RENO, Nev. >> The head of the Nevada agency promoting business growth urged companies on Monday to embrace the governor’s latest move to tighten COVID-19 restrictions, saying it’s the best way to protect against future shutdowns that are likely if the coronavirus keeps spreading at unprecedented rates.
State health officials said the percentage of residents testing positive for COVID-19 over the previous 14 days has doubled since mid-October, from 8.2% on Oct. 15 to record highs of 16.7% on Sunday and Monday.
Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the state’s most expansive mask mandate to date Sunday and reduced the capacity at casinos, restaurants, bars and many other businesses from 50% to 25% effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage and Department of Business and Industry Director Terry Reynolds said they sympathize with business owners who may struggle to stay afloat amid new cutbacks but said they are intended to help avert a more dramatic response in the weeks ahead.
“This has been difficult, obviously, for businesses,” Reynolds told reporters. But “even though it is difficult, it is to their benefit to be able to stay open and be able to protect their employees and protect their customers and protect their livelihood.”
Reynolds said that’s especially true for small businesses that have seen the virus take a toll on their workforce.
“We’ve had to deal with banks, especially in the rural areas, that have basically struggled to keep open because they’ve had employees out,” he said.
Under Sisolak’s latest directive, masks will be required anytime a person is around someone not in their immediate household, including both indoor and outdoor private gatherings. Public gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people or 25% of fire code capacity, whichever is less. Private gatherings are limited to 10 and can include no more than two households.
Sisolak, who avoided tightening mandates throughout the fall because of the havoc they could wreak on Nevada’s tourism-based economy, said the virus trends led to an “inescapable conclusion.”
“We are on a rapid trajectory that threatens to overwhelm our health care system, our frontline health workers, and your access to care. So it’s time to act,” said Sisolak, who recently contracted COVID-19.
In Nevada, 10% of all confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in the last seven days and hospitals have filled to the point that one in Reno is setting up additional beds in a nearby parking garage.
The 14-day rolling average in the rate of positive tests topped 15% for the first time on Nov. 15 and has been rising since. The World Health Organization has set a goal of no higher than 5%.
It’s part of an upward trend since the positivity rate had fallen as low as 6.3% on Sept. 21. It was above 10% all of July and August after reaching a low of 2.7% on May 27. The highest it had been before this month was 14.7% on April 23, about a month after the first infections were confirmed in Nevada.
Despite the new restrictions, Sisolak says he had no intention of becoming “the mask police.” He also took efforts not to frame the restrictions as any sort of shutdown, instead calling them a “statewide pause” for the next three weeks.
But he warned that without improvement, Nevada could close restaurants for indoor dining, close gyms or implement further limits on gatherings. Most businesses have been operating at 50% since summer.