Gov. Steve Sisolak is urging patience with the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, promising that the state is attempting to balance its fight against the disease with a desire to reopen businesses and begin repairing the state economy.
Speaking to reporters in Las Vegas on Thursday, Sisolak reiterated many of the struggles that Nevada has faced through the last six months since entering a still-ongoing state of emergency to deal with the pandemic.
Without giving detail or a firm timeline, Sisolak said he wanted the state to begin revisiting certain restrictions — including limits on church attendance, youth sports and maximum capacity at certain venues — but said he did not want to take any actions that would reverse the progress made over the last month.
“Right now, our numbers are trending in the right direction,” he said. “But that being said, you need to understand that we started at an extremely high level when we started bringing our numbers down, so we have a long way to go, considering the fact that we started so high.”
As of Thursday, Nevada has seen more than 70,200 positive COVID-19 cases, with 1,363 deaths and more than 63,000 recoveries. Sisolak said that many of the metrics being tracked by the state, including test positivity rate and the number of hospitalizations, have either improved significantly or stabilized in the last month after hitting near-dangerous levels over summer.
But Nevada remains among just 11 states with a test positivity rate above 10 percent, making it one of the higher in the nation and above the national average of about 5.5 percent. Sisolak said decisions about reopening or loosening current restrictions have to be made with how governors in other states may react, saying that any kind of travel ban or prohibition on traveling to Nevada would be disastrous.
“You have to understand that the contemplation, or the consideration, of a travel ban of people coming to Nevada — I wouldn't have to put any more restrictions and shut down businesses in the Strip; it would shut down automatically if our neighboring and our sister states imposed that type of restriction,” he said.
The remarks came shortly after the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force met Thursday to approve enhanced mitigation and enforcement plans for counties with an elevated risk of disease transmission, while rejecting requests to re-open bars in four of the state’s most populous counties.
The task force also approved Clark County to begin allowing countertop seating at restaurants and other establishments serving food next week — something Sisolak called “more of a clarification than a change.”
As for when bars could re-open or other “adjustments” be made to current restrictions, Sisolak said he didn’t have “a metric that I can say if we reach this, you're going to get there, and I don't have an exact date.”
“We're going to get there as quickly but as responsibly as we possibly can,” he said.
In taking questions from reporters, Sisolak was asked about protections for landlords or property owners in the wake of the decision last week to extend a moratorium on evictions for rent non-payment. The governor said his priority was in ensuring state assistance go directly to landlords who need it and that the state “gets the money out on the street faster.”
Pressed on the issue of why Nevada did not apply faster for the federal $300 expansion to unemployment benefits provided under an executive order — despite Nevada’s highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate — Sisolak said the delay was “unfortunate,” but said he was confident that the state’s application for the funds (derived from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)) would be approved.
He added that the slowdown was caused in part because it came through the state’s inundated Department of Employee Training and Rehabilitation (DETR), which handles the state’s unemployment system.
“I want people to understand that we inherited a DETR system, an unemployment system that was antiquated to begin with,” Sisolak said. “Most systems in the country never were set up to handle anywhere near this kind of a volume or never were set up with the most updated technological advances.”
Amid preparations at the federal level for the eventual distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, Sisolak also said that, while the state has a procedure in place that would be able to “give vaccines,” there remain “a lot of unknown questions” on the specifics, especially as it relates to a number of vaccine candidates fast-tracked by the federal government or the timing or method of the distribution of a vaccine.