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Sisolak says face coverings required starting Friday

Updated June 24, 2020 - 8:25 pm

CARSON CITY — With COVID-19 infections surging in the state and widespread public disregard for guidance on the use of face coverings, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday made Nevada the 17th state to require people to wear masks in nearly all public spaces to help contain the spread of the disease.

The governor’s directive, effective at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, applies in all indoor public spaces and in outdoor spaces where people might congregate and where social distancing of at least 6 feet is not possible.

It contains exemptions, such as for children under 10, those with medical conditions or disabilities and people eating and drinking at restaurants and bars, but also requires businesses to institute a “no mask, no service” policy.

“I don’t know why or when protecting our health and our neighbors’ lives became a political, partisan or even philosophical decision. For me it’s none of those,” the governor said in a late afternoon news conference. “It’s a medical necessity, a human obligation, and it’s good for business.”

The governor has consistently urged mask use in public since the earliest days of the outbreak, which claimed its first Nevada victim on March 15. Since then nearly 500 more people have died, with total confirmed cases to date numbering more than 14,000.

“This order is a mandate for folks to wear masks,” the governor said. “The mandate is put on individuals and on businesses. We’re hoping that they will understand the severity of the situation and voluntarily wear masks. It works. I mean every responsible medical professional will tell you a mask helps reduce the spread of an infectious disease. Anyone who’s denying that is just denying reality.”

Bill M. Welch, president and CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association, agreed: “Wearing face coverings will help limit the spread of the disease and ensure that our state’s hospitals can meet the needs of those who need medical care,” he said in a statement.

Staying in Phase Two

Sisolak last week asked his team of medical advisers to review an “enhanced” policy on masks as the state set a daily record for new cases. That record was exceeded Tuesday. The governor moved the state to Phase Two in its reopening plan on May 29 but announced June 15 that the state would hold there, as key infection metrics began to rise. He reiterated Wednesday that the state would remain in the phase.

“Any discussion of entering Phase Three will be tabled,” Sisolak said.

The last nine days have seen the state’s six highest daily case increases, with another record of 462 set on Tuesday, per the state’s coronavirus response website. Within the same period, the cumulative rate of positive results to overall tests has climbed from 5.2 percent to 5.7 percent, and the seven-day rolling average from 4 percent to 10.7 percent. The number of confirmed hospitalizations, 265, is the highest since May 13.

The directive makes exceptions for people while eating or drinking in restaurants or bars. Also exempt are people outdoors hiking, running, walking or swimming, provided they socially distance.

Those with a disability or medical condition that makes breathing difficult or who are otherwise unable to wear a face covering, the hearing impaired, children younger than 10, and people who are homeless are also exempt under the directive, although children between 2 and 9 are encouraged to wear them while in public.

‘It’s in their best interest’

As for potential enforcement, those who disobey the directive could be cited by authorities or face a civil penalty.

“I would hope that we would not get to that point where I have police officers walk around with a ticket book for people,” Sisolak said. “That’s not what the intent of this is, and you’re always going to get people who are going to say what about this one person’s not wearing a mask. I want to get to the 95 percent of the people that understand it’s in their best interest.”

The governor’s move comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory face mask order last week for residents when out in public indoors. Only four states — Iowa, Montana, South Dakota and Wisconsin — have no mask requirements at all. Until Wednesday, Nevada was one of eight states that required mask use for business employees. Twenty-one states have mask requirements in parts of the state or for some employees, according to a tracking website.

Sisolak said it was “discouraging that this has become a partisan issue about whether or not people want to wear a mask. This isn’t about partisanship; it’s not who you’re going to vote for for president. It’s not about your rights … this is about protecting the health and well-being of everybody that you come in contact with. That’s what we’re talking about.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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