Gov. Steve Sisolak is revamping the state’s response to COVID-19 with a more “strategic, targeted approach,” that will involve weekly evaluations at the state level of local conditions as reported by county or city governments.
The governor says Nevada will remain in response mode for the “foreseeable future” until there is a vaccine.
“In no way are we relaxing our mitigation efforts,” he said.
The state will evaluate three metrics — the availability of personal protective equipment, resources for vulnerable populations, and the status of contact tracing — to determine whether a local area’s mitigation measures are effective.
It will also examine positive test rates per 100,000 tested.
The task force will review the data weekly. An issue with two or more metrics in two consecutive weeks warrants an assessment and review process that could alter the area’s mitigation plan.
“The virus is more prevalent in our community today than it was in March,” said Caleb Cage, the state’s COVID response director. “ It’s time for our response to change.”
Sisolak said he’s walking “a tightrope between your health and financial stability,” adding that “shutting down public and economic activity is not sustainable in the long-term.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 847 deaths in Nevada have been attributed to COVID-19 and the state suffered a $1.2 billion hit to its budget when the economy closed down for more than two months.
The governor would not directly say whether he would close casinos again.
“All or our options remain open,” he said. “If we identify that is the major problem, that’s where infections are coming from, we would have to take appropriate action. Is it the casino or the pools of the casino? Is it the restaurant or is it the gaming area?”
The governor identified family gatherings as the “biggest issue” in controlling the spread.
Sisolak pivoted to a COVID liability protection bill under consideration by the Legislature, which is meeting in the second special session of the year in Carson City.
“The liability waiver only exists if the businesses are following the best methodology,” Sisolak said of the measure, describing it as a means of avoiding “frivolous lawsuits.”
The task force’s first assessment of local mitigation efforts is Thursday. Until then, restrictions will remain in force on businesses such as bars in four previously designated counties.
“If Nevadans continue to wear their face coverings as we’re all mandated to do, along with aggressive social distancing, this targeted approach will work,” Sisolak said, adding if it doesn’t work, the state will return to “broad-based closures and limitations.”
Sisolak addressed a tweet Monday morning from President Donald Trump, in which he called Sisolak a “clubhouse governor.”
“I don’t know what a clubhouse governor is. I understand there’s an attempt to suppress voting,” said Sisolak, who signed a bill into law Monday that allows Nevadans to cast their ballots by mail in November.
“It is extremely important to me that our citizens do not have to decide between their health and their right to vote,” he said.
Sisolak called Trump’s concern about the Postal Service’s ability to handle the volume of mailed ballots “a crazy claim,” but acknowledged that ensuring timely results will be a challenge.
“These things do take time,” he said. “Part of the bill was to start counting the results earlier.”
The governor addressed the delay in providing unemployment benefits to Nevadans, promising a “change in DETR” and “folks we are bringing in to help with this.”
Sisolak noted Nevada companies “are in a fragile situation.”
“Make no mistake, Nevada. We are in a very precarious position,” he said.
Sisolak said the pandemic and its disproportionate effect on people of color and the poor “demonstrates an underlying problem in our state and our country for that matter. It’s pointed out some of the frailties and faults in our system.”