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COVID-19 task force denies request by Elko County to open bars as cases, test positivity remain high

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly

Elko County will not yet be allowed to open its bars under a new mitigation action plan approved by the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force on Thursday.

Caleb Cage, the state’s COVID-19 response director, said that it didn’t make sense to allow the county to open alcohol-serving establishments, which also includes distilleries, wineries and taverns, when Elko County continues to meet all three of the state’s risk factors for elevated spread of COVID-19. That includes a low number of tests per day, a high case rate and a high test positivity rate.

The task force previously denied similar requests from Clark and Washoe counties on similar grounds.

“We find ourselves in the situation we were in last week and, for me, the concern is this is one that's opening up or requesting opening up bars when we've got increased cases and increased positivity rates and opening it up in highly heavily populated areas as well,” Cage said. “Those issues are concerns for me.”

As of Wednesday, Elko had the equivalent of 443.8 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 30 days, a case rate only dwarfed by Clark County’s, at 650.8 cases per 100,000 residents. The county additionally has a 16.8 percent test positivity rate, the highest in the state.

State officials are working to determine how COVID-19 is spreading in Elko County, with one outbreak tied to a skilled nursing facility. County officials said they are working with the state to test staff and residents at the facility.

The county had additionally requested in its action plan permission from the task force to hold three special events, the Rides and Rods Car Show, the Elko County Fair and Livestock Show and the Gold Rush Challenge Bull Riding Event. All public gatherings statewide are currently limited to 50 people.

However, Cage said that the task force lacks the authority to allow the county to hold those events and said it would consider the matter further with the state’s Local Empowerment Advisory Panel, or LEAP, which has been tasked with advising counties as they work to reopen.

Other steps the county plans to take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 include bringing on a new public health expert to advise them in their ongoing prevention efforts and a new full-time emergency manager. 

The county has also said that it will offer community-based testing events with the assistance of the Nevada National Guard if the Nevada State Public Health Lab is able to turn around results in a timely fashion. In its report, Elko County said results are taking approximately six days to return from the lab, down from eight to nine days the previous week.

The task force additionally approved a new action plan for Churchill County, which for the second week was identified by the state as being at elevated risk for the spread of COVID-19. Under Churchill’s plan, the county will continue to focus on “education, community testing, rapid contact tracing response and voluntary compliance” to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Four other counties — Clark, Lander, Nye and Washoe counties — continue to remain at elevated risk for the spread of COVID-19 this week. However, the task force did not approve any further mitigation measures for the county, instead allowing them to continue under the action plans adopted last week.

Lyon County was also newly identified at elevated risk this week. If they remain at elevated risk, they will be required to present to the task force next week an action plan to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For more on COVID-19 in Nevada, check out our coronavirus data page, as well as our ongoing "Coronavirus Contextualized” series.


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