Updated October 28, 2020 - 8:00 pm
CARSON CITY — With President Donald Trump rallying on the Arizona-Nevada border Wednesday and Vice President Mike Pence scheduled to follow suit Thursday in Reno, Gov. Steve Sisolak condemned the narrative pushed by both men that the worst of the nation’s crisis over COVID-19 has passed.
“We are not rounding the corner, I don’t care who says it,” the governor said in a news briefing in the capital Wednesday, where he and state health officials outlined the state’s current coronavirus response status. “Anyone who says to the contrary is lying.”
Conditions in Nevada reflected those of the nation, which has set records this week for both daily and weekly new COVID-19 case totals. Eight of 17 counties are at elevated risk of infection spread in the state, case numbers and the testing positivity rate are up, hospitalizations are climbing, and officials are bracing for the lagging but inevitable increase in the death rate that is expected to follow the increasing infections in the weeks to come.
Nevada is in the red zone for COVID-19 cases as tracked by the White House’s COVID-19 task force and ranks 22nd among states, with just over 100 cases per 100,000 residents, the governor said.
“Listening to somebody with their hyperbole or their philosophical ideas or frankly their lies isn’t going to change the fact that across this country, the spread of COVID, the cases are increasing,” Sisolak said.
The governor’s remarks came as he again urged Nevadans to comply with guidance on social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions to limit the spread of the virus and curtail its recent rise.
“We are trending upward,” said Caleb Cage, the state’s COVID response director.
Big crowds at rallies
Trump’s rally Wednesday at the Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport just over the border in Arizona occurred beyond the bounds of Nevada’s cap of 250 people for any public gatherings but within range of Southern Nevada residents and the Las Vegas media market. Trump trails former Vice President Joe Biden in Nevada polling by 4.6 percentage points, according to the average calculated by Real Clear Politics.
Appearances by the president in Nevada have drawn crowds over the state’s limits on COVID-19 restrictions for public gatherings, and fines have been levied on rally venue hosts.
Pence’s rally in Reno on Thursday is likely to test those limits again. The vice president is scheduled to speak in a 17,000-square-foot hangar leased by the airport to Challenger Consulting and Perry DiLoreto, a prominent Reno-area homebuilder. A contract between DiLoreto and the airport says the lessee will comply with state and local rules, and DiLoreto’s rental agreement with the Republican National Committee spells out that the maximum allowable attendees is 250.
“Hopefully, the vice president coming to town as a guest in the state of Nevada, he will follow the rules, he’ll wear a mask, he will practice social distancing, and he’ll abide by our guidelines for the volume of the crowd, the capacity and the social distancing,” Sisolak said when asked about the vice president’s appearance.
The airport, as a quasi-independent authority, is responsible for policing the event, not Reno or Washoe County. The authority barred Trump from holding a rally there last month, forcing the Trump campaign to relocate the event to Minden Airport in Douglas County. Both the county and the venue host were fined by the state for permitting the rally.
“I would hope that the bigger guideline — and obviously sometimes these dollar fines don’t make an effect on them — I would hope that knowing that he’s putting the health and safety of 3 million Nevadans at risk by what could be inappropriate behavior would be enough of an incentive to have him follow those (guidelines) and not give the impression that he doesn’t care about the residents of the state of Nevada,” Sisolak said of the vice president.
The Trump campaign advance team to did not respond to an email asking about the vice president’s rally.
Doctors discourage rallies
Also Wednesday, Nevada physicians were among nearly 300 doctors nationally who signed on to a letter urging the Trump campaign to cancel any additional public rallies, including Pence’s rally in Reno. Several members of the vice president’s staff tested positive for COVID-19 over last weekend.
“As physicians, we are extremely concerned that Vice President’s rallies will infect people in our communities, cause uncontrolled spread and worsen the pain and suffering we already see across Nevada,” said Nita Schwartz, an emergency physician in Genoa. In a statement, she asked Pence to “stay away from Nevada.”
“When the Vice President goes back to Washington after (Thursday’s) scheduled rally, my colleagues and I will have to put on our N95 masks and deal with the consequences of his super-spreader event,” Schwartz said.