Updated April 30, 2020 - 7:28 pm
CARSON CITY — Nevada’s roadmap to a “new normal” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will start by mid-May as the state sees continued declines in new cases and hospitalizations and reaches benchmarks for expanded testing and contact tracing, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday.
The start of the recovery will see social distancing measures stay in place to guide the day-to-day lives of Nevadans, with businesses including casinos remaining closed, along with other venues where crowds may congregate.
But Nevada will follow a “state managed, locally-executed roadmap” that flexibly accounts for vast differences between the state’s urban and rural areas and allows for local decision-making and control, the governor said.
State support and oversight will continue, “but responsible county governments, with knowledge of their unique communities and their existing local licensing and regulatory structure, are in the best position to execute the gradual reopening of the businesses and public life of their local residents,” the governor said at a briefing in the old Assembly chambers in the state Capitol.
Sisolak did not commit to a firm date but said the focus “will be on meeting the criteria and moving into Phase 1 on or before May 15.” He went on to lay out what that phase will look like, calling it Nevada’s “Battle Born Beginning” and suggesting it could last a minimum of two to three weeks.
‘The threat remains real’
With no vaccine available, the governor said he had “the unfortunate responsibility to remind all of us that the threat remains real.” Nevada’s COVID-19 cases and deaths were held down significantly “due to the implementation of strong social distancing measures,” he added. Those distancing guidelines, which the governor extended Wednesday to May 15, will remain in effect.
“As Nevada gradually opens businesses and public life, and people who have been sheltering for weeks increase their interaction, it is absolutely essential for all of us to continue following the social distancing measures in place,” Sisolak said. “The virus remains among us, and people infected with the virus will spread it to others when strong social distancing measures are not in use.”
Phase 1, the governor said, will include the following:
■ Public gatherings of more than 10 people will continue to be prohibited. But some outdoor spaces and small businesses will reopen “under extremely aggressive social distancing measures.”
“In other words, nonessential businesses, with some exceptions, may voluntarily reopen under restrictions,” he said.
■ Stand-alone retail stores will be allowed to reopen, but employees and customers will have to wear face coverings, and curbside pickup or home delivery will be preferred. The governor said the state was considering the “gradual reopening” of restaurants and personal care businesses such as barber shops and salons, but with strict, yet-to-be-determined guidelines.
■ Bars, nightclubs, malls, large sporting events, large in-person places of worship and concert venues will remain closed, in addition to casinos. The governor said decisions about reopening gaming establishments will be determined by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
“Here’s what I can tell you today: Gaming will not be opening at the start of Phase 1,” he said.
‘Up in the air’
One business owner said the governor’s comments haven’t cleared things up.
James Reza, who owns Globe Salon with his wife, Staci Linklater, figures they can sell hair products curbside based on Sisolak’s comments Thursday evening. However, “that doesn’t mean we’re taking appointments,” which comprise the vast majority of Globe’s revenue.
Overall he feels “very frustrated,” adding Sisolak was asked more than once during the news conference about gyms and other businesses opening up, but Reza felt like the governor “kept punting” the question to counties and regulatory bodies.
“It still kind of leaves it up in the air for us,” he said.
Magnolia Magat, owner of Truffles N Bacon Cafe, said she’s prepared to reopen by May 15. And while the governor didn’t lay out the strict guidelines, she said she expects one of them to be social distancing.
“We’ve already planned for it,” Magat said. “Right now our capacity is 91, and we have 28 tables. We’re bringing it down to just 12 tables. That’s almost every other table, and we’ve taken steps to plat out which tables are going to be within the social distancing guidelines.”
She said she normally gets a lot of groups, but that in the new plan the largest table will seat six, so a party of 15, for example, would be split between two tables.
And while she hasn’t taken reservations, she plans to start doing so and will arrange them in time slots. “People won’t have to wait outside,” she said. “They’ll know when to come in. And then they’ll know when to leave.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman — one of Sisolak’s biggest critics — said the governor’s plan is not concrete enough, and she complained that cities were left out.
“At this point, you’ve got to stay with those two pieces, because … there’s so many innuendos here,” Goodman said. “What did he mean? What I got out of it is, we’re at ground zero and he’s looking at level one, and that ‘could’ mean X.”
She reiterated that private businesses should be in charge of how to reopen safely, but she pointed to how Sisolak is relying elsewhere for guidance.
The governor said it “would be a disservice” to residents and businesses “to pretend like Esmerelda County is the same as Nye County or that Clark is the same as Elko.” He announced the formation of a Local Empowerment Advisory Panel, or “LEAP,” which will “serve as a resource for counties as they work through the necessary requirements to reopen and share best practices and guidelines for local communities.”
Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick will represent urban counties, and Eureka County Commission Chair J.J. Goicoechea will represent rural counties. The panel will also include representatives from the Nevada Association of Counties and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, along with the director of the Nevada Department of Business of Industry.
If a major new outbreak or cluster occurs, the state will quickly respond and might roll back some reopening steps. However, Sisolak stressed that the panel doesn’t mean counties will open at different times.
“All counties will open in Phase 1 at the same time,” he said.
Watching data closely
He did not address subsequent phases of the recovery in detail. Phase 2 will be called the Silver State Stabilization phase and will see continued relaxing of restrictions if health metrics warrant.
“The next 15 days will be our active transition to a safe and methodical reopening of our economy,” the governor said. “We will be watching the data closely, and may have to determine in real time whether it’s safe enough to expand or reduce the pace of this reopening.”
He acknowledged that “many of you have suffered significant economic harm from the stay-at-home orders, and I hope you know I fully understand the impact of the tough decisions I have made to keep our state safe.”
Nevadans, he added, have “a long road ahead with still many great challenges to face, difficulties to overcome, and many friends and neighbors will need our help.”
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at email@example.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Shea Johnson, Eli Segall and Heidi Knapp Rinella contributed to this report.