people back some freedom.”