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Nevada task force: Bars in Las Vegas, Reno areas stay closed

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LAS VEGAS >> Bars and taverns in the Las Vegas and Reno areas will remain closed for at least another two weeks, following decisions Thursday by a newly formed task force empowered by the governor to guide Nevada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The panel of about a dozen officials unanimously endorsed state COVID-19 response chief Caleb Cage’s call to wait until Aug. 3 to lift bar closures in Washoe County, including Reno and Sparks.

“The decisions that we make do have a direct impact … in terms of lives and livelihoods,” Cage said during a public meeting. The meeting generated such interest that call-in lines jammed and listeners were turned away.

A separate unanimous vote left closures in place indefinitely in Clark County until virus numbers fall. The area includes the Las Vegas Strip and the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Laughlin and Mesquite — forming 72% of Nevada’s population.

The Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Health District has reported 86% of the state’s nearly 64,000 confirmed virus cases, and 1,006 of the state’s 1,172 deaths.

“We are beginning to see a downward trend over the last few seeks of cases, hospitalizations … (and) stabilization across the board,” Cage said. “What we are not beginning to see is a decline in the number of deaths.”

Nevada state officials on Thursday reported the highest single-day death toll, 38 people, since the first COVID-19 fatality was reported in the state on March 5.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for up to three weeks. But older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

“I just want to make sure that the work of this task force is clear,” Cage said. “We are addressing jurisdictions in the state that are at elevated risk.”

Cage cited his concerns about “person-to-person contact” in the two counties and said the task force would deliberate cautiously in the future to make sure case numbers do not rise.

The panel considered mitigation plans from six counties also including Elko, Humboldt, Lander and Nye. On Thursday, it added Churchill County, with its largest city Fallon, to the oversight list.

The panel decided to wait at least until its meeting next week before allowing drinking establishments to open in Elko.

It voted to keep bars closed in Pahrump, Nye County’s largest town and closest to Las Vegas, while letting those those in sparsely populated parts of the vast county open.

The decisions keep in place — at least for now — restrictions that Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, re-imposed in July in counties facing large outbreaks.

The rules don’t allow seating at bars, and have drawn complaints that they are killing businesses and jobs in Nevada’s most populous areas.

Washoe County health officials said Wednesday they support reopening bars in Reno and Sparks with strictly enforced regulations while they try to curb an increasing number of pop-up gatherings at private residences and rental homes.

Restrictions were lifted for Lander and Humboldt counties in vast northern Nevada mining country, after officials submitting reports emphasizing their remoteness, small populations and low number of overall cases.

Humboldt County officials blamed their inclusion on the “high risk” list on a cluster of 72 cases reported at the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation on the Nevada-Idaho state line, some 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Winnemucca.

Cage said state and county officials were offering help to the tribe to curb active cases on the reservation.

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