Sisolak orders bars in Las Vegas, Reno to close Friday amid virus surge

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Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a COVID-19-related news conference, Thursday, July, 9, 2020.

Published Thu, Jul 9, 2020 (7:25 p.m.)

Updated Fri, Jul 10, 2020 (1:20 p.m.)

CARSON CITY — Bars not serving food in the Las Vegas and Reno areas will be ordered to temporarily shutter at 11:59 p.m. Friday as the state rolls back its reopening plan amid spikes in coronavirus cases, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced tonight.

There’s been a gradual increase in COVID-19 cases since bars and other businesses such as gyms and water parks reopened about a month ago in the second phase of bringing the economy back after more than 80 days of closures. The positivity test rate is 7.5%.

Besides Clark and Washoe counties, others impacted by the governor's order are Elko, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon and Nye, officials announced Friday.

Counties that meet at least two of three criteria for elevated disease transmission must close their bars. The criteria, set out by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, involve the average number of tests conducted per day, the number of cases diagnosed and the overall test positivity rate, officials said.

"Counties will be reevaluated no earlier than two weeks and must show positive trends out of two of the three risk criteria to be allowed to reopen," a statement from the governor's office said. The first seven counties affected will be reevaluated July 24.

Sisolak said he came to the decision to close the bars after discussions with officials from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. They warned that the state could see such a surge of cases that the hospital system would be overwhelmed if something wasn’t done.

“This information, based on the increasing trends we’ve been experiencing, led me to my decision today,” he said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration observed more than 1,500 businesses in the past two weeks, of which 79% were compliant with state requirements. But when inspecting bars, fewer than half were in compliance of safe social distancing and face-covering protocols, the governor said.

“We know that COVID-19 can easily spread when people are congregating for long periods of time, like inside a bar,” Sisolak said. “In states where we have seen significant spikes, such as Arizona, Texas and Florida, they have all taken actions to roll back bars. Recently, Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious-disease expert, advised that congregating in bars poses a significant risk and is one of the most dangerous things people could do right now. We must heed his advice.”

Restaurants with bars are ordered to close the bar and continue to limit capacity to 50%. Bartops, regardless if they have gaming machines, will be closed.

Restaurants and casinos must close inside bar areas, but alcohol can still be served. Sisolak did not prohibit indoor dining, but is limiting it to parties of six or less.

“While this directive does not prohibit indoor dining, I’m strongly encouraging all food establishments to promote outdoor dining as much as possible, as well,” Sisolak said.

Gyms and swimming pools are also being evaluated, although Sisolak is allowing them to remain open.

He said masks must be worn at pools and water parks unless the person in the water. Those at a gym must wear masks at all times when they aren’t engaged in a “high intensity workout.” Gyms, studios for yoga, Pilates, dance or other physical exercise are considered gyms, he said.

The governor’s announcement comes as lawmakers in Carson City are discussing how best to fill a $1.15 budget shortfall caused by the economic crisis of the pandemic.

"This difficult budget situation we are in now is a direct result of the public health crisis caused by COVID-19,” Sisolak said. “And while we must turn our attention to the historic budget shortfall, we cannot forget that we are still in the midst of a highly contagious and deadly pandemic, and that many areas throughout Nevada are currently experiencing a spike."

Sisolak, in a candid moment, said being forced to retreat on reopening plans is haunting him.

“I don’t get to sleep a lot anymore. I don’t get to rest a lot anymore, and when I do try to sleep it’s not been very sound sleep,” he said. “These decisions are weighing very, very heavily on me.”

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