Nevada unmasked

Sisolak says the pandemic isn’t over, but masks mandates are

By: - February 10, 2022 12:57 pm
mask down

(Nevada Current file photo)

Though the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says it’s too soon for states to begin rolling back mask mandates and other health guidelines, Gov. Steve Sisolak said it’s time for Nevada to shed its mask requirement. 

In a virtual press conference Thursday, Sisolak announced the statewide mandate would be rescinded immediately. 

“I respect the CDC and the information they provide us moving forward,” Sisolak said. “Every state is different. I’ve analyzed data focused on Nevada and how it’s moving forward.” 

He added that the omicron variant, which has surged in the state since it was detected two months ago, “is becoming more under control.” 

“I’m hopeful and confident that based on the data that we have that we’re in a good position to drop this and give people back some freedom,” he said. “Everyone wants to get back to their normal life, whatever normal is. It’s been two years.”

In a White House briefing Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said “we are not there yet” on rolling back masks advisories and that “hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high.”

In an email to Nevada Current, Brian Labus, an epidemiologist on the states’ COVID response team, said “whether there are mandates or not, vaccination and masking are the best ways to protect yourself from COVID.”

Sisolak Thursday said Nevadans still need to make more progress against the coronavirus.

“The pandemic is not over,” he said. “We are still getting far too many cases, far too many hospitalizations and far too many deaths. Hopefully as vaccinations continue to become more widespread people will take advantage of them. We have those rates continuing to decline and we can remove more restrictions.”

While he still thinks people, especially those immunocompromised or with young children who can’t get vaccinated, along with some businesses might still decide to use masks, the decision is best up to them. 

“I think students and teachers have been clamoring for this for a long time. Our businesses have been asking for this,” he added. “With consultation with my team and medical professionals, I think it’s an appropriate time.” 

Sisolak’s lifting of the mask mandate leaves schools at their own discretion. Shortly after the governor’s announcement, the Clark County School District issued a statement saying that as of Friday “masks would no longer be required” in school facilities, but will still be required on school buses.

That is in keeping with a CDC order, still in effect, requiring masks on planes, trains, buses, and other forms of public transport, including school buses.

Hospitals, clinics and long term care facilities, all dealing with vulnerable populations, will have their mask requirements overseen by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

When asked if that included correctional facilities, which have halted since visitation in January to contend with COVID cases, Sisolak said prisons would not be mandated. 

“If we have inmates or we have staff who choose to continue to wear a mask, they will be directed the same way,” he said. “They are allowed to continue to wear that mask. But they won’t be mandated totally to wear masks.” 

Despite local and national epidemiologists and medical experts supporting masks as one of many health tools to protect against the coronavirus, politicians have turned mandates around the science into campaign talking points. 

Republican candidates in Nevada have attacked Sisolak on mandates. 

In a statement Thursday, Assembly Republican Leader Dr. Robin Titus said “the science hasn’t changed, only the political science has” adding that motivation to lift restrictions comes out of fear surrounding the 2022 midterm elections and major losses for Democrats. 

“All these political operatives and potential opponents have an opinion,” Sisolak said. “I understand they have an opinion. I have to make the decision. I have to make the decision based on the best information that is brought forward to me that we have accumulated. They don’t have access to this. I balance all the information at hand, the medical information, the business information and make a decision based on that.” 

Sisolak said he hoped the decision would help businesses in the long run and suggested it might help with unemployment rates. 

“We put businesses through a lot in the last two years,” he said. “My hope is this will increase business for the businesses that are going to decide to move the mask mandate if they think it will attract more people. I’m hopeful it will help our employment situation as some people are not going back to work because of the mask mandate, and they will go back to work as a result of the mask mandate being eliminated.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.