Sisolak: ‘I cannot give you a firm date’ about reopening Nevada’s economy
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Steve Sisolak fired back Tuesday at those wanting him to begin reopening Nevada’s economy, making it abundantly clear it won’t happen quickly.
He said it’s good news that the COVID-19 infection rate appeared to be “plateauing.”
“The lower numbers of the infected people and deaths than previously predicted should not be seen that our actions were not necessary,” he said during a 5 p.m. press conference from the Capitol, during which he did not mention the Republican party or Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who both have called for reducing restrictions on businesses.
The Democratic governor and state experts said the Silver State would take a gradual approach to easing business closures and stay-at-home rules, without giving any expected date for how soon that might occur.
“As of right now, I cannot give you a firm date,” he said about reopening Nevada businesses.
Sisolak, who also announced Tuesday night the “difficult decision” that all schools in Nevada would be closed through the rest of the 2019-2 school year, said it was too soon to say whether schools would remain closed for the start of the new school year in the fall.
He said that the state’s lower-than-predicted coronavirus numbers are, instead, “a strong indication (business closures and stay-at-home directives) were both necessary and effective.”
“Social distancing measures are extremely effective,” he said, but that relaxing them too quickly could open Nevada to a tidal wave of new infections, based on information provided by the state’s medical experts.
Sisolak said the number of positive cases are falling because Nevadans are social distancing for the most part, avoiding crowds, reducing unnecessary travel, washing hands frequently and wearing masks.
How fast Nevada can begin opening things back up depends not only on the continued decreases in infections, hospitalizations and ICU admissions but on the type of business involved.
To begin the process and enter what the state is calling a “phase one” approach to easing restrictions, Sisolak said, state experts need 14 days of steady improvement in those factors.
According to a report from The Nevada Independent, the state’s medical experts say it probably won’t be clear until a few days if Nevada is on a downward slope, and that it’s likely the emergency directives will need to be extended beyond April 30.
State officials are also planning to issue industry-specific safety guidance to businesses that will be allowed to open in phase one, though it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday night what industries would be included in that first group, or if physical state offices would be part of the cohort.
If things improve, people considered higher risk for complications, like those with underlying health conditions or older adults, would still need to shelter in place under phase one, the governor said.
Other people would need to avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 to maintain social distance and a travel advisory encouraging people to minimize nonessential travel would remain.
People would still be asked to use face coverings in public, and bars would remain closed. Sisolak said members of his team are still working to determine if restaurants, churches and gyms would be able to open and whether sporting events and elective surgeries can take place again.
Sisolak said even if his team decides there’s a way for places like restaurants and gyms to reopen while maintaining social distancing, those business owners might decide it’s not worth it financially to operate with a fraction of their normal customers.
Asked specifically about restaurants, he said, “I don’t think you can re-open restaurants.”
Earlier in the press conference, he made it clear bars won’t get the green light anytime soon either.
He said the process will be “in baby steps,” and that, “if we have an uptick in infections, hospitalizations or ICU hospitalizations, we’ll have to tighten it back up.”
To guard against a major spike in nursing home and assisted living infections, he said the Nevada National Guard will be conducting inspections to ensure those facilities are clean, adequately staffed and operating safely.
Nevada has not, as of Tuesday night, joined a coalition of western governors in Washington, Oregon and California who have decided to coordinate their plans for a gradual reopening.
The governor on Tuesday did not answer questions about why and whether he would seek to join, instead saying that he’s communicating with the other governors and approves of their plans.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.