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Officials: Renewed mask mandate frustrating but necessary

July 30, 2021 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada health officials said Thursday that they understand the return of an indoor mask mandate is frustrating but that it’s a necessary step to protect people as the number of coronavirus infections rises.

“Many may feel over having to put a mask back on. We don’t like it either,” said Candice McDaniel, a director in Nevada’s health department.

McDaniel said during a virtual news conference that the mask mandate, which takes effect for much of Nevada on Friday, will keep progress against COVID-19 from further backsliding while officials try to get more people vaccinated.

“We are in a race against time to increase vaccination coverage before new variants emerge. Variants are expected as long as transmission continues, which is why vaccination and masking efforts are so critical,” she said.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, masks will be required indoors regardless of vaccination status in 12 of 17 counties, including in Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City and Elko. The order from Gov. Steve Sisolak followed a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Masks also will be required inside all higher education institutions statewide.

The mandate is a response to rising coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths that officials have said are driven by the state’s low vaccination rate and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Nevada reported 26 additional deaths and 1,345 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. That’s the highest single-day increase in new cases since Jan. 23, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Statewide, Nevada has recorded 355,091 infections and 5,900 deaths since the pandemic began.

The two-week test positivity rate is 14.3%, a surge from a low of 3.4% in mid-May. And the number of people in Nevada hospitals with COVID-19 is 26 times higher than it was two months ago.

Officials said they have made some progress in getting more people vaccinated over the past two weeks, with the number of daily vaccinations administered slowly starting to rise.

But the percentage of the population 12 and over that is fully vaccinated has remained stubbornly at 47%.

McDaniel noted that while there are some breakthrough cases of vaccinated people testing positive for the virus, they are a very small number of the new infections and are mostly mild.

“Vaccines are working as they should,” she said.

Michelle White, Sisolak’s chief of staff, said the state is not considering any kind of vaccine passport that offers proof of COVID-19 vaccination for those attending large events, but she said some businesses are exploring the idea for private events and are free to implement that.

Sisolak’s office said Thursday that state officials will review CDC data every Tuesday to see which counties are classified as having substantial or high rates of COVID-19 spread. A county with low or moderate rates of virus transmission for at least two weeks could see their mask rules relaxed and no longer required for vaccinated people.