LAS VEGAS — After eight weeks of closures, Nevada may allow the reopening in mid-May of many businesses that were deemed non-essential and more outdoor spaces, but bars, casinos and shopping malls would likely stay shuttered, Gov. Steve Sioslak announced Thursday.
He told a press conference at the state Capitol experts think Nevada reached its peak of infections April 24 but extended the stay at home order until May 15.
Sisolak said state officials have to confirm that the decrease of cases continues over at least 14 days to make sure the decrease is sustained before moving to the first phase of reopening the state.
The governor said the state also needs to increase its ability to identify, test and isolate people who may have come into contact with those who test positive for COVID-19, and continue to have enough hospital capacity to handle a surge in cases.
State officials are working to tackle those issues. If things go as planned, non-essential businesses such as retail stores would be able to open May 15, or possibly sooner, while practicing “extremely aggressive social distancing.“ Customers and workers would still have to wear face masks, non-essential travel should still be avoided, public gatherings of more than 10 people would be prohibited, and those considered vulnerable, such as older adults or those with underlying health issues, would still have to stay home.
It’s possible restaurants and personal care services such as barbers, hair stylists and manicurists may be able to resume services on May 15. But state officials are were trying to determine if that can be done safely.
The first phase of reopening is expected to last two to three weeks, depending on how things go. If there’s a major outbreak or cluster of cases, it’s possible the state could re-institute stricter rules, Sisolak said.
Sisolak initially said Thursday that bars would stay closed during the first reopening phase, but then he later said bars and casinos would not be open “at the beginning of phase one,“ making it unclear if bars and casinos could be open by the end of May.
When asked to clarify, the governor said that counties would play a role in determining when those openings occur and that depending on how things are going, “we’ll have to determine where gaming would fit in there.”
He said the Nevada Gaming Control Board, working with health experts, would make final decisions about when casinos would reopen.
As Nevada moves into the first phase of reopening, the governor is going to allow county commissioners more power to determine how businesses reopen, as long as they meet statewide minimum rules.
To help counties and cities, the governor announced he’s forming a panel of state and county officials who will help craft reopening guidelines.
Sisolak spoke in Carson City on a day state health officials reported at least 237 people had died statewide with the COVID-19 illness and nearly 4,500 had tested positive. Most people with the virus experience symptoms such as fever and cough for up to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In other developments:
— The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that more than 45,000 people filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, when the state Department of Employment, Training was reporting the 16.8% Nevada jobless rate was already the highest in state history. The total number of jobless, nearing 390,000, equates to more than one in four workers with jobs in in February filing for unemployment benefits since the week of March 21.
— A Nevada prison oversight panel decided not to ask the governor to release convicted inmates early to keep them from possible exposure to the coronavirus. Nevada corrections chief Charles Daniels told the Nevada Sentencing Commission on Wednesday that just 39 of the 12,227 people incarcerated by the state have been tested for COVID-19, and none tested positive. Eleven department staffers have tested positive, prisons spokesman Scott Kelley said Thursday.
— Las Vegas tourism officials reported Thursday the number of visitors, convention attendance, room occupancy and revenue per hotel room were all down by more than 50% since the governor’s casino closure order went into effect in mid-March. Vehicle traffic measured on Interstate 15 at the Nevada-California border was down more than 36%.