Commissioners: Take public health seriously

Churchill County commissioners said local communities are faced with “threading a needle with public safety” while not crushing the economy as the state enters the first phase of the governor’s plan to have Nevadans return to work.

“We don’t want another closure,” said county manager Jim Barbee at Thursday’s first commission meeting of May.

Gov. Steve Sisolak released his Phase 1 plan allowing restaurants, retail stores, barbershops and hairdressers, and auto dealerships — to name a few — to re-open on Saturday with distancing and occupancy restrictions.

The governor’s plan does not affect Naval Air Station Fallon or the Nevada National Guard. Zip Upham, the air station’s public affairs officer, said Department of Defense installations will follow guidelines issued by the federal government. He said service members and civilians must wear face coverings while on the base.

On Friday, both the city and county responded to Sisiolak’s remarks.

“Local leadership recognizes the importance of the guidance enacted by Governor Sisolak to ensure we continue to draw out the spread of COVID-19 so we may safely and smartly open our local businesses,” the county stated in a media release. “Governor Sisolak has given local governments the authority to impose stricter restrictions than his Phase 1 reopening standards, but Churchill County and the City of Fallon do not believe that stricter restrictions are necessary in our community.”

Commissioner Bus Scharmann asked at Thursday’s commission meeting, though, what repercussions would counties face if they ignored the governor’s directives. Chief Civil Deputy District Attorney Ben Shawcroft said he researched possible actions the governor’s office could take based on Nevada law and what other states would also implement; however, he said none of these steps has been addressed but Sisolak.

Shawcroft said actions that could be taken against a noncompliant county would be impacts on grants since many of the requests go through the governor’s office for approval and that includes reimbursements to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The state has police authority to enforce the governor’s order,” Shawcroft said, citing the Nevada Highway Patrol and National Guard could ensure directives were being followed.

Furthermore, he said Nevada has the authority to pull a state business license, or a state licensure board could take action.

“You could have a lawsuit against the county,” Shawcroft added.

He said lawsuits could be filed against the commission for not abiding by the governor’s directive. Scharmann then asked how does the county encourage its residents to adhere to the mitigation enforcement.

“I don’t want to see licenses pulled,” he said “How do we get people to take this seriously?”

What worries county officials is the possibility of increased positive coronavirus cases if residents don’t practice social distancing, for example.

“If we see a spike, we could see the governor take us back into closure for public health,” Barbee said.

Commission chairman Pete Olsen said peer pressure, not law enforcement, is the preferred response to ensure businesses remain open.

“It’s spot on with peer pressure,” Commissioner Carl Erquiaga said, adding stores are doing a good job in adhering to the state guidelines but not many patrons are.

During the past month, commissioners heard from residents and businesses about opening early, but Erquiaga said that action would’ve invited other people from counties that are closed. Olsen said Churchill County has been ready for several weeks, citing Banner Churchill Community Hospital has excess bed capacity and testing is catching up to include more people. Olsen has advised caution as many Churchill County businesses are opening with some restrictions still in place.

“You need to take this seriously,” Olsen emphasized.

He said Churchill County has been spared with the low number of positive cases and only one death, but he said that number could increase. Olsen reiterated communities could be closed again if cases increase.

“We want to get the community open, but we all have to take precautions,” he said.

Olsen, who operates one of the county’s largest dairies, said he was dismayed when he heard residents say “let’s open up and the heck with the governor.”

Both Olsen and Barbee said all 17 counties have been working through the Nevada Association of Counties and presented one voice through the political process to the governor’s committee.

Olsen said business openings need to be done with responsibility.

“This is the new norm now,” he said. “If people ignore it and are irresponsible, we’ll be back to square one and possibly with more people who die as well.”

Scharmann said the long-term care facilities in the county are doing an “incredible” job.

During public comments, Casey Pomeroy said people need to take personal responsibility, while Debbie Perazzo, the owner of a hair salon, said most businesses are taking the governor’s directives seriously.

Perazzo had approached the board at its emergency meeting earlier in the month about the closure hair salons and barbershops. The county sent a letter of support for the state to re-open those businesses.

“We want to re-open,”” she said Thursday.


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