Vegas links COVID-19 plan, vaccinations; variants up in Reno
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Lawmakers in Las Vegas are linking plans to fully lift distancing restrictions beginning May 1 with vaccination rates in the state’s key tourism region, while Reno-area businesses could soon have no capacity limits and voluntary distancing rules.
County lawmakers in the state’s two most populous areas approved separate reopening plans Tuesday for consideration Thursday by the state’s COVID-19 Response Task Force appointed by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Caleb Cage, task force chairman, hasn’t publicly commented on Washoe County’s plan but he responded favorably on Wednesday to Clark County’s Las Vegas plan.
“What I saw yesterday with the Clark County plan was a very thoughtful and comprehensive approach that reflected, from my perspective, a great collaboration between Clark County and the Southern Nevada Health District,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Washoe County reported another big jump in the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the variant that first was detected in the United Kingdom, and a private Reno high school announced plans to shut down its campus after 30 new cases recently were confirmed there.
The number of cases of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 in Washoe County has doubled in less than a month with 67 additional cases reported since March 25 for a current total of 112, the health district announced on Wednesday.
District spokesman Scott Oxarart said at least one of the cases confirmed at Bishop Manogue Catholic High School in south Reno was the B.1.1.7 variant.
The Democratic governor has set a June 1 date to lift almost all coronavirus mitigation restrictions — except statewide mask mandates that will remain in place indefinitely.
Several rural Nevada counties moved so quickly last week to relax restrictions and reopen businesses that the governor this week reminded officials that local plans can take effect no earlier than May 1.
The Clark County Commission, with jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip, adopted a plan involving multiple area agencies to increase occupancy to 80% by May 1 and decrease distancing between people from 6 feet (1.8 meters) to 3 feet (0.9 meters).
Capacity limits — currently at 50% statewide — and distancing rules would be lifted completely once 60% of Clark County’s 1.8 million eligible residents receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
As of Tuesday, almost 43% of people ages 16 and older in the county had received at least one shot, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Almost 29% were fully vaccinated.
“We wanted to be on the same page (as the state), but most importantly public health has to be a top priority,” Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
In the Reno-Sparks area, distancing rules would become voluntary starting May 1 under Washoe County’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.
County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung expressed frustration with changing state benchmarks, while Chairman Bob Lucey said the plan adopted this week could be revised once control of coronavirus mitigation measures is returned to the county. The task force began oversight of Nevada’s county plans last August.
“We have to present something on Thursday,” Lucey said, the Reno Gazette Journal reported. “If we don’t, we will find ourselves in a more difficult situation.”
State health officials reported Wednesday that nearly 43% of residents age 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose and almost 29% are now fully vaccinated. Statewide, more than 1.7 million shots have been administered.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the state increased by 436, to 311,750 since the pandemic began. Eleven more deaths were reported, bringing that number to 5,388.
Nevada’s 14-day test positivity rate has risen to 5.9%, up from a low of 4.2% three weeks ago. The figure in Elko County was 9.6%. The World Health Organization goal is 5% or below for governments to relax restrictions.
The rise in the percentage of people who are tested and found to have COVID-19 comes after Sisolak raised maximum capacity levels to 50% at most businesses about a month ago.
In Las Vegas, officials in regional public health, local government, business, school and public safety who have been part of a coronavirus mitigation panel offered their support of the Clark County plan.
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief Southern Nevada Health District medical officer, said up to 70,000 new people per week are receiving vaccinations.
When the 60% vaccination threshold is reached, an event with fewer than 20,000 people could be approved outdoors or a well-ventilated indoor area. If organizers seek full capacity without social distancing, attendees would need proof of completed immunization or a negative virus test before the event.
Events planning more than 20,000 people will be reviewed case by case by the health district.
Casino dayclubs and nightclubs could also reopen, although designated dancing areas would remain closed until the 60% community vaccination rate is met.
The Clark County plan passed Tuesday will let strip clubs reopen and increase the allowable number of people seated at restaurant tables from six to 12.
Contact sports leagues and tournaments with fewer than 250 attendees would not need a safety plan.