Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference at the Sawyer State Building in Las Vegas,Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Sisolak ordered a monthlong closure of casinos and other non-essential businesses in order to stem the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Wednesday that Nevada will mandate the use of face coverings in public places in an effort to stem an increase of coronavirus cases that has hit the state as casinos, restaurants and other businesses began reopening.
Nevada has reported more than 14,300 virus cases and 494 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. A downward trend in cases previously led Sisolak and health officials to move the state to a second phase of reopening before new cases began to rise.
"For Nevada to stay safe and stay open, we must make face coverings a routine part of our daily life," the first-term Democratic governor said at a news conference.
When the mandate takes effect Thursday at midnight, Nevada will join California, North Carolina and Washington in requiring face-coverings, after those states' Democratic governors implemented similar mandates.
Sisolak emphasized his intentions with the new rule weren't partisan and only intended to contain the spread of the virus to protect residents and allow Nevada to reopening as quickly as possible.
"If back in March, before we shut down our economy, I said to you: we can keep our economy open if everyone agrees to wear masks and maintain 6 feet in person-to-person distance, who would have not accepted that offer?" Sisolak said.
The face-covering mandate will apply to all indoor and outdoor spaces where people convene. Individuals with medical conditions and disabilities, and children 2 to 9 will be exempt from the mandate, Sisolak said.
Businesses not following the mandate will be cited by licensing and regulatory authorities as well as Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Sisolak said he hoped individuals would abide by the mandate so penalties for not doing so wouldn't be necessary.
"This is a mandate so enforcement language is necessary. However, ideally there won't be any criminal or civil sanctions against individuals," he said.
The announcement followed days of health officials throughout Nevada asking people to cover their faces in public places. After Washoe County, home to Reno, saw an uptick in new cases reported daily, county health officer Kevin Dick called the numbers "alarming" and said they could reflect another surge.
"It's very important the public take this seriously. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. It is not something that is going to be over soon and it not going to be easy to address," Dick said hours before Sisolak's announcement.
AP writer Michelle L. Price contributed from Las Vegas. 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. Sonner reported from Reno.