Sisolak: Nevada to require face masks in public to fight COVID-19 spread

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Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak speaks during a Covid-19 update press conference Wed., June 24, 2020.

Published Wed, Jun 24, 2020 (5:07 p.m.)

Updated Wed, Jun 24, 2020 (10:30 p.m.)

People must wear face coverings in public places throughout Nevada as cases of the coronavirus continue to spike, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced tonight.

“We must make face coverings a routine part of our daily lives,” he said.

Sisolak said he doesn’t want to have to take steps backward in reopening the economy, which is why he is mandating wearing a mask. The directive goes into effective 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

“It’s on all of us Nevadans,” he said.

The number of infections statewide has spiked over the past week with 1,127 positive cases since Sunday and the largest one-day increase of new cases in four of the past eight days. Sisolak said the Nevada Hospital Association reports the state is “still in good shape” with intensive care unit beds and ventilators supply, but feels a few more days of record-setting coronavirus cases could put hospitals at risk.

According to #Masks4All, a mask advocacy website, 16 states — including California and Washington — require masks to be worn everywhere. On wearing a mask, he said, “It is a medical necessity, a human obligation and it is good for business.”

Bill Welch, president and CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association, said in a statement, “Wearing face coverings will help limit the spread of the disease and ensure that our state’s hospitals can meet the needs of those who need medical care.”

Sisolak said businesses have the right to ask patrons to leave if they aren’t wearing a mask. He said that enforcement of the mask directive would be handled by licensing agencies and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and that he “would hope it doesn’t get to the point where we have a police officer walking around with a ticket book.”

The governor also said he understands why some Nevadans have let their guard down, whether intentionally or unintentionally, after months of closures. He was pictured without a mask at dinner.

“I was photographed not wearing a mask. It was an error and not excusable,” he said.

He also said the state will remain in the second phase of its reopening, meaning limits on capacities at restaurants, church services, gyms and more will continue. But, if the face-covering mandate isn’t taken seriously and cases continue to spike, Sisolak said he could look at closing certain industries.

"My fellow Nevadans: I’m offering us all another opportunity to limit our risk for exposure and infection, and to keep our businesses open and our economy moving. For Nevada to stay safe and stay open, we must make face coverings a routine part of our daily life," Sisolak said.

The order comes with some exemptions: People with a medical condition that makes it difficult to breathe, those with a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, and children between ages 2 and 9. He also said law enforcement agencies will determine whether their employees wear masks during specific parts of their jobs, after safety issues were raised by some departments.

Multiple times Sisolak stressed the need to wear a mask should not be linked to any political affiliation or persuasion. He also criticized those who downplay the effectiveness of wearing a mask.

“This isn’t about partisanship, it’s not who you’re going to vote for president,” he said, forcefully. “It’s not about your rights. This is about protecting the health and well-being of everybody you come in contact with.”

The governor also said there are plans to implement travel quarantines to prevent visitors from entering the state like in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“Nevada is a state that is based on tourism,” he said. “We’re not going to get to that point because I’m confident that everyone is going to follow the directive and wear the masks and we wont run into the same situation that they have there.”

Tourism industry companies quickly issued statements in support of the mandate. The Strip on June 4 started to gradually reopen after nearly 80 days of coronavirus closures.

Wynn Resorts in a statement said, “It is a demonstration of his commitment, shared by all of us, to keep visitors to Las Vegas safe, as well as our employees and local community. Mandatory face coverings have had no impact on the ability of our employees to deliver great guest experiences. Similarly, we believe face coverings will not diminish the unique experiences only Las Vegas can offer visitors.”

Hours before Sisolak’s announcement, Caesars Entertainment said it would require indoor patrons at all properties to don a mask.

MGM Resorts International echoed the sentiments: “It is clear that the coronavirus still presents a significant public health threat, and masks have proven to be one of the best ways to curtail the spread. We want guests and employees to feel comfortable that we are putting their health and safety first.”

MGM will require all visitors to wear masks in public areas of its properties across the U.S.

Sisolak also said he plans to call a special session of the Nevada Legislature in early July to address the deficit caused by the pandemic. He said there’s a budget shortfall of $1.27 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which is 25% of the state’s annual operating budget.

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