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Sisolak calls for state office closures, limits on large gatherings to slow ‘rapid spread’ of coronavirus

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
CoronavirusState Government
Steve Sisolak at press conference

Gov. Steve Sisolak said that while a testing kit shortage makes it impossible to tell how much coronavirus has affected Nevada, the pace of the virus’ spread around the world means Nevada must “act quickly” to slow it — including taking drastic measures such as shutting state offices, limiting the size of gatherings and encouraging employees to work from home if possible.

In his second press conference of the day on Sunday evening, the governor asked local governments to enforce a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline that all events with attendance above 50 be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. And he gave a pointed call to students to take seriously his announcement earlier in the day that school statewide would be canceled for at least the next three weeks.

“This is not an extended spring break. We are closing our schools for your safety, and for the safety of your families and neighbors. This needs to be taken seriously,” he said, urging young people not to ignore the situation because they’re healthy. “What you do over the next few weeks will directly impact your family’s health. I’m counting on you to step in and step up, and show the rest of Nevada what you’re made of.”

He also referenced the 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip and called on Nevadans to rise to the occasion and help their neighbors as they did then.

“After the tragedy of 1 October, the citizens of this state showed the nation what it meant to stand together, to unite against all odds, and put our neighbors before ourselves,” he said. “Tonight I’m asking my fellow Nevadans to do it with more commitment and more compassion than [ever before].”

While some resort companies have voluntarily announced full closures, Sisolak listed a number of specific sanitation steps casinos must take if they decide to remain open. But he stopped short of directing all restaurants and bars to close — a measure that some states including California have taken.

“We’ve got … social distancing policies in place. We will continue to analyze this on a day-by-day basis, and multiple times during the day,” Sisolak said. 

In addition to an expansion of paid administrative leave for state employees during the current state of emergency, he directed agency leaders to decide whether full office closures or remote work would be most appropriate. Sisolak also announced a hiring freeze within state government and encouraged agencies to limit spending to “essential emergency purchases.”

He said he was directing leaders of essential service agencies including the DMV, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment insurance and others to wind down in-person public services and transition as much of that work to online or phone services.

Sisolak also addressed concerns regarding the state supply of test kits for COVID-19. As of Friday, health officials in Southern Nevada said they had conducted a little over 200 tests and had supplies to conduct about 1,000 more.

“We have not been provided the sufficient number of test kits to meet demand for our state,” Sisolak said. “As a result, we don't know the full extent of what we're dealing with. But based on the rapid spread of the virus around the world and what we've already seen in Nevada, we know that we must act quickly — very quickly.”

Sisolak said he is in daily contact with the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who is spearheading the federal COVID-19 response, and has been “clear as humanly possible” about the short supply. He said Nevada’s federal delegation is working to obtain more kits.

Sisolak’s remarks came shortly after some of the state’s largest casino properties, including MGM and Wynn Resorts, announced temporary or indefinite closures. The governor didn’t call for others to follow suit but said “we're analyzing this and gathering more information” on a constant basis.

Still, he went on to describe some conditions casinos staying open must comply with in the meantime, such as no more than three chairs at table games and the cleaning and sanitizing of gaming machines every two hours. Additionally, any buffets that remain open must have employees serving food, and casino floors are expected to be in compliance with “the latest social gathering distancing,” he said.

Asked about what the state might be doing to help furloughed or laid-off workers at the casinos, Sisolak noted that “we have a healthy unemployment fund. Right now we’re in relatively good shape, not forever.”

Casinos have been “extremely cooperative” in trying to provide compensation for their workers for a period of time during business closures, Sisolak said, and Nevada is working with members of the congressional delegation to get some financial relief from the federal government.

Sisolak pointed out that some companies already are rising to the occasion — noting that Boyd Gaming, Station Casinos and the South Point Hotel and Casino have agreed to work with authorities on food distribution for students and their families. More details about meal services for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will be released by local school districts, he said.

“Rest assured, our children who rely on these programs will not go hungry during closure,” Sisolak said.

He said the state will “undoubtedly face hardships” including inconvenience and loss of incomes, but “I ask every Nevadan to call your neighbors, call and check on the elderly who may be alone and may be in need.”

The gist of his remarks was about maintaining the health and safety of Nevada residents. When asked about the possibility of calling a special session to deal with the fallout, Sisolak said that would be evaluated moving forward.

“We'll deal with the monetary situation in the future,” he said.

Sisolak declined to directly address fears that Nevada hospitals are unprepared for an influx of sick patients, encouraging the public to “deal with facts, not rumor and innuendo.”

“I’m going to tell you the truth as I know it. I’m going to tell you the facts as I know them,” he said. “I want to be totally candid with our citizens. I believe that they can handle the truth.”


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