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Officials Wrestle With Surge Of COVID-19 Cases, Sisolak Reiterates Plea To Wear Masks

A close up and side profile of an older man’s face. He’s touching the bottom of his blue surgical mask. He is wearing a silver wedding ring.
David Calvert
Nevada Independent
Governor Steve Sisolak during a press conference on July 9, 2020 in the former Assembly chambers inside the Capital in Carson City.

As Nevada experiences a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Steve Sisolak and City of Reno officials are doubling down on their public health messaging. And as KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck reports, officials are wrestling with how to control the spread of infections.

In Sisolak’s fourth press conference in the last month, he drove home the same message: wear a mask, practice social distancing and avoid gatherings.

“This is a personal impassioned plea for people to please step up and do these things,” Sisolak said.

But while Nevada continues to see COVID-19 surges, the governor is reluctant to tighten any restrictions. He is once again asking Nevadans to self-limit activities for the next two weeks, calling it “Stay At Home 2.0.” But for now, he’s not clamping down on businesses because he admits the economy has him backed against a wall.

“Some people are going to ask, ‘Why not limit retail, or casino resorts, or restaurants right now?’ That's a fair question. That's the tightrope I was referring to. That is the tightrope of trying to balance controlling the COVID-19 spread, protecting our hospitals from surges, and at the same time, not destroying and shutting down our economy,” Sisolak said.

That also includes continuing to allow out-of-state visitors.

After being questioned repeatedly by reporters about why he’s not taking a stronger stance, Sisolak said he believes Nevadans will heed the call to do better.

But some haven’t. Here in Northern Nevada, outbreaks due to gatherings over Halloween weekend have disrupted school for some in Washoe County.

Bishop Manogue High School closed its campus earlier this month and for now will remain closed until Nov. 30. In an email to families, school officials stated that several large gatherings resulted in 7 active cases and 147 students were exposed. In addition, several public schools in Washoe County currently reverted to full distance learning due to COVID-19 cases.

Earlier in the day, the City of Reno also provided an update on the current COVID-19 situation. Officials and frontline workers on a press call painted a grim picture of the pandemic in the Truckee Meadows region: cases are on the rise, hospitalizations are increasing and Reno could potentially implement business shutdowns if the cases continue to climb further.

Washoe County recently shattered a COVID-19 record with 469 new cases on Saturday. There have been more than 200 new cases per day for a week.

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve is considering taking a more hardline approach regarding businesses. She said if the virus doesn’t get under control, the city could see businesses shut down.

Schieve also added that she would consider fining individuals for not wearing a mask. But she’d need support.

“I'd have to go back to my entire body at the city council, and I would like to do that, and ask for their support, and that means that we will start fining you, and if that's what we have to do, then we have to do it,” Schieve said.

Schieve said she’s concerned about the alarming increase in hospitalizations in the region. There are nearly 250 hospitalized patients in Northern Nevada as of Tuesday. In comparison, just a month ago — there were only 50. That’s according to Dr. John Hess, a family physician with Saint Mary's Medical Group.

“I think people need to realize it's not just the number of cases, it's the severity of illness that we are seeing in our community. It is going up dramatically,” Hess said.

To increase hospital capacity in the region, Renown Regional Medical Center is expected to reopen an emergency care site in its parking garage in downtown Reno. Speaking after Sisolak, Dr. Tony Slonim, the head of Renown, said the pandemic has reached a critical point.

“I don’t take opening a parking garage and putting hospitalized patients in it lightly. That's where we are likely [to be] this week. It’s one of the reasons why I’m speaking out now. We need the help of the community if we’re going to be able to stave off anything worsening from this pandemic. We’re putting our healthcare workers at risk. We’re putting each other at risk. We’ve got to do better,” Slonim said.

Sisolak said if cases don’t decrease within the next two weeks, he’s considering tighter restrictions, but he wouldn’t specify what measures he would take.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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