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Sisolak expected to suspend Nevada mask mandate

Updated February 9, 2022 - 6:09 pm

UPDATE: Sisolak ends state mask mandate

Gov. Steve Sisolak will announce the suspension of Nevada’s mask mandate at a virtual news conference he’s scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, following the lead of governors in several other states as COVID-19 case numbers continue to fall, multiple sources confirm.

The sources did not know details of Sisolak’s announcement and an official in the governor’s office declined to comment. Sisolak also declined to answer any questions about it at an event Wednesday in Gardnerville.

In recent days, governors in Delaware and Oregon have announced they will relax their state’s mask mandate by the end of March, according to the New York Times, following news that New Jersey was suspending the mandate in its public schools.

California announced it will lift its indoor mask mandate next week. And Connecticut is looking to end its mandate by Feb. 28, including for public schools, the Times reported. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that state’s indoor mask-or-vaccination-proof mandate has ended, and one for schools will expire later this month.

How Sisolak’s announcement will affect Nevada schools was unclear Wednesday and officials with the Clark County School District did not respond to a request for comment.

MGM CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle, speaking on an earnings call, said he anticipated the mask rule would be liberalized given the trends elsewhere.

“I expect that given positive COVID trends in Nevada we will start to see meaningful loosening of COVID restrictions in the very very near future consistent with what we have seen in other states.”

Case numbers falling

Sisolak’s announcement comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to plummet in Nevada as in much of the country, and as resignation sets in that the country likely will need to coexist with the virus rather than vanquish it.

Nevada is among half a dozen states that still mandate that most people wear masks in public indoor spaces.

Nevada’s mask mandate has been tied to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for masks in counties where there is high or substantial transmission of COVID-19.

For a county to exit the state mask mandate for indoor public spaces, it has to 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 — metrics considered as posing a “moderate” or “low” risk of transmission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clark County has remained under the mask mandate since it was reinstated in July. On Wednesday, the county’s positivity rate stood at 18.81 percent, with a seven-day case rate of 258.35 per 100,000 residents.

Not only case rates but hospital capacity should be taken into account before lifting a mask mandate, said North Carolina State University professor Julie Swann, who studies pandemic data, trends and policies.

Hospitals in southern and rural Nevada continue to face crisis-level staffing shortages, according to the most recent update from the Nevada Hospital Association.

Despite the encouraging signs in many COVID-19 metrics, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor with Vanderbilt University, believes it’s too soon to be ending mask mandates.

He favors keeping the mandates for a couple more months “to make sure these early downturns we’re seeing are sustained and real.”

He continued, “Control programs are often ended before the disease is under control, and then you get another splurge in infections.”

But he acknowledged, “My cautionary words apparently are not resonating out there … There are all kinds of political leaders around the country who wish to discard the mask in one form of another, some more cautiously, some more exuberantly.”

Republicans demand change

Sisolak’s Republican opponents have called on him to end the mask mandate, which began last summer and is based on COVID transmission numbers under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Too little, too late. The damage is done,” said North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, in a statement released after Sisolak announced the Thursday news conference. “President Biden and his buddy Steve Sisolak put our families and businesses through torture and torment with hyper-political COVID closures and lockdowns. Them spiking the football on ending mandates is like burning someone’s house down, then taking credit for calling the fire department once you’re left with a pile of ashes. They didn’t follow the science.”

Related: Mask mandate not being enforced in Southern Nevada

Added Lee: “Making matters worse, Steve Sisolak followed President Biden’s advice on mandates. Should we trust anyone that takes Joe Biden’s advice on anything? Nevada families and our economy paid the price for Governor Sisolak’s terrible judgment.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo also renewed calls to lift the mask mandate in his own statement, also sent after the governor announced his news conference.

“Unlike Steve Sisolak, I trust Nevadans to be responsible and to make the best health decisions for themselves,” Lombardo said. “Even Gavin Newsom ended California’s mask mandate before Sisolak ended ours here in Nevada. When I’m in Carson City, I’ll never let Nevada trail behind California again. As governor, I’ll ensure that Nevada is a consistent leader in implementing good policy for the betterment of our children, families, businesses, and safety, instead of just following the policies of other states. It’s time to finally end Sisolak’s overreaching mask mandate and to let Nevadans do what’s best for Nevadans.”

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mary Hynes contributed to this story.

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