This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. - image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana

Today, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced that the first shipment of novel coronavirus vaccine will arrive Monday, but due to a continued spike in active cases of COVID-19, the restrictions on public and private gatherings implemented on November 22 will remain in effect until January 15 of next year. 

Under the restrictions, restaurants, bars, gaming operations, gyms, fitness facilities and other businesses and activities are be limited to 25 percent of applicable fire code capacity.  Retail stores – including grocery stores – will remain at 50 percent of capacity, with strict social distancing and additional monitoring requirements. 

Additionally, public gatherings will be limited to less than 50 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is less. No large events will be approved during this time frame.

Private gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people from no more than two separate households, and the state’s face covering requirement will be extended to private gatherings.

Under these restrictions, Nevadans must wear face coverings at all times, whether indoors or outdoors, when around individuals from outside their households. 

In today’s press conference, Governor Sisolak cited a recent study regarding the efficacy of wearing masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“At the University of Washington, they estimated that as of November 30th, 74 percent of Nevadans always wear a mask when leaving their home. More importantly, the report noted that if we got that number to 95 percent compliance, we could potentially save 1000 lives by April 1,” Sisolak said through a mask via Zoom.

Sisolak hopes with the extension of this “pause,” a vaccine on the horizon, and a new evictions moratorium, the virus will be quelled by the time a vaccine is widely available to the public later this spring. 

According to the Governor, officials will continue to monitor and evaluate the current situation to determine whether different actions need to be taken. If officials and experts agree that Nevada’s trends are going beyond the state’s ability to respond, the Governor said he will have no choice but to implement new measures.  

The Governor announced a new eviction moratorium, intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will be in place until March 31.

“Tomorrow, I will sign a directive that will place a moratorium on most residential evictions in Nevada, with the effective date and time of 12:01a.m. on December 15th,” Sisolak said earlier today. “I originally put a residential eviction moratorium in place in the early stages of the pandemic, in conjunction with the stay at home order. 

“Keeping Nevadans in their homes to slow COVID-19 was safer than than making emergency housing or shelter arrangements, which increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 for them. That still remains true today. 

“We transitioned out of the moratorium as numbers improved and the tenant assistance programs came online. However, as we are now in the depths of our most significant and dangerous surge of this crisis and with an impending deadline to be able to use federal assistance for tenants, I must reinstate a moratorium to ensure Nevadans can stay in their homes during this critical phase of the pandemic.

“When people are evicted, it is impossible to stay home. They are out looking for jobs and housing to desperately save their families. They will spread COVID-19 unintentionally because they have no options. The CDC and state public health officials have expressed concern over families and individuals that are being evicted. In fact, my COVID-19 Medical Advisory Team has formally recommended reinstatement of an eviction moratorium to reduce increased community transmission that is caused by displacement and homelessness in Nevada.”

The governor recalled the fact that Nevada lost a quarter million jobs in the span of three months earlier this year. Sisolak said that the state loses some $52 million dollars a month in revenue with casinos closed, so he needs to walk a tightrope that balances public health and the need for people to be able to feed and house themselves. The Governor attempted to reassure landlords.

“As I have been clear from the start, this moratorium does not, repeat, it does not relieve renters from their obligation to pay rent to their landlords. The state has already created and provided lease addendums where landlords and tenants can work on repayment solutions together. 

“The moratorium will apply to all tenants unable to pay rent and will extend through March 31. We will not prohibit certain evictions, including, for example, lease breaches or things like unlawful activity or nuisance. 

“We also have rental assistance programs up and running throughout the state, so renters can have some of their outstanding rent for 2020 paid. However, these programs are supported with federal assistance dollars that currently expire at the end of December. That’s this month. And we need to ensure that there are protections for tenants going forward.” 

Sisolak acknowledged that he has already asked a lot from landlords, but he requested their help once again. The Governor said that the prospect of already taxed homeless shelters becoming swamped with homeless families was a scenario the state must avoid.

“I recognize that this extension will be economically hard on some of our landlords. I know I’ve asked landlords to sacrifice during this pandemic. I’m asking you to again do more for a few months so that we can push through what I hope is the last surge of this virus. I will do everything I can do to continue to push for economic assistance for impacted landlords. This is one of dozens of areas of economic assistance that we are hopeful that the federal government will help provide.”

The Governor was blunt when describing the need for more federal assistance. He said the funding is needed to “bridge” to a time when a vaccine will be widely available and the economy can be more widely open. 

A relief package has been stalled in the US Senate for months. Governor Sisolak spoke directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“And if Senator McConnell doesn’t think people need assistance, he has an open invitation from me to come to Nevada anytime, to walk through the halls of our hospital COVID units, visit homeless shelters that are full of families that had a home just a month ago. When he opposes money for state and local governments, he opposes money for food, for unemployment, for health care. Washington DC needs some guidance on how to reach a compromise.”

When asked if he has been in contact with the incoming Biden Administration, Governor Sisolak said yes but that there are some five weeks remaining in the Trump presidency and relief is needed now.

Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his work between now and the end of the month, and NewsMatch will match your one-time or ongoing contribution.