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EDITORIAL: Give Nevada’s rural counties more lockdown discretion

Nevada is a vast and wide-open state, with the great majority of its 3.1 million residents living in the Las Vegas and Reno areas. It’s no surprise then, that Clark and Washoe counties — home to Las Vegas and Reno, respectively — have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus cases and deaths in terms of sheer numbers. Add to that list Humboldt County — population 17,000, in the northwest part of the state — as its per capita case and death rates exceed those endured in the state’s urban centers.

Over the past three weeks, however, the coronavirus has gradually subsided even in Nevada’s harder hit regions. Meanwhile, the virus never gained a foothold in most of the state’s 17 counties, at least eight of which have yet to see a single resident succumb to the respiratory disease. Which leads us to the obvious question: As Gov. Steve Sisolak ponders how to implement Phase Two of his reopening plan, why are residents of rural Nevada still subjected to the same restrictions imposed in the state’s population centers?

During a briefing early this month, the governor implied he would allow county officials to tailor reopening plans to suit the unique circumstances of their own regions. What he actually meant, however, was that counties could stray from gubernatorial edicts only if they imposed even stricter restrictions on economic activity and social gatherings. This effectively means that folks in places such as Austin, Ely, Tonopah and Winnemucca continue to fall under the same virus mandates as those in Las Vegas. This doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Gov. Sisolak previously expressed concern that allowing sparsely populated areas to ease lockdowns earlier than others may hasten the spread of the coronavirus by luring stir-crazy urbanites to the Nevada outback. But that fear seems more like a flimsy justification for the status quo.

In truth, Gov. Sisolak would be following the lead of other Democratic governors if he sanctioned rural counties moving at a faster pace. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the OK for communities in the western part of his state — including Buffalo — to ease lockdowns more aggressively than New York City and surrounding environs. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced this week that bars and restaurants in northern state counties — including the entire upper peninsula — may again serve customers in-house beginning Friday. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also given the go-ahead for several northern Golden State counties to move forward before those in Los Angeles or the Bay Area.

Gov. Sisolak this week is expected to offer more details on further easing the lockdown that has devastated the state’s economy. He should take that opportunity to also give rural county and city leaders more freedom to move forward at their own discretion.

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