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VICTOR JOECKS: Here’s how to reopen Nevada safely and end the coronavirus quarantine

Updated April 28, 2020 - 11:51 pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak has yet to articulate a plan to free Nevada from its coronavirus lockdown. The only guidance Sisolak has given is that the lockdown will continue until there’s a 14-day decline in a measurement he won’t define or release.

That’s not good enough. More than 340,000 Nevadans are newly unemployed. Sisolak’s official quarantine order ends Thursday night, although his recent comments imply he’ll extend it. Nevadans need leadership from Sisolak, not someone looking for his next CNN interview. But because Sisolak has yet to release a plan, I will. Here’s how to reopen Nevada safely.

Before diving into the policy details, Sisolak needs to be honest with Nevadans about the goal of the lockdown. “Flattening the curve” was about keeping the virus from overwhelming Nevada’s hospitals. Nevadans did it. Hospitals have had open beds and extra ventilators for weeks.

When the lockdown ends — unless there’s a vaccine — there’s going to be an increase in coronavirus cases. That’s going to happen whether restrictions are eased on Thursday or Sept. 30. It’s even more inevitable here because Las Vegas draws tourists from throughout the country and world.

Nevada can’t stop a second wave of infections, but we can limit the damage by protecting the most vulnerable. The vast majority of people who die from coronavirus are elderly or have pre-existing conditions. New York City has had the worst outbreak in the country. Among those 75 and older, its death rate is 1,055 per 100,000. The fatality rate among 18-44 year olds is 14 per 100,000 people.

As of late Tuesday, New York City has had 11,800 deaths from coronavirus. There have been 10 deaths among people aged 18-44 without an underlying condition. Just 54 people aged 45-64 without an underlying condition have died. Those numbers could be a bit higher because sometimes a victim’s medical history is unknown or incomplete.

Once you lay out the data, the plan presents itself. Lift restrictions on the lowest-risk activities, including drive-up church services and golf. Allow small- to medium-sized businesses to reopen if they take precautions and adhere to social distancing guidelines. Reopen indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Open up state parks and encourage outdoor activities.

Continue urging the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions to stay home. Nevada’s reopening is going to increase coronavirus cases. Remember: That’s inevitable whenever the lockdown ends. Make sure to protect the people — those older than 65 and with underlying health conditions — who are most vulnerable.

Monitor the situation for two weeks. If the hospitals continue to have capacity, allow hotels and casinos to reopen while limiting the number of people in close contact. Strip casinos are already laying out their plans to do this. Expand indoor dining at restaurants to 50 percent capacity. Allow in-person church services if social distancing can be maintained.

It may take another month or more to fully open casinos, hotels and large-event venues. That’s understandable.

Many other states, including Colorado, which has a Democratic governor, have plans similar to this. Sisolak should join them.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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