Lyon County joins rural revolt against Sisolak’s COVID orders for businesses

The Lyon County commission voted 5-0 Thursday to declare a state of economic emergency.

The Lyon County commission voted 5-0 Thursday to declare a state of economic emergency. Courtesy: Lyon County

Lyon County on Thursday, Jan. 28, became the latest rural Nevada county to declare an economic emergency and decline to enforce the governor’s COVID-19 directives on the basis that they hurt businesses.

The county of about 58,000 people joins the rural resistance along with White Pine, Elko and Eureka counties, which are less populous.

“It’s very important the rural counties of our great state to be united with one message going forward,” said Lyon County Commissioner Ken Gray, who spearheaded the effort. “We must stand together as one to face the abuses of our civil liberties which have taken place and stop them from going any further. Instead of working with the local government of Nevada as he should, the governor has chosen to ignore them and their residents.”

The resolution on the matter was reviewed and passed 5-0 at a special meeting Thursday morning.

It will allow businesses to determine whether and how to implement certain practices as they see fit, and allow the sheriff and district attorney to use their discretion not to enforce or respond to complaints related to violations of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s emergency directives.

Commissioners decided to not include a statement requiring authorities to enforce all regulations put in order by the Lyon County Board of Public Health based on the argument that the sheriff and district attorney have sworn an oath to enforce and uphold the law and that point in the resolution would be redundant.

Commissioner Robert Jacobson raised the question of whether the resolution would give patrons the right to ignore businesses’ requests for masks or social distancing, but Gray assured him that businesses have the right to refuse service.

The resolution draft also included a $50,000 “Economic Relief Fund” for businesses that have incurred fines, penalties, or legal fees related to the directives, but concerns about using taxpayer money prompted the commissioners to choose a non-county alternative, such as the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, to collect donations to pay businesses’ fines.

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“I just want to point out that nowhere in this resolution are we asking anybody to throw their mask away, throw their hand sanitizer away, just open up their doors and act like COVID went away overnight… We’re asking you to self govern, take responsibility for yourself,” Lyon County Commissioner Vida Keller said at the meeting. “Nowhere in this resolution are we asking anybody not to take this serious. What we are asking is that we can allow our businesses to get back to some normalcy and we can live our lives.”

The governor’s directives generally require face coverings for all business employees and patrons, limit room occupancy and require a well-sanitized environment.

According to the Nevada State Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dashboard, Lyon County businesses have passed 90 percent of the time that OSHA has inspected them.

Complaints about Lyon County businesses that were logged with OSHA in the past month include employees and patrons failing to comply with mask mandates, management allowing an employee to go back to work the same day after testing positive for COVID-19 and employers not providing cleaning supplies for a work space.

In December, White Pine County commissioners approved a resolution that declared an economic emergency and became the template for Lyon County’s resolution. It allowed the sheriff and district attorney to use their discretion not to enforce the directives and established a $50,000 county fund to pay the businesses’ fines.

Elko and Eureka County commissioners passed their own resolutions in January, both deeming all independently owned businesses essential and urging the governor to remove restrictions on businesses and discontinue OSHA inspections that might lead to businesses being fined.

The penalty for willful violations where an employer knowingly failed to comply with OSHA standards is a minimum of $9,639 and a maximum of $136,532. The agency said it still has a duty to enforce safety standards.

“Nevada law requires employers to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards,” a Nevada OSHA spokesperson said in a statement. “OSHA has a legal obligation to conduct an investigation of these incidents when notified by the employer, employee or third party. The agency will take all available legal steps necessary in order to carry out its statutory duties.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jannelle Calderon is an intern at The Nevada Independent. This story was first published Jan. 28 by The Nevada Independent and is republished here with permission. For more Nevada news, including wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage and a constantly updating live blog, visit The Nevada Independent.


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