CARSON CITY — Nevada health officials have no plans to implement statewide measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and intend to continue allowing local officials to set guidelines as a variant-fueled surge grips the Las Vegas area.
The governor retains the right to implement statewide restrictions, but for now “is supportive of local communities who are closest to the issues making those decisions themselves,” Meghin Delaney, a spokesperson for Gov. Steve Sisolak, said on Wednesday.
The state's efforts to encourage vaccinations were yielding success, said Candice McDaniel, a director in Nevada’s state health department. Last week, Nevada administered more first doses than the national average and vaccinated 2.5% of the eligible unvaccinated population.
Though the state has reported instances where vaccinated individuals have tested positive, McDaniel said the risk of breakthrough infections was minuscule and shouldn't deter anyone from getting a shot.
Health officials reported 931 new coronavirus cases and 28 new deaths on Wednesday, doubling the 14-day moving average number of fatalities and bringing the state's total number of infections to 347,098 since the start of the pandemic. Hospitalizations and infection rates also continue to rise. Nevada is reporting more cases per capita than all but four states.
With case counts and infection rates rising in southern Nevada, the Clark County Commission elected Tuesday to implement mask requirements for employees who work in indoor public places. The decision added Southern Nevada to a growing list of areas to implement restrictions and drew attacks from mask opponents and people who called the employee requirements an insufficient measure to curb the spread of the virus.
The pandemic proved that masks were effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus, said Dr. Ellie Graeden of Talus Analytics said. But she noted that, of all the current methods to contain the pandemic, raising vaccination rates was the most effective.
“We use tools of masking and social distancing as the only mechanisms when we don’t have better methods. Those better methods are vaccines. Those were the only methods we had before we had vaccinations available. By far, vaccination is the best way to mitigate spread. It is far more effective than masking,” he said.
Health officials continue to promote “vaccine tourism” through mobile clinics marketed toward visitors as a way to raise inoculation rates and prevent new cases. Despite the push, local governments in Los Angeles, Chicago and Kauai have issued travel warnings or discouraged residents from visiting Las Vegas due to the region's surge.
Graeden said the clinics helped ensure repeat visitors to Las Vegas were vaccinated and that every new individual who gets vaccinated helps contain the pandemic.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will join Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak in Las Vegas on Thursday to visit a vaccine clinic and see the on-the-ground deployment of a White House COVID-19 “surge team” helping to respond to the rising cases.
The Biden administration created the teams to respond to rising cases in hotspots this summer, offering virtual and in-person assistance. The biggest on-the-ground team is in Nevada, where Sisolak jumped on the federal government’s offer for help.
Sam 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 undercovered issues.