Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced on Friday, March 20 that he is no longer asking nonessential businesses to cease public operations over the COVID-19 pandemic, he is now demanding that they do so, or suffer potential legal consequences.
Sisolak initially requested nonessential businesses to shut down as of noon on Wednesday, March 18 but some across the state refused to do so and several law enforcement officials, including Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly, stated they would not enforce the requested closures because the governor’s directive did not provide enforcement provisions.
With the updated directive from the governor, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office sent out a release on Friday stating that “Sheriff Sharon Wehrly and staff will begin enforcement of the governor’s order at midnight.”
As a result of the earlier noncompliance by some, Sisolak laid down a harder line in his position on COVID-19 by signing off on another emergency directive ordering, rather than urging, said nonessential businesses to close.
“Previously, I asked nonessential businesses to close their doors to the public. I am no longer asking them to do that,” Sisolak stated in live Facebook press conference. “I am directing all nonessential businesses to close. I repeat, if you are not an essential business, I am using my power as governor under an emergency declaration to order you to close. I am signing a new emergency directive, the third I’ve signed since declaring a state of emergency.”
In a video statement on Friday, March 20, Wehrly said Sisolak “issued an emergency declaration this afternoon, adding an enforcement provision to his previous request for nonessential businesses to close.”
The sheriff’s office will begin enforcement of the directive at midnight, March 21.
“Effective March 21 at midnight, nonessential businesses shall close until April 16,” Wehrly said. “Governor Sisolak has published an emergency regulation outlining the particulars.”
More information about the directive and what constitutes an essential and nonessential business can be found on the sheriff’s office website at www.nyecountysheriffsoffice.com/covid19.html
“Nevada Revised Statute 202.595 makes it a gross misdemeanor or felony to perform any act or neglect any duty imposed by law,” she said. “The governor has made it clear that you have a duty imposed by law under his emergency declaration.”
She continued by saying, “Nye County deputies will be taking enforcement action in accordance with his emergency declaration made March 20. This enforcement action will begin immediately after midnight. We continue to urge the public to follow the governor’s guidance and stay home for Nevada. This is the most effective way to prevent the continued spread of this virus.”
Wehrly also reiterated the social distancing practice of remaining six feet apart from other people, if people must go out. She added that people should wash their hands often.
“These measures have been identified to be helpful in preventing the spread by the medical profession,” she said.
During his press conference, Sisolak detailed that Nevada saw its first presumptive positive case of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 on March 5. By by March 17, when he urged nonessential businesses to close, that number had reached 64 cases. As of his 1:30 p.m. press conference on March 20, the total of COVID-19 cases had nearly doubled.
“Today, we have now skyrocketed to 109 cases,” Sisolak stated. “Our positives have gone up 70% in three days, and one of our own Nevadans has died. And because this developed in other countries and states before arriving in Nevada, we don’t have to guess at what comes next: the rapid increase in positive cases will continue. The numbers aren’t slowing down, and we have not yet reached our apex.”
Four deaths have occurred in Nevada due to COVID-19. According to a recently launched website from the state, there are 278 positive cases in Nevada, with one positive case in Beatty. Some of those people could be living outside of Nevada, so the numbers could go lower for the state after an investigation is completed.
Sisolak then shifted his attention to testing, blasting the federal government by proclaiming that all calls for federal assistance have gone unanswered.
“And despite countless calls and around-the-clock work to push for, and even beg, the federal government for additional test kits and supplies, the NV Division of Public and Behavioral Health received a notice yesterday that all of Nevada’s requests to the federal government regarding drive-thru swab testing pods, swab test kits and testing reagent kits are on an indefinite backlog without any estimate of a timeline for delivery,” Sisolak lamented. “This is our unfortunate reality, Nevada. It’s up to us.”
Sisolak said he would be turning to local community partners with his pleas for assistance and he is optimistic that they will step up. Additionally, the state’s health and emergency management team is taking what steps it can to protect public health, including by accessing the open market.
“While not a silver bullet, these moves will help us get a better picture of the totality of this crisis,” Sisolak said. “The more cases we can identify, the better we can treat them and save lives.”
However, even doing that is likely to prove a challenge, as Sisolak went on to describe the limitations of our local health care system.
“Like so many other states, Nevada’s health system will not be able to handle an excessive increase in patients all at once without rapidly straining resources,” Sisolak predicted. “And without aggressive mitigation efforts, an outbreak can turn into a full-blown crisis that will overwhelm hospitals, put our health care workers at a higher risk of exposure and test the limits of our medical system.”
At this point in time, Sisolak said the state currently has less than 5,000 acute care beds, of which fewer than 700 are the intensive care unit beds best suited for those experiencing severe cases of COVID-19. “Right now, more than 80 percent of all those beds are occupied with a mix of COVID-19 and other patients. That means, we have only 20 percent of beds available. We have similar limits when it comes to ventilators,” Sisolak explained.
Without every effort being made to slow the virus’ spread, Sisolak said he believed all hospital beds would soon be filled with coronavirus patients, leaving none for those dealing with other kinds of illness and injury. That was why he felt it necessary to strengthen his emergency directive and demand nonessential businesses to close to the public.
“If home means Nevada, we stay home for Nevada,” Sisolak proclaimed. “As governor, I’ve declared a state of emergency. I’ve shuttered schools. I urged the closure of nonessential businesses. I shut down gaming.”
He continued by remarking that he is fully aware of the difficult position local residents and businesses are now in and he is not ignorant of the economic impact that is being felt around the state but not acting is simply not a choice.
“I know what that means and I know what this will mean for the future of Nevada. But I also know that if we don’t take another step, we will lose many more Nevadans. And we can’t afford that in this state. We can’t. I won’t let my inaction make this crisis worse,” Sisolak stated.
That next step is ordering nonessential businesses to close and providing enforcement provisions to ensure those businesses abide by his directive.
“This is not the time to try to find loopholes,” Sisolak admonished. “If your business is not essential to providing sustenance and for the everyday safety, health and well-being of Nevadans, you must shut down so that we can give health care workers and our fellow citizens the best chance at fighting this virus that we can.
“By signing this directive I am granting local governments the authority they do not currently have to impose civil penalties, including fining and revoking licenses, of businesses that do not shut down,” Sisolak continued. “If businesses defy this directive and stay open, state and local law enforcement will have the ability to treat this as a criminal act after all other options have been exhausted. This directive goes into effect at midnight tonight and will remain in place until April 16.”