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Nevada COVID-19 boss calls out local leaders in virus fight

November 14, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 file photo Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak updates the state's COVID-19 response during a news conference at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 as the virus surges to record levels in Nevada and throughout the United States.(K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 file photo Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak updates the state's COVID-19 response during a news conference at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 as the virus surges to record levels in Nevada and throughout the United States.(K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 file photo Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak updates the state's COVID-19 response during a news conference at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 as the virus surges to record levels in Nevada and throughout the United States.(K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool, File)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Hoping to avert more aggressive restrictions and potential business closures, the head of Nevada’s coronavirus response team is calling out local elected officials — especially those in rural areas — who he says are undermining efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Caleb Cage said some local leaders have adopted a politically expedient but irresponsible strategy to criticize even the least intrusive efforts to protect Nevadans from a recent dramatic spike in cases statewide. He raised concerns this week over the lack of enforcement of mask-wearing and other restrictions at businesses in rural Elko County in the northeast corner of the state.

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He said it appears they have decided it’s easier to blame Gov. Steve Sisolak for the potential economic impact of any business shutdowns.

“The lack of clear, coherent messaging from elected officials is unacceptable and it is only going to have a negative long-term effect on Elko County,” Cage said.

Sisolak disclosed Friday he has tested positive for the virus.

The Democratic governor warned Nevadans on Tuesday that if the state fails to slow the spread of the virus within two weeks, he will be forced to reimplement stricter measures. He asked residents to commit to a “Stay-at-Home 2.0” mentality to ensure the state’s hospitals don’t become overwhelmed.

On Friday, Nevada set a record for new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day. The 1,857 new confirmed cases surpassed the 1,824 cases reported Nov. 7.

In Washoe County, where the number of active coronavirus cases is now 3.5 times higher than at the beginning of October, Reno’s Renown Regional Medical Center for the first time Thursday moved 20 patients into a temporary overflow structure in a neighboring parking garage.

Carson Tahoe Hospital has reopened a state disaster medical tent for triaging emergency department patients in Carson City, where hospitalizations have doubled over the last two weeks.

In Las Vegas, where the number of cases per 100,000 people has more than doubled from 315 on Oct. 5 to 701 on Nov. 9, the Clark County School Board has postponed a decision on a plan to reopen schools for hybrid learning.

Clark County still accounts for about 80% of the state’s cumulative case total of 116,737. But over the past month, the Reno-Sparks area has become a hotspot and several rural counties have seen dramatic increases in daily case rates.

That includes Elko County, where the average number of cases confirmed per 100,000 over the previous 30 days has quadrupled from 182 on Oct. 5 to 922 on Nov. 9. It rose from 37 to 407 in Nye County and 201 to 920 in Churchill County.

Esmeralda County, with a population of 974, reported its first case of COVID-19 on Friday. It had been Nevada’s only county without a confirmed case.

On Thursday, Cage — the chairman of Nevada’s Mitigation Task Force who himself has recovered from the virus since testing positive last month — and other panel members objected to part of Elko County’s action plan that states: “Elko County wants to make it clear that individual businesses will not be held liable for actions of their customers.”

Nevada Department of Business and Industry Director Terry Reynolds said they have received numerous complaints about the lack of enforcement there. Nevada National Guard Lt. Col. Brett Compston said he was alarmed by what he saw during a recent visit to the county.

“I went into a number of their businesses and quite frankly, I was quite scared — probably the most scared I’ve been in the eight months I’ve been doing this,” Compston said.

The panel directed Elko County officials to return next week with a “more robust enforcement plan.”

County Human Resources Director Amanda Osborne said local leaders have been walking a fine line in the rural county known for its independent streak.

“We didn’t want businesses to be penalized for the actions of the patron,” Osborne said. “This is going to be an issue for Elko County, much like we’ve heard from some of the other rural counties.”

“Local political leadership is very divided. It’s very difficult to have an enforcement plan,” she said.

Cage said he’s had numerous local officials contact him directly with “plenty of choice words for me I won’t repeat here.” He said he’s “heard of elected officials in the state saying we’re not going to take any actions here because it is much easier to blame the governor for taking those difficult positions in the long run.”

Cage said Sisolak created the mitigation task force to empower local governments.

“If the outbreak is beyond the control of that community, the state is going to have to take action,” he said.

Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl didn’t hear Cage’s remarks because he was rounding up cattle on Thursday, but he said he’s been encouraging residents to wear masks and when eating at restaurants, to socially distance.

“Everybody wants to do what’s reasonable. We certainly don’t want a shutdown,” Dahl said Friday.