Updated September 8, 2020 - 11:32 am
Under pressure from local officials, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday that he and his advisers would be looking at best practices across the country before easing restrictions on churches, youth sports and businesses, which were implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19.
He provided no timeline or specific criteria for when restrictions might be eased, while noting that Nevada’s testing positivity rate for the virus and numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are “trending in the right direction.”
“But that being said, you need to understand that we started at an extremely high level when we started to bring our numbers down and have a long way to go,” Sisolak said during a Thursday afternoon news conference at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.
Nevada is one of only 11 states with a testing positivity rate remaining above 10 percent, he said. As of Thursday, Nevada’s cumulative positivity rate was 11.61 percent, as calculated by the Review-Journal by dividing the number of confirmed cases by the number of people tested. The state, which uses a formula based on numbers of tests, listed it at 10.5 percent.
The governor said he wanted to avoid easing restrictions prematurely.
“When we lift restrictions, we must lift those restrictions responsibly. Our future economic recovery depends on it, and our community depends on it,” Sisolak said. “If we go too fast in recovery, we’ll be hindered, and things like conventions won’t just be canceled this year. They’ll be canceled next year, too, and the year after that.”
In the six months since Nevada announced its first case of COVID-19, there have been more than 70,000 cases reported and nearly 1,363 deaths.
Sisolak said he understood that the restrictions were difficult on the community and for local leaders under pressure from constituents.
“I know for some of our local leaders, this can be tough,” he said. “I understand the pressure that they’re under. And I know everyone is doing their best for their communities in a situation for which there is no playbook.”
Earlier Thursday, Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick asked during a meeting of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation task force what the process would be to begin easing restrictions in areas such as parks, where playgrounds are closed, and youth sports, whose teams can hold practices but not games within the state. She also recommended easing restrictions on countertop service, which the task force approved for restaurants beginning Sept. 9.
On Wednesday, Kirkpatrick also suggested loosening restrictions on church services and conventions, which are currently limited to no more than 50 people.
Sisolak said Thursday afternoon that his priorities for easing restrictions are in areas that include youth sports, churches and meetings. But he said he could provide no specific timetables or metrics that would first need to be met.
“I don’t have a metric that I could say, ‘If we reach this, you’re going to get there,’ and I don’t have an exact date,” he said.
“We’re going to get there as quickly but as responsibly as we possibly can,” he said. “So we’re going to continue to monitor best practices across the country and, hopefully, our numbers keep going in that direction.”
Sisolak emphasized that Nevada has made great strides in recent weeks in decreasing numbers of cases and hospitalizations. He urged people to download the new COVID Trace app, which provides notification of possible exposure to COVID-19, and advises users to seek testing when needed. As of Thursday, the app had been downloaded more than 20,000 times.
He also advised caution over Labor Day weekend to avoid reversing the recent positive trend.
“Please do not have large gatherings,” the governor said. “That is the single most expansive spread of the COVID virus,” including family and neighborhood gatherings.
“We’re asking you please to be extra cautious.”