Governor Sisolak Announces COVID Updates, Plan for County-Specific Guidelines to Address Pandemic Moving Forward

Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at a press conference at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Pool) @rookie__rae

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced a revised, county-centered approach for COVID-19 mitigation efforts in a press conference late Monday afternoon. 

“[There will be] no more phases,” Sisolak said. “In an effort to create more predictability as a state, we want to move away from phases. While phases made sense at the time, we’ve got to be flexible and responsive to what we’re seeing now. This new approach will set Nevada up for the long-term.”

According to Sisolak, the new county-centered approach is a necessary step now that more has been learned in the past five months about COVID-19 and how it spreads. Over the past two weeks, new criteria was established to analyze elevated risk of transmission in counties across Nevada. The three key statistics that made up the new criteria includes the average number of tests per day, the case rate, and the test positivity rate. 

“We looked at these figures over a two-week period and controlled and adjusted the criteria for population size,” Sisolak said. “Seven counties at the time that met two or more of the criteria were considered at-risk and needed to take the additional mitigation efforts of closing bars, pubs, taverns, and wineries to slow the spread of COVID-19. Based on our two-week review of the data, the list has shrunken to four counties: Clark, Elko, Nye and Washoe.”

Sisolak stated those four named counties will remain under mitigation measures for at least the next week, when the county statistics will be re-evaluated. The additional counties of Humboldt, Lander and Lyon showed enough improvement during the two-week analysis to resume statewide standards of 50 percent capacity at reopened pubs, bars and taverns with social distancing and mandatory face covering protocols, effective immediately. 

The county statistics and criteria that were being analyzed showed a tendency to fluctuate on a daily basis. Therefore, Sisolak aims to create a long-term system of mitigation levels to allow businesses and residents to have advanced notice and understanding of which direction their county could be going, based on the updated criteria.

“The Nevada Health Response Team is working to finalize a long-term mitigation strategy for the state of Nevada and I’ll be rolling that out for you next Monday,” Sisolak said. “This plan will help us achieve two important goals. Number one: as trends both good and bad will be announced regularly, the resulting actions will be clear. Number two: invest all of us in this fight together. Those who want to keep our restaurants, gyms and other activities open can do their part to make this happen. Those that don’t will be the ones responsible for further restrictions that are put in place.” 

Achieving these two goals of greater clarity and a unified statewide mitigation effort, Sisolak cited a few key components. The first key component is increased enforcement of mitigation protocols.

“Ensuring businesses and communities enforce our mitigation efforts are key in helping reduce the spread, which is why our long-term strategy will have a goal of stricter enforcement of our safety rules,” Sisolak said. “This will include measures that aim to ensure that business establishments who serve unmasked patrons may be closed if there is a pattern of non-compliance. A non-compliant [establishment] could have part or all of their property closed for a period of time.”

A second key component moving forward is continuously updating criteria used for data analysis.

“One of the goals includes working with the [Department of Health and Human Services] to develop more in-depth, data-driven criteria to better identify the presence and spread of the disease throughout our state,” Sisolak said. “We’re looking to adjust our current criteria so that it more closely follows overall trends, minimizes the week-to-week or day-to-day fluctuation for counties and better demonstrates which counties are getting progressively better or worse and therefore, which [counties] should tighten up or loosen mitigation efforts, predictably.”

Another, third key component includes more specific targeting in the state’s mitigation efforts. After moving from a statewide approach of data analysis and intervention toward a county-level approach, Sisolak hopes to go further by soon targeting specific municipalities or zip codes. This way, future widespread lockdowns that are detrimental to the local economy can be avoided. 

“With the economic sectors within our state, we want to transition to targeting specific businesses that may be experiencing outbreaks versus industries as a whole, unless those industries that are as a whole are posing an incredibly high risk of spread,” Sisolak said. “I believe that most of our businesses and communities have made great efforts to be as safe as they can, and targeting problematic areas will help protect the good actors.”

By now, five months into the pandemic, Sisolak expects that businesses should understand the importance of enforcing the state’s mitigation protocols.

“To put it bluntly, the time for education is over,” Sisolak said. “Businesses, Nevadans and visitors should all be familiar with the expectations of reduced indoor capacity, required face coverings and social distancing. If people aren’t following the rules to keep us safe, there needs to be consequences.”

The press conference did include a positive note, however, in that Nevada’s Effective Reproduction Rate or Rt has declined in the past month. On June 4, Nevada’s Rwas 1.39, one of the highest effective rates in the nation.

“Today, Nevada’s effective level dipped under 1.0, just slightly to a number of .98, which is a good sign,” Sisolak said. “This measures the average number of people who become infected by a person who has COVID-19. When the Rt effective level is under one, it means the virus is not spreading as much.”

Although the decline in Rt effective level shows signs of promise for the state of Nevada, Sisolak still voiced caution going forward.

“While these are encouraging signs, it is too soon to know if the state is experiencing an ongoing trend or if our recent numbers are just a small blip,” Sisolak said. “Either way, the reality of the current situation is that Nevada still has a high prevalence of COVID-19.”

Consequently, Sisolak will be signing a new directive before July 31 that will extend COVID-related restrictions and provisions that are currently in place.