Sisolak orders all non-essential businesses to close, warns of criminal penalties

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference last week.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference last week.

LAS VEGAS — Gov. Steve Sisolak has issued a broad emergency directive ordering, not asking, all non-essential businesses in the state to close effective midnight on Friday, the latest drastic step taken by the state to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The emergency directive, the details of which Sisolak announced during a news conference Friday afternoon, gives local governments the authority to impose civil penalties, including fines or license revocation, on non-essential businesses that refuse to shut down.

It also allows local law enforcement agencies to impose criminal penalties on businesses that continue to remain open, after all other remedies have been exhausted.

“This is our only chance at flattening the curve,” Sisolak said. “That's a fancy way of saying that we need to move quickly, and creatively to slope a tsunami that's headed our way.”

Sisolak said it will be up to local governments to decide what penalties, specifically, they will impose on businesses that don't comply. He also criticized businesses that may have been trying to wiggle their way out of his earlier call to close on Tuesday.

“There should be no confusion, and there's none in my mind,” he said. “This is not the time to try to find loopholes. If your business is not essential to providing sustenance and for the everyday safety, health, and wellbeing of Nevadans, you must shut down so that we can give healthcare workers and our fellow citizens the best chance at fighting this virus that we can.”

Sisolak said the number of positive coronavirus cases in the state had jumped more than 70 percent since last week and that it is clear that the number of confirmed cases in the state has not yet hit its apex. As of Friday afternoon, there were 109 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, spanning six of the state's 17 counties.

Nationwide cases surpassed 15,000 on Friday, with reported deaths totaling more than 200.

The governor said Nevada has not yet reached its “apex” of cases, underscoring the need to take serious measures to protect health care workers on the front lines and hospital systems that will feel squeezed in the coming days or weeks.

Sisolak said the state only has about 5,000 acute care beds, including fewer than 700 intensive care unit beds, and that 80 percent of those beds are currently occupied with critically ill patients, including those suffering from COVID-19.

“We will choose to face the facts, listen to our medical experts, ignore the misguided leaders, rip off the Band-Aid, and hopefully cut this thing short, knowing that our chances of economic recovery are better if we make this painful decision today, understanding that the faster we act, the sooner this ends,” Sisolak said.

The new directive is the latest and most serious step taken by Sisolak and state leaders to slow spread of the virus, beginning with a statewide shutdown of K-12 schools on Sunday and another directive on Tuesday evening to immediately shutter all nonessential businesses in the state, including all casinos and gambling equipment in the state. Sisolak's office issued a lengthier guide better defining what is and isn't an “essential” business on Wednesday afternoon, but did not provide guidance or direction on how the directive would be enforced.

Some businesses have opted to outright ignore the directive, while police in Las Vegas said they would not respond to any calls for services from people reporting businesses that haven't closed without a clear executive order. City of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has publicly questioned the length and necessity of the shutdown, and officials in some rural counties have either pushed back on the directive or said they wouldn't enforce it.

Without naming any elected officials, Sisolak urged them to “understand the severity of the situation we're facing and become part of the solution” and that anyone saying otherwise was “mistaken or recklessly incorrect.”

Already, governors in New York, Illinois and California have ordered residents to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel to limit the spread of the virus.


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