Reno closes all bars, nightclubs, gyms and restaurants, but “nonessential business” definition hazy

Photo: The Sierra Nevada Ally

Updated 9:21, March 16 – As a follow up to the City of Reno’s emergency declaration on Friday, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve is ordering temporary mandatory closures of bars, nightclubs, gyms and restaurants (except takeout/delivery/drive through and pick up services) in the city until April 5 unless extended. Schieve made the announcement during a press conference held earlier today at Reno City Hall.

The mayor said the closure also affects the University of Nevada Reno campus, but UNR president Marc Johnson promptly sent an email to faculty, students and staff to say the campus would remain open.

“It is important to note that contrary to earlier erroneous statements today from the City of Reno regarding upcoming planned closures for nonessential businesses that included our campus, the campus does remain open on alternative operations that are designed to diminish the potential for spread and severity of coronavirus,” Johnson wrote.

In a statement following the press conference, the City said those businesses should begin the process of winding down operations starting tomorrow, with the goal of closing by Friday, March 20 at 5 p.m.

“One of the reasons I wanted to call this press conference is because I have had a lot of questions about the business community, certainly the restaurants and the bars. And one of the things I want you to know, we were going to let you know that we were requesting that you stop all business for two to three weeks, however, we just got information and that Washoe County Health Department is asking that we stop all nonessential business. And so we want everyone to get ready,” Schieve said. “Not to panic, but prepare. We think that this is the appropriate measure considering the the circumstances.”

Washoe County issued a release soon after the press conference to contradict the mayor’s statement.

“The Washoe County Health District and the City of Sparks seek to clarify a recent statement by the City of Reno regarding a mandatory order to close bars, nightclubs, gyms and restaurants (not including takeout/delivery/drive through or pickup services) through April 5.

At this time, the Washoe County Health District has no mandate to close any establishments in Washoe County. The Health District supports business closures and cancellation of large public events to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19, but it is not mandatory at this time.

Additionally, the jurisdictions of Washoe County and the City of Sparks have not made a decision to close any businesses at this time due to COVID-19.”

Adding to confusion, the line between an essential and nonessential business is hazy. When asked, the mayor’s answer was vague.

“So that would be bars, restaurants, gyms, non essential businesses. What’s essential is our food, gas, doctors, offices, pharmacies, those types of businesses that are essential, right, so you’ll still get your mail, you’ll still be able to go and get gas in your car. We know we have a lot of caregivers out there that need and we, we really want you to limit that interaction as well.”

In a release following the press conference, the mayor qualified her remarks.

“I know there was some confusion around the announcement, so I just want to clarify that these are businesses where groups of people tend to congregate,” Schieve said. “Let me also clarify that all businesses are essential. I am simply trying to limit areas of high-exposure risk.”

Casino gaming is still allowed to operate following the directions of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, but casino dining areas in restaurants and bars should be closed. Room service is allowed for guests within properties.

Under the City’s emergency declaration, the mayor, the assistant mayor, the city council, or city manager may:

(1) Establish a curfew for the area designated as an emergency area which fixes the hours during which persons other than officially authorized personnel may be upon the public streets or other public places.

(2) Prohibit or limit the number of persons who may gather or congregate upon any public street, public place or any outdoor place within the area designated as an emergency area.

(3) Barricade streets and roads, as well as access points onto streets and roads, and prohibit or restrict vehicular or pedestrian traffic in the area.

(4) Prohibit the sale, distribution or giving away of gasoline or any other flammable or combustible product in any container except a gasoline tank properly affixed to a motor vehicle, or a type of container generally used in connection with normal use or legitimate commercial use.

(5) Order the closing of all or portions of gasoline stations and other establishments which sell, distribute or dispose of flammable liquids or combustible products.

(6) Order the closing of retail intoxicating liquor stores.

(7) Prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor.

(8) Prohibit the sale, distribution or giving away of firearms or ammunition.

(9) Order the closing of any or all establishments or portions thereof which sell, distribute, dispense or give away firearms, ammunition or explosives.

(10) Enter into contracts and incur obligations necessary to mitigate, prepare for, respond to or recover from emergencies or disasters.

(11) Redirect funds for emergency use.

(12) Suspend standard procurement procedures to obtain necessary services or equipment.

(13) Commit to mutual aid agreements.

(14) Perform and exercise such other functions, powers and duties as are necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.

During today’s press conference, when asked about the enforcement of business closures, Reno police chief Jason Soto was equivocal.

“We’re still working through some of the specifics in terms of notifying all these businesses. That’s part of what this informational interviews about today in terms of getting all that information. I know that as the police chief, I have certain capacities when we’ve declared an emergency, which both the governor and the mayor have. I certainly have additional authority in terms of businesses and whether or not they’re operating in a safe or unsafe manner, and we’ll continue to monitor that. But we understand the the economic impact and just the impact in general that it has on these businesses. So we’re not, I certainly don’t want to go in heavy handed, and we understand that this is a very, very trying time.
I certainly have additional authority in terms of businesses and whether or not they’re operating in a safe or unsafe manner. And we’ll continue to monitor that but we understand the the economic impact of operating in a safe or unsafe manner, and we’ll continue to monitor that.”

According to the city, these business restrictions are based on the federal and state government’s guidance and recommendations on social distancing and other effective ways to address the spread of COVID-19.

Mayor Shieve said the decision to close all nonessential businesses was not easy.

“We’ve been in contact with many of them, many business owners, many, many restaurant owners, casinos. You know, obviously 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 to have said, ‘we support you. We want to be good neighbors. We want to be good to the community. We live here. We love it here.’ I’ve just I got to tell you I’ve been so impressed with the amount of compassion and kindness. Everyone really is coming together but it’s not easy. This is really really tough.”