I am at home by myself, sitting at my desk and typing on my computer with a face mask on. No, not really, because under Governor Sisolak’s Emergency Directive 035, being alone exempts me from that requirement. The surge in COVID-19 positives and government directives in response has made this our new reality. For the third time in less than two weeks, Nevada on Tuesday set a record for most coronavirus cases reported in a day since the start of the pandemic, state data shows. According to the Department of Health and Human Services website, there were 2,853 new cases reported Tuesday, along with 24 additional deaths. The updated figures brought totals in the state to 139,080 cases and 2,047 deaths.
On Nov. 23, 2020, Governor Sisolak announced increased restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The measures went into effect on Tuesday. The mitigation measures will last for the next three weeks, and the governor and his administration will continue to monitor the COVID-19 trends in the state during that time frame.
Emergency Directive 035 reduces occupancy from 50% to 25% for bars, restaurants, gaming operations, gyms, fitness facilities, and other businesses and activities. Grocery stores and the big box stores remained at 50% occupancy. The governor’s latest action to try and slow the spread of COVID-19 has met with some criticism. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called Gov. Steve Sisolak “a dictator.” “He’s been a dictator with whom we have complied every step of the way,” Goodman said. “We’ve had no choice.” Goodman has been perhaps the state’s most visible critic of sharp restrictions meant to slow the outbreak.
Perhaps the most controversial section of the directive is section 9. That section states: “private residential gatherings are restricted to 10 or fewer persons from no more than two households, whether indoors or outdoors. This provision shall not be construed to apply to the gathering of persons living within the same household. Individuals not exempted by Directive 024 or guidance issued by the Nevada Health Response shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face covering when attending private residential gatherings with people outside of their household, even when social distancing is being observed.”
A mandate on how many people you are allowed in your own home is not exclusive to Nevada as other governors have recently enacted similar requirements in their states. While it is prudent to ask families to limit their interactions with other family households during this time, there is a definitive line between asking for cooperation vs. mandating it by government directive.
How will local law enforcement agencies enforce the 10-person, masks, and two household rules? For all practical purposes, they probably won’t. Recognizing that, some government officials in other states have encouraged people to “turn in their neighbor.” In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a short-lived hotline to which city dwellers could snap and send a picture of social distancing violators. When we should support each other and come together to defeat this virus, history reminds us that asking citizens to police their neighbors has had disastrous results.
Promoting a culture of “neighbor turning against neighbor” has been a part of our darkest historical times. People who have known each other for years, whose children have played together, suddenly divided by rising cycles of suspicion, hate, and violence. One of the most chilling aspects of the Holocaust and other genocides is the recurrence of this dismal phenomenon in virtually every culture in which genocides have taken place.
The government mandating what takes place concerning private gatherings in a family home feels like a violation of our personal rights. Even though well-intentioned, trying to force this on residents of this state will not be well received. It is always a better plan of action to convince someone to change their behavior with common sense, logical discussion, and emotional impact. The governor did appeal to Nevadans in his press conference, stating: “We decide our distance from others. We decide how long we spend in a high-risk setting. We decide whether to take the simple step of putting on a mask,” he continued. “Nevadans know that if it doesn’t feel safe, then it isn’t safe. And, if it isn’t safe, we shouldn’t be doing it right now. Ultimately, our individual actions decide whether we are going to prioritize getting our children into the classroom, allowing our businesses to operate under safe measures, and protecting our hospital system and health care workers.”
We do want this virus to get under control. Businesses are doing their best to comply with the ever-changing landscape of regulations. Citizens are wearing masks in public and washing their hands. It makes sense to ask people to limit family gatherings until the virus’s spread slows down. But ask us and don’t tell us what to do in our homes. It goes against our grain, and the opposite outcome could take place.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org