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Southern Nevada health officials recommend return to indoor masking for vaccinated, unvaccinated amid rapid spread of COVID-19

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Coronavirus
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The Southern Nevada Health District is recommending that both unvaccinated and vaccinated people wear masks in public settings, the first concrete step Clark County health officials have taken to address the rising tide of COVID-19 cases in the region beyond promoting vaccination and testing.

Health district officials on Friday recommended that all individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, wear masks in “crowded indoor public places” where they may have contact with unvaccinated individuals. While the new guidance is only a recommendation, the announcement by the health district represents a change of course in messaging from just a couple of weeks ago, when officials said they were focused only on the vaccination campaign and that there was no discussion about other reimplementing mitigation measures.

Public places where the health district is recommending that people wear masks include grocery stores, malls, large events and casinos.

“Using masks correctly has proven to be effective in helping to prevent people from getting and spreading COVID-19,” the health district said in a statement. “With the rise in cases and slowing vaccine rates in Clark County, the Health District’s recommendation to wear masks in crowded public settings ... is a step to fully utilize the tools we have available to stop the pandemic.”

The health district, however, stressed that getting the COVID-19 vaccine “is the most important and effective step people can take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.” Southern Nevada District Health Officer Fermin Leguen said during a press call Friday afternoon that if the county is unable to stem the tide of cases, it may have to look at mitigation measures beyond the mask recommendation.

“Contingent to how we see the progress of the disease in the community in future days and weeks, there could be additional measures, if it is necessary,” Leguen said.

The health district’s announcement comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to quickly climb as the Delta variant spreads across the state. As of Thursday, an average of 710 new COVID-19 cases in Nevada were reported each day over the last seven days — five times the recent low point a month and a half ago. COVID-19 related hospitalizations, meanwhile, have increased threefold over the last month to 771 as of Wednesday. 

Nevada has the fifth highest case rate in the nation per capita, with Clark County almost entirely responsible for the state’s rapidly worsening numbers. Some counties, however, including Washoe, have also seen small increases in case numbers in recent days.

However, Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick, on a call with reporters on Friday afternoon, said he wasn’t yet ready to make the same recommendation on indoor mask wearing for Northern Nevada, as the situation just isn’t as bad as it is in the South. He did urge residents to get vaccinated, though, so the county doesn’t find itself in the same situation as Clark County at some point in the future.

“We don't want to move backwards, and we don't want to end up in a situation where we need to make a recommendation for everybody to wear masks,” Dick said.

Michelle White, chief of staff to Gov. Steve Sisolak, said on a press call on Thursday that the state would support whatever decisions local governments make when it comes to mitigating the spread of the virus.

“The governor is completely supportive, as the entire state is very supportive, of any decisions that will be made at the local level if those decisions are determined to be right for those areas,” White said. “The state will be ready to continue providing any support that we can in the most robust and aggressive way.”

Across the border in Southern California, health officials in Los Angeles County announced on Thursday a return to mandatory indoor masking, regardless of vaccination status. Los Angeles County’s case rate is currently less than half of Clark County’s.

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