Three counties can open bars. Three others including Clark and Washoe, can’t
Three of the six Nevada counties where bars and taverns are shut down will be allowed to open some or all of those businesses at midnight Friday.
But the list doesn’t include bars, taverns, distilleries and wineries in Washoe, Clark and Elko.
COVID-19 Task Force chairman Caleb Cage said Washoe and Clark counties both turned in excellent plans overall including strong contact tracing programs to prevent resurgence of infections. The problems centered on enforcement.
He and Business and Industry Director Terry Reynolds said, Washoe County is doing well with enforcement in the areas it controls. The problem, they said, is at the city level in Reno and Sparks.
“I don’t see any sort of enforcement plan,” said Cage.
He said the problem in Clark County centers on opposition to enforcement efforts by local officials.
The two counties, which together are home to some 90 percent of Nevadans, both have elevated case rates and positivity of tests that don’t seem to be coming down.
Washoe officials told the task force their contact tracing program is showing that private party gatherings are the primary source of the positive test rate in the area, currently 8.7 percent. They made the argument that reopening bars would greatly reduce the number of private parties. But Cage, Reynolds and state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said they doubt that argument will hold.
“I’m not optimistic that opening bars will stop house parties,” Morgan said.
Reynolds agreed saying with the universities and colleges getting back into session, there will be more parties, not fewer.
District health officer Kevin Dick said his office and law enforcement felt better about being able to regulate and enforce restrictions in bars than at private parties.
Reynolds pointed out that the reason bars were shut down is that compliance with restrictions was between 39 and 45 percent, far too low to prevent the spread of the virus.
Health and Human Services Director Richard Whitley agreed enforcement of restrictions would be better in a controlled setting like a bar but he too doubted the reopening would greatly reduce private parties.
At Cage’s suggestion, the task force put off allowing bars in those two counties to open for another two weeks, but promised to work with county officials to cure their enforcement concerns.
Elko’s problem was different: the county didn’t submit its plan for reopening until Wednesday evening and advised they need a week to work with the task force on the details. Bars there will remain closed until the plan can be reviewed next week.
But three other counties got permission to open. Lander and Humboldt counties were permitted to reopen all their bars Friday at midnight. Nye won permission to reopen all bars outside of Pahrump. The Task force was told 85 percent of the county population lives in Pahrump and nearly all of the virus cases are there. They were told it’s not a problem in rural communities such as Amargosa Valley and Tonopah. Bars in Pahrump will remain closed for now.
In Humboldt, the task force was told the spike in cases was due entirely to a family gathering in late March/early April. The impact of that event has since greatly declined. But Humboldt got hit with another surge in cases more recently. County officials asked those 72 cases be removed from their list because they are on the McDermitt tribal reservation 72 miles north of Winnemucca and the county has no control over the situation because of tribal sovereignty.
The task force agreed since, when those cases are removed, the county qualifies to reopen its bars.
Lander County has had just three cases in August and contact tracing showed that a significant percentage of their cases this year were people who live in other counties but tested positive in Lander.