Masks, the primary weapon in America’s battle against COVID-19, will finally be mandated in public in Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak declared Wednesday.
Sisolak, who previously avoided a mandate out of concern for a revolt, is responding to an alarming hike in positive cases of the coronavirus.
That hike has prompted more than a dozen states to implement similar mandates.
The state’s position has evolved from no mask requirement for the public, to required masks for gamblers seated at table games, to Wednesday’s mandate, which takes effect Friday.
Sisolak’s directive came hours after one of the Las Vegas Strip’s largest resort corporations, Caesars Entertainment, announced it would impose a mask mandate. It took effect Wednesday at noon.
Children, those with respiratory issues that prevent the use of a mask, and those with disabilities that prevent mask use, are exempted from the state’s mandate.
The move comes as three states, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, impose 14-day travel quarantines on travelers from eight states where the seven-day rolling average of case positivity exceeds 10 percent, including Arizona and Utah.
As of Wednesday, Nevada’s seven-day rolling average exceeded 10 percent, although the state has not been added to the list.
“Nevada is a state that’s based on tourism. We’re not going to get to that point,” Sisolak said in response to a question about the potential for a travel quarantine here.
Sisolak noted “a four-week upward trend in daily cases.”
On May 26, before Nevada entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan, the state’s seven-day moving positivity rate was 2.5 percent. On Wednesday, the rate was 10.7 percent, exceeding the World Health Organization’s maximum recommended rate of 10 percent.
In the last week, the state has set three records for the most new cases in a day — topping out at 462 on Monday. The state has confirmed 14,362 cases and 494 deaths as of Wednesday.
State health official Julia Peek said the state’s contact tracing efforts reveal that from June 4 to June 16, eleven percent of those who tested positive for COVID-19 had been to a mass gathering, while twelve percent had been to a “civic activist incident.”
The governor left open the possibility of having to “make adjustments” if bars or other establishments prove especially problematic in spreading the virus.
“Unfortunately, as you can see from the data we have taken some steps backward,” Sisolak said, noting the exuberance of Nevadans after months of stay-at-home orders.
The governor admitted he “made an error in judgment” and was photographed without a mask while out to dinner with First Lady Kathy Sisolak.
He urged Nevadans to don face coverings regardless of their political leanings because “wearing face coverings saves lives.”
Sisolak said that according to evidence reviewed by his team of medical experts, “replacing the lockdown with social distancing alone results in unchecked spread with potentially devastating results.”
The governor said compliance from 80 percent of the public would result in a “substantial reduction in infection.”
A fifty percent compliance rate is not sufficient, Sisolak said.
“I’m offering us all another opportunity to limit our risk exposure and infection and keep our businesses open and our economy moving forward,” he said. “Wear face coverings when in public space, whether publicly or privately owned.”
Businesses will face violations from local licensing and regulatory authorities and Nevada OSHA, the governor said.
“This is a mandate, so enforcement language is necessary. However, ideally, there won’t be any criminal or civil sanctions for individuals,” he added. “I would hope people would take this in the matter it was intended and wear masks for everyone’s safety.”
Budget, evictions, and back-to-school
Sisolak said the state’s updated budget deficit is now $1.27 billion, approximately one-quarter of the state’s operating budget.
“This is not a normal recession,’ he said. “The state went from an economic peak to an economic trough in a matter of weeks.”
Sisolak said revenues “may very well recover faster than expected” if the coronavirus were to subside.
A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures imposed by the governor in March expires on June 30. Sisolak suggested he may announce a “phased-in rollback to the moratorium” for those who have yet to receive unemployment benefits.
The governor declined to weigh in on parental concerns regarding split schedules in Nevada schools, in which students would attend just a few days a week, creating a potential child care nightmare.
Sisolak said he has faith in the state’s Superintendent of Education to address the so-called “blended learning” arrangement.
Note: The original version of this story misidentified Julia Peek.