Gov. Steve Sisolak’s refusal to set a timeline for reopening businesses and loosening social distancing restrictions in Nevada has left many people with more questions than answers.
Not least among them are Nevada Republicans, who in the days leading up to Sisolak’s Tuesday announcement had been becoming increasingly vocal in their criticisms of how the Democratic governor has handled the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Nevada Republican Party on Sunday launched prominent advertisements in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Gazette Journal criticizing Sisolak. The following day, the Assembly Republican Caucus released a “framework to open Nevada” calling to immediately establish a curbside pickup model that would allow non-essential businesses to reopen, to establish a bipartisan advisory taskforce, and to join the Western States Pact with California, Oregon and Washington.
On Tuesday, Sisolak unveiled the criteria that will be used to determine when Nevada has reached “phase one” of his reopening plan. The governor did not provide a complete list of what would be included in phase one reopenings, though he did say bars and visitors to senior living centers would not be included.
Sisolak repeatedly emphasized Tuesday that the criteria for reopening are not only in accordance with his own medical team’s recommendations, but also mirror guidance issued by the White House last week.
“My personal thoughts are that the governor’s plan lacked substance,” said Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus. “A four-phase plan was introduced with no definitive start date and no specifics on what businesses/industries are involved in any of the phases.”
Roberts added he was pleased Sisolak announced that schools would not be reopening their physical buildings this academic year: “It is just too bad we cannot have decisive actions and clarity for the rest of his plan.”
Over the weekend, hundreds of Nevadans broke social distancing orders and held protests outside government buildings in Las Vegas and Carson City.
At least one elected official — Assemblyman Jim Wheeler — was physically in attendance, according to news reports.
“God bless ‘em,” said Assemblyman Chris Edwards of the protestors. “We need more of them. (The governor’s office) is not listening to people who are sensible enough to know what to do, so the people are going to have their say.”
Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer was more measured in his reaction.
“I wish they’d worn masks and maintained better social distancing,” he said, “but the right to protest is part of our Constitution.”
Settelmeyer added the protests stemmed from a desire for information and guidance that the governor’s office hasn’t provided.
Assemblyman Tom Roberts agreed.
“You have to have some kind of plan to give folk, some hope that we won’t stay hunkered down forever, a timeline,” he said. “You need to do things gradually but we can’t continue the same course. It’s unreasonable to ask the citizens and business to continue like this. We need to ease up on some things. We can do it safely and maybe save some businesses and jobs and maybe bring in some revenue to the state coffers.”
As proof, Roberts points to the safety measures that have been implemented at grocery stores since mid-March when they were deemed essential businesses and left open while other businesses were forced to shutter. Many grocery stores have adjusted hours, reduced occupancy levels and changed the checkout process in an effort to better protect employees and customers.
“There are best practices out there. You’ve seen innovation. I believe we can take that template to other businesses as well. Try to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Assembly Minority Republican Leader Dr. Robin Titus agrees that some businesses should be allowed to reopen. She also believes some businesses should never have been forced to close.
“I am trying to be supportive and a team player,” she said regarding the shutdowns, “but what I’ve seen happening is kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis, as opposed to a thoughtful, planned reaction.”
Titus represents rural parts of Churchill and Lyon counties. She says it “makes no sense” that the local bar in her community had to shut down while a marijuana dispensary in an urban area is able to stay open. She says her hairstylist could have safely stayed open with proper safety precautions.
Titus believes families should be able to decide what safety measures and what level of risk they are comfortable with.
“Nobody wants to get their grandmother sick,” she added.
Titus recalled her own mother who wasn’t able to get an annual flu shot for medical reasons. She says their family knew it was their responsibility to protect her.
Titus, a physician and chief medical officer in Lyon County, says she agreed and supported early measures to flatten the curve and avoid overwhelming the healthcare system, but she believes the state has now reached a point where it needs to assess the overall risks and benefits.
Hospitals are empty, she says, and people aren’t getting medical procedures they need for their long-term health because space and resources are being saved for COVID-19 patients who haven’t arrived. Health care facilities are, despite there being an ongoing pandemic, laying people off because of financial constraints.
“There will be greater healthcare costs than the coronavirus based off the economy and access to care,” she added. “We have to weigh that in and be really thoughtful.”