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Sisolak updates Nevadans on actions, guidance on COVID-19

Seeking to assuage concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak held a Sunday, March 15 press conference to provide and update Nevadans on actions and guidance issued by the state of Nevada to prepare for and mitigate the spread of the virus.

Sisolak noted that his administration is working hard to protect Silver State families and individuals, as well as provide as much information as possible in regard to the quick and decisive action that COVID-19 has demanded.

“The state of Nevada, schools and health districts, and our other partners throughout the state will continue to provide information as it becomes available,” he said. “We’re all in this together, and we all have a shared responsibility in keeping us safe and healthy.”

Immediate action

During his prepared remarks, Sisolak spoke about the importance of taking immediate actions to help control the spread of the virus.

“No matter how much we hope this will go away, if we wait one more day to take action, it will not,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns right now, but despite the incredible work of our local health districts and state labs, like every other state, we have not been provided with a sufficient number of test kits to meet demand for our state. As a result, we don’t know the full extent of what we’re dealing with, but based on the rapid spread of this virus around the world, and what we’ve already seen in Nevada, we now must act quickly.”

Medical providers

The governor also expressed deep concern for those who work in the health care industry.

“We know that our health care workers and state and local employees will be on the front lines caring for those who become ill and providing the safety net Nevadans need during this difficult time,” he said. “They are the heroes. Our police, fire and ambulance workers. The workers and volunteers process unemployment. The health care workers reporting every day, with the understanding that their families and their neighbors need them, even with the risk of their own exposure. I ask you to keep them in mind when you make decisions about social distancing, even if you believe you’re at lower risk, and avoid continuing the spread of this virus.”

Specific measures

Sisolak’s remarks also spoke to the measures he’s putting in place to protect the health and safety of the state workforce and the public, in general.

“Today I am issuing an emergency regulation to expand the authorization of paid administrative leave for state employees in a state of emergency, and I am also directing executive branch agency leadership to close state offices to the public, as soon as possible,” he said. “For essential services like unemployment insurance, the DMV, Medicaid, welfare, and others, I am directing agency leadership to wind down in-person public services and transition as much of the work as possible to online and over-the-phone services in the coming days. We must protect the health and safety of the public and our state workforce while ensuring that the important work of our state government does not grind to a halt.”

Complicated issues

While speaking about the unique and diverse qualities of Nevada, Sisolak warned residents that too often, there seems to be what he termed as a “one size fits all approach” to complicated issues.

“With that in mind, I am delegating to executive branch state agency leadership the authority to decide what works best for their offices and employees, whether that means office closures for all non-essential employees, the implementation of teleworking, or a hybrid approach,” he said. “These are unprecedented circumstances that call for creative solutions. Lastly, we are also instituting a hiring freeze and encouraging state agencies to limit spending to essential, emergency purchases.”

Providing guidance

Underlying all of the actions, Sisolak noted that the actions are an important precautionary measure that has been shown to mitigate the spread of the virus in other states and all around the world, via social distancing.

“Our Nevada Health Response Medical Advisory Team has been working around the clock to provide guidance and recommendations on social distancing and other effective ways to address the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “I want to thank these medical professionals for their dedication to our state and the safety of our citizens.”

Those recommendations, Sisolak said, provide the initial guidance to address all of the risks associated with the spread of the virus, by noting that when it comes to gatherings, the risk is not just based on how many people there are, but rather how closely they are gathered and how they are interacting with each other, as the risk does not disappear in smaller gatherings.

“It’s the distance and precautions that will make the difference,” he said.

Alternative workplaces

Regarding his directives, Sisolak said any employees who can work from home should do so.

“While it may not be an ideal situation, it is preferable to having employees unnecessarily spreading disease at work,” he said. “Ill employees must absolutely stay home from work and businesses should take steps to protect employees who must work in person in accordance with social distancing guidance appropriate to the individual workplace. Social distancing is not one-size-fits-all. What works for one community in our state will not work for another. There needs to be great focus in the approaches we take to reduce disease transmission. Older people, people with underlying health conditions and other high-risk populations should stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact with others. To our faith leaders, I respectfully request that if you are unable to provide for social distancing protocols, you consider postponing services for your congregations.”

Limiting public gatherings

Additionally, Sisolak asked that local governments enforce a new provision of 50 percent or less capacity of any public gathering space presently allowed by the fire marshals, where fewer people in a room with a larger distance between them is the only way to decrease the risk of spread.

As new guidance continues to come out from the Centers for Disease Control, Sisolak noted that the Medical Advisory Team will work with local health districts and top medical professionals to review and provide recommendations.

“As we all know, gaming is the lifeblood of Nevada’s economy, and a source of financial support for so many of our citizens and their families,” he said. “But to protect the public health and safety of Nevadans and visitors, I strongly support any of our properties that make the difficult decision to close to the public. I also encourage these licensees to do their best to protect the pay and benefits of their workforce during this difficult time, many of whom have school-aged children and other family members they need to provide for. Your workforce is there for you, day in and day out. Please be there for them during this challenging time.”

Complying to restrictions

Another point Sisolak made in reference to gaming and eating establishments, was the fact that the businesses are expected to comply with a number of restrictions.

“There will be no more than three chairs at table games and all gaming machines must be cleaned and sanitized at a minimum of every two hours,” he directed. “Any buffets that remain open must be served by employees instead of by patrons. Employee dining areas can remain open, but again, employees may not serve themselves, and the gaming floor and other public areas are expected to be in compliance with the latest social distancing guidance from Nevada’s medical advisory team. Areas outside of the casino floor should also be in compliance with recommended social distancing practices.”

All of the measures Sisolak noted are part of a much larger response, which is why the Nevada Health Response Center operation was created immediately upon signing the emergency declaration to ensure we have leaders addressing each of the impacted areas with their individual expertise, including Michael Brown, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“He has been charged with overseeing response and preparation plans for businesses and employers,” the governor said. “He will work with our financial institutions and insurance companies to keep people in their homes and to help Nevada’s businesses. Over the weekend, Director Brown, in conjunction with the Department of Business and Industry, spoke to leaders in the insurance, financial, and mining industries. Additionally, he is coordinating with local chambers, regional development authorities, and economic leaders to determine the best course of action.”

Sisolak strongly noted that his office is proactively ensuring that people have access to essential business services.

As of Tuesday, March 17, Sisolak said his office will commence daily calls with all of the local chambers of commerce, regional development authorities, and other key economic leaders across the state to brief them on situations as they develop.

Statewide, Sisolak said his office is organizing in conjunction with the Department of Emergency Management and the Small Business Administration to ensure the governor can petition and formally request small business loan assistance.

“Director Brown and I are urging businesses, HOAs, banks, and landlords to be patient and understanding during these unprecedented times,” he urged. “As this state has proved before in times as challenging as these, the business communities in the north, south, and rural areas have banded together to collectively support one another and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We are confident that as Nevada always has, we will bounce back from these challenges and become even stronger, demonstrating our frontier and pioneer spirit. We are all in this together, and must do what we can to be part of the solution and shared responsibility for each other as Nevadans.”

Maintaining services

Moreover, Sisolak said Nevada utility companies have committed to maintaining all services regardless of a resident’s ability to pay.

“That is exactly the kind of commitment that will help sustain our residents as we weather this crisis,” he said. “Through all this, my primary concern has been jobs and the working people of Nevada. And as always, I will continue working with our labor partners throughout the state. We’ve already provided guidance for restrictions on visitation at facilities caring for our elderly, including screening visitors for symptoms, and restricting visitation only to essential individuals. These measures are also a challenge, but are critical to the health and well being of the elderly, and those who care for them.”

Difficult times

Additionally, Sisolak admitted that Nevadans, collectively, will undoubtedly face many hardships during the crisis.

“There will be a loss of income, and families and individuals will be inconvenienced,” he warned. “I ask every Nevadan to call your neighbors, call and check on the elderly who may be alone and in need. In the coming days, I will be in consultation with our legislative leaders of both parties and other branches of government to begin to address the financial implications of this crisis. I commit to keeping you informed as this evolves, and as we have more answers to all of the measures I announced today. Until then, take care of each other, and take care of yourselves. Together, we will get through this challenging time.”

On a final note, the governor recalled the 1 October tragedy, where he said Nevada citizens showed the nation what it meant to stand together and unite against all odds.

“I’m asking my fellow Nevadans to do it with more commitment and compassion than ever before, because we know what this will mean for our communities,” he said. “I want to also thank the properties who have committed to donating food to school districts.”

See further coverage at the Times’ website, pvtimes.com

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