RENO — The city of Reno will order all bars, restaurants, gyms and other “nonessential” businesses to begin winding down operations starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday with the goal of shuttering them by Friday and keeping them closed through April 5, the mayor announced Monday.
It is the strongest action yet taken by a local government in Nevada to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other businesses considered essential will stay open, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said Monday at a news conference. She initially said non-essential businesses should all close Tuesday but later issued a clarifying statement providing a more gradual shutdown. Restaurants that serve takeout food could remain open, she said.
Schieve said she was acting on the recommendation of Washoe County health officials. But the Washoe County Health District said Monday night the county had made no such call.
“At this time, the Washoe County Health District has no mandate to close any establishments in Washoe County,” the health agency said in a statement. “The Health District supports business closures and cancelation of large public events to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19, but it is not mandatory at this time.”
Neither the county as a whole nor the city of Sparks have made any decision about closing businesses, the advisory said.
In her afternoon announcemment, Schieve initially said all casino and resort operations should be suspended. She later clarified that casinos and hotels could remain open but shut down their dining areas. She said the operators should follow recommendations of the state Gaming Board as far as their gambling operations.
‘A critical time for us’
The goal of the closures, Schieve said, is to get people to stay home to contain the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. The number of Nevada cases rose to 45 Monday after health officials reported 19 new positive cases in Clark County as well as the state’s first coronavirus-related death. The Reno area currently has nine cases, with another reported in Carson City.
“I felt like we needed to be as aggressive as we possibly can,” Schieve said. “This is a critical time for us. That I cannot stress enough. Again, lives are at stake. Those numbers are going to jump considerably if we don’t act now.”
The city had been preparing to ask businesses to close voluntarily but moved for mandatory closures based on the recommendations of Washoe County health officials that she received just as her briefing began. She did not say how long the mandatory closures would last, saying her voluntary recommendation would have been for two to three weeks.
“As I got up to the podium, I received a text from Washoe County Health Department, saying we need to make it mandatory,” she said, later adding: “We think that this is the appropriate measure considering the circumstances. And if this is what we have to do to protect this community from this virus, this is what we absolutely need to do.”
The mayor acknowledged the hardships businesses would face because of the closures and noted that many businesses would not be able to pay their employees during the shutdown.
Impact on small businesses feared
“Many, many small businesses cannot,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but I think you’re going to see a lot of businesses that can’t afford to do that, and that’s what makes this situation so incredibly difficult.”
Schieve said she had spoken to casino and resort owners and had their support.
“No one wants to do this. We don’t want to do this but for the good of the community and for saving lives, everyone that I’ve spoken with has said, we support you,” she said.
Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was not contacted before the announcement Monday but added that businesses “respect (Mayor Schieve’s) concern for the health and well-being of Reno residents.”
Still, she said the announcement left unanswered questions, such as what qualifies as an essential business, whether employees of closed businesses could file for unemployment, and what penalties business owners might face if they continue to operate.
“I respect the safety aspect of this decision, but it’s the death-knell for small, local businesses that are looking to the community for financial support during this difficult time,” Silver said.
The mayor said the city would also seek to halt all evictions in the city for nonpayment of rent. The city also will suspend enforcement of limitations on truck deliveries for transporting goods and services for retail outlets.
“This will obviously allow us to have food and supplies to reach stores and facilities much more easily. We think that that’s really critical,” she said.
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