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Nye County assuming local control of pandemic

Tomorrow, May 1, Nye County will officially assume control over nearly every aspect of the mitigation and management of the COVID-19 pandemic within its boundaries, with one very notable exception. Despite Nye County commissioners’ unanimous vote to rescind the requirement that its citizens wear masks when interacting with others in a public setting, the statewide mask mandate still stands and Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has made it clear that any endeavor to sidestep that mandate is null and void.

“Nye County received a letter April 27 from the governor’s office thanking Nye County stakeholders for the work invested in developing Nye County’s Local COVID-19 Mitigation and Enforcement Plan. The letter indicates that the governor delegates authority to Nye County to manage COVID-19 mitigation measures in accordance with the plan,” a news release sent out by Nye County Public Information Officer Arnold Knightly this week states. “Emergency Management Director Scott Lewis presented the plan to the state COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force on April 22. The plan highlights include removing capacity limitations for businesses and gatherings due to COVID mitigation starting May 1. The county will also lift social distancing restrictions. However, as stated in the letter, the requirement for face masks in public spaces, including businesses, remains in place past May 1 in Nye County and statewide.”

Before being sent to the state, the Nye County COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Plan went before commissioners for their stamp of approval during the board’s April 20 meeting.

At that meeting, Nye County Manager Tim Sutton gave an overview of the plan, explaining, “The plan provides for the following: no mandatory capacity restrictions; no mandatory social distancing; no mandatory sanitizing; no requirement for large event plans to be approved by the state moving forward. And that is in response to the board’s request for a full reopening.

“The plan provides that will continue to monitor the items found on page 4, which would be; daily new cases; daily tests; test positivity rate; daily vaccination rates; daily COVID deaths; daily hospitalization rate; and daily ICU and ventilator use,” Sutton continued. “The plan also provides that we will continue to provide vaccination PODs and also information about testing and also we will provide PPE in the priorities listed in the plan.”

Sutton requested just two changes to the document prior to its approval, one for a minor typo which changed the incorrect term “contract” to “contact” and another to remove two entire sentences from a section of page 6 addressing public sector work plans.

“Social distancing and sanitization protocols were deferred to the county per the governor’s last press conference, and I think everybody knows that the mask mandate is under the state anyway so there is really no reason to put in it there,” Sutton stated. “Where it says ‘Mask mandates, social distancing and sanitization protocols remain in place’, I’d like to propose that that sentence be stricken.”

Nye County Commission Chair Debra Strickland then remarked that this would mean, first and foremost, that the tape barring members of the public from using certain seats in the commissioners’ chambers would be removed and the sanitization of the public commenter’s stand would not longer be carried out. “All the people can sit with whomever they want to. And that right there is a big change,” she noted.

Strickland then attempted to give direction to Sutton to end the teleconferencing that has been available for the public since the onset of the pandemic limited the number of persons allowed inside of the chambers during meetings. Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, for one, threw his support behind the idea of doing away with the teleconferencing system but at least one board member was not amenable to that and even county staff expressed their hesitation in removing that option just yet.

“I don’t have a problem with people calling in,” commissioner Frank Carbone stated. “There are people who are at home right now who are calling in here, they don’t need to come here if they don’t want to. It’s just a burden on their part.”

Strickland interjected that the teleconferencing was a burden of the part of staff, asking, “So you foresee that we will need to still do teleconference? Because this is a pain in the you know what.”

Nye County Administrative Manager Samantha Tackett jumped in to request that the teleconferencing remain in place for now, adding that the county has certain contracts and other items that she would like taken into consideration before the teleconferencing comes to an end. In response, Strickland asserted that a formal agenda item would be brought forward so the commissioners could vote on the matter.

Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox then opened the discussion on the sticky topic of the mask mandate, asking how the county was going to be handling that. Carbone asserted that the commission had already voted to get rid of the mask mandate, with Blundo chiming in, “I remember that too.”

Regardless of the action taken by the commission earlier this month, Strickland informed her fellow commissioners that the mask mandate is a statewide mandate and Sutton added, “The state’s position is that the counties do not have the authority to pass any resolution on the mask mandate, so they won’t recognize anything. I have also been advised by counsel that the action taken by the board at the last meeting, as it pertains to the mask mandate, was void and of no effect.”

“I vehemently disagree with that opinion,” Blundo declared. “And I believe that we voted in the affirmative and we have control over Nye County… and we took a stand, knowing, against the governor…”

Blundo then specifically asked if the mitigation plan before the board means that the county is returning to normal, to which Sutton answered that he and Blundo might have different ideas of the concept of “normal”. Blundo clarified that he was asking about masks and Sutton replied, “That’s kind of where the rub is.”

Strickland noted that there was nothing in the mitigation plan that stated that the county will or will not have a mask mandate, and Blundo added, “So let them (the state) interpret it for what they want to.”

“So does this mean that I can come back to the meetings without a mask on?” Cox, who has not attended a commission meeting in person for many months due to the mask requirement, asked. During that very meeting, Blundo, Carbone and commissioner Bruce Jabbour had all already removed their masks so it stands to reason that Cox would be able to attend without a mask in the future as well.

Cox then stated that she was leery of the idea of not addressing the removal of the mask mandate within the county’s mitigation document but once again Sutton remarked that any and all provisions adopted by counties that go against the statewide mandates, such as the mask mandate, are null and void. “Whether we put it in or take it out, the state is not going to recognize it,” Sutton emphasized.

Blundo made the motion to approve the county’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Plan, which carried 5-0.

The plan can be viewed online by visiting www.NyeCounty.net and clicking on the “Meeting Center” link. The document is included with item #42 on the April 20 agenda.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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