As holy week approaches — Passover tonight and Easter on Sunday — the celebration of those holidays will look different this year.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has already limited public gatherings of 10 or more people, but as the holidays near, his latest emergency directive makes it clear places of worship should not be planning in-person services. Drive-in and pop-up services also are prohibited during the duration of the state’s emergency declaration.
Sisolak, a devout Catholic who has been watching virtual mass each day, said he consulted with nearly 20 religious leaders, all of whom agreed with the directive.
“This wasn’t easy,” he said. “In these trying times, I’ve clung to my faith to guide me.”
The catch-all directive, announced Wednesday evening during a news conference, goes on to tighten a number of other restrictions. Golf courses, a carveout in earlier orders, will now be forced to close. Previously, Sisolak had lumped golf courses into the same category as hiking trails, saying they’re outdoor recreation areas where people could maintain the recommended six-feet social-distancing guidelines.
But the governor never ruled out enacting stricter measures. On Monday, Sisolak said the state might “tighten the faucet” if people didn’t heed social-distancing recommendations.
The Nevada Golf Alliance issued a statement Tuesday calling on golfers and facilities to follow social-distancing policies, such as wiping down golf carts after each use and limiting it to one person per golf cart. Other states already had shut down public and private golf courses, and the 2020 Masters Tournament, scheduled for April 9-12, was postponed.
Sisolak said his decision to close golf courses as well as public basketball courts, tennis courts and swimming pools came after he received photos depicting people not following social-distancing protocols.
“They were not riding one in a cart. They were congregating on the greens, and I cannot take the chance to have it get spread that way,” he said. “We tried it. It didn’t work because some folks, again, chose not to follow the rules.”
People caught violating the order could be subject to civil and criminal penalties, he said.
The directive — the 13th issued so far — also provides new guidelines for grocery stores, including a ban on self-serve items such as salad bars or whole-sale dry foods like nuts. Grocery chains have come under increased scrutiny over the past week as potential hotbeds for coronavirus infections, especially as the number of sickened store workers has begun to tick up nationwide.
Additionally, the directive bans real estate agents from holding open houses, forbids barbers and hair stylists from providing in-home services and forces showrooms displaying goods for sale — such as cars and furniture — to close. The governor called these extra restrictions “common sense” steps to curb the spread of the virus.
“I haven’t had a hair cut in six weeks,” Sisolak said. “I’ve adjusted. The first lady is sticking by my side. We can do this.”
The directive makes no mention of the construction industry, however, which has been criticized by state health and safety regulators for failing to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Sisolak said his office continues to review the continued operation of construction, mining and manufacturing industries, but added that “it’s what’s going to help us get through this economy.”
“Right now I’ve got a quarter of a million people that file for unemployment,” Sisolak said. “I don’t want another 100,000 or more filing for unemployment, if I can avoid it.”
Unemployment claims in Nevada have skyrocketed amid the pandemic, with more than 71,000 new claims filed last week alone.
The governor also said the state would look to iron out issues in the delivery of COVID-19-related data that have created frequent, often wide differences between the number of cases reported by individual counties and by the state.
Sisolak said those delays have made it difficult for the state to accurately model key measures, including the number of deaths. That includes an issue where no deaths were reported over the weekend, but 12 deaths were reported by Monday — leading to a brief scramble by the governor’s office to find when and where the surge in deaths took place.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 2,318 coronavirus cases have been reported in Nevada along with 81 deaths since the first death on March 16.
Sisolak did not put a target date on when he might begin to ease social-distancing restrictions, saying instead that he was watching trends in key data points, including hospitalizations, intensive care hospitalizations, ventilator use and deaths.
As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths grows, Sisolak offered one positive update, saying 475 Nevadans had signed up for the Battle Born Medical Corps. The volunteer-led group, which will expand the state’s health care workforce, includes dentists, psychiatrists, nurses, EMTS and paramedics.
“Now more than ever, we look to the helpers to lead us through this crisis,” he said. “These are our helpers, and I’m so pleased to see so many of them lining up to serve Nevada.”