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EDITORIAL: Gov. Steve Sisolak remains vague on when state will end shutdown

Updated April 21, 2020 - 10:16 pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak said Tuesday that he’s not yet ready to “take off the parachute” and gradually reopen the state despite hopeful signs that the coronavirus crisis has subsided.

The governor’s cautious approach will feed the festering frustration that boiled up during protests last weekend over the lockdown, now entering its sixth week. His lack of a specific timeline — any timeline — was also a disappointment.

The governor acknowledged the extent of the economic devastation, but he argued that a gradual loosening of business closures and other restrictions at this point carried too big a risk in terms of triggering a second wave of infections. “Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of Nevadans,” Gov. Sisolak said.

The governor listed a handful of criteria that his experts have determined the state must satisfy in order to enter Phase 1 of the Trump administration’s guidelines. They include evidence of a “sustainable downward trajectory” of new infections and hospitalizations and assurances that the state’s health care system could adequately respond to a spike in new cases. Additional testing and “contact tracing” of infected patients are also involved.

Fair enough. But the governor remained vague about when Nevadans could expect the state to move on to the next phase, saying only that it is “on the horizon.”

The lack of specifics seemed odd given the relatively optimistic picture his health experts painted. A representative of the Nevada Hospital Association cited positive trends over the past three weeks and said the state has “plenty of capacity to handle anything at this point.” The governor’s public health experts noted that Nevada’s testing capacity has “increased tremendously” and said the state appears to have reached its coronavirus plateau.

Despite this progress, Gov. Sisolak has made a determination that the risks of gradually reopening too early outweigh the economic and emotional toll that escalates each day of the shutdown. Yet the shutdown’s primary objective was to limit the initial strain on the hospital system — and that has been accomplished. Absent a vaccine, any reopening of the economy — ever — will result in more infections. What’s the tipping point? Gov. Sisolak didn’t say.

Ultimately, a return to a pre-coronavirus environment will require the cooperation of individual Nevadans. It’s human nature that tolerance for the lockdowns will wane over time, but even when policymakers allow businesses to unshutter and workers to return to the job, consumer comfort will be the ultimate arbiter.

Gov. Sisolak left no doubt that his stay-at-home recommendation will be extended beyond May 1. While he has finally offered details on his plan to rouse the state from its self-induced coma, he now owes it to Nevadans to keep them apprised regularly — even daily — on the state’s progress toward reaching the day that everyone so eagerly awaits.

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