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Nevada keeps restrictions in place, vaccines arrive Monday

December 14, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2020 file photo Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. Sisolak is expected to provide an update on Nevada’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution plans on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 amid an unrelenting surge that has spared no part of the state. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2020 file photo Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. Sisolak is expected to provide an update on Nevada’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution plans on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 amid an unrelenting surge that has spared no part of the state. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool, File)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The tightened restrictions on businesses and gatherings implemented in late November will remain in effect in Nevada until at least Jan. 15, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Sunday.

In a frank and somber address, the Democratic governor said he understood that limiting capacity for businesses including restaurants, casinos, gyms and bars was “devastating to many Nevadans who just want to go back to normal.” But the measures were needed to “bridge” Nevada to the time at which a vaccine can be widely distributed, he said.

“With the combination of the extension, the protocols that are still in place and the vaccines that are coming, we’re hopeful we’ll be in a better place by the time this would expire,” Sisolak said.

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The governor said he understood criticisms from both devastated business-owners and people who monitor the trends and wonder why the record-setting surge hasn’t prompted him to shutdown casinos. He reiterated the difficult balancing act required to keep Nevada workers and families afloat while also containing the spread of the virus and said he may adjust restrictions based on the trajectory of the virus over the next month.

Since Nov. 24, Nevada has enforced tightened restrictions meant to rein in a COVID-19 surge that has broken records in daily cases and deaths, putting more state residents per capita in the hospital for COVID-19 than any other state. The restrictions included tightening capacity limits from 50% to 25% of what fire codes allow for casinos, churches and restaurants. People are also required to wear masks at gyms and limit private gatherings — including holiday meals — to two households and no more than 10 people.

Over the span of the new restrictions, Nevada has reported about 53,000 new confirmed cases and 865 additional deaths — about 2,500 cases and 41 deaths per day. Roughly one-third of Nevada’s coronavirus cases and deaths since the pandemic began have been reported in the last three weeks.

Meanwhile, the state’s hospitals have been pushed to the brink, including in Reno, where Renown Regional Medical Center has set up an additional COVID-19 unit in its parking garage. Nevada has more patients hospitalized per capita than any other state. As of Saturday, there were 1,854 patients confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 in Nevada hospitals— a 54% increase from Nov. 22.

Despite the trends, some of which Nevada officials attribute to Thanksgiving gatherings, Sisolak noted signs of a possible turnaround.

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“While rural and northern Nevada are still experiencing very high levels of COVID hospitalization, declines are beginning to be noticeable,” the governor said.

Sisolak also announced plans to extend Nevada’s current eviction moratorium to March 31. States are required to use coronavirus relief funds passed by Congress by the end of the year. Without guaranteed funding for tenant assistance programs, Sisolak said extending the moratorium was necessary to prevent evictions, which he said contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is a reality we cannot afford to risk at this time. During this current surge we are experiencing, it’s critical that we do all we can to keep Nevadans in their homes and mitigate the risk of spread and infection,” he said.

Nevada anticipates receiving its first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Sisolak said. Pfizer began shipping out about 3 million doses from its manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday. Nevada officials have said they intend to follow federal guidelines and distribute its initial vaccine allocation to hospital staff on the front line and then residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Health officials anticipate receiving 25,350 initial doses from Pfizer this week; 17,550 will go to hospitals and 7,800 will go to pharmacies tasked with distributing them to nursing homes.

Of the estimated 173,451 people Nevada has prioritized as “Tier 1” for vaccines, the initial shipment is expected to cover about 15%. The state expects to receive more than 164,000 doses in December, which is enough to inoculate most of the prioritized first tier. The state does not plan to mandate anyone receive the vaccine, but plans to encourage vaccination through an outreach campaign.

“Today, we are closer to the end (of the pandemic) than we are to the beginning. There’s hope on the horizon,” Sisolak said.

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Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.