LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — State officials got past a tense start on Tuesday as discussions began with Nevada counties to set the course for turning over COVID-19 decision-making to local authorities on May 1.
Officials wasted no time in expressing concern over any plans to go “100% open” on May 1.
As Storey County presented an overview of its plan, Christopher Lake of the Nevada Hospital Association asked point blank about reports that the county wanted to go 100% open. Lake and several other officials on Nevada’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force put Storey County Manager Austin Osborne on the spot.
“Opening at 100% makes me very nervous,” said Kyra Morgan, chief biostatistician for Nevada. “That could be really playing with fire.”
Task Force Director Caleb Cage chimed in, “If we lose control of this again, we’re going to be dealing with this at a state level again.”
Osborne got the message.
“We have a lot to lose up here if we’re not a safe community,” he said as he responded to questions about coordination with school districts and health care facilities.
Storey County, just east of Reno and home to the Tesla “gigafactory,” was among the first five counties to give the task force an overview. Others on the call were Carson City, Douglas County, Lyon County and Churchill County.
Clark County will give its overview in the coming days.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, in a directive issued on Feb. 14, put in place the path for counties and other local governments to take over mitigation and enforcement efforts. Some state regulation will continue — notably, casinos will still answer to the Gaming Control Board if they fail to enforce health and safety guidelines.
The next steps in turning over control to counties include each county submitting its plan in April, and then “review and discussion,” according to Cage. He emphasized that state approval of the plans isn’t required, but offered the state’s guidance in crafting the plans.
Questions during Tuesday’s call brought discussion of enforcement, and who will be responsible for enforcing the health and safety guidelines.
Lyon County Manager Jeff Page emphasized that counties might not have the resources to enforce all the rules if the state steps away from all enforcement efforts. Requirements for social distancing, sanitation procedures and wearing of masks remain, even when May 1 arrives.
State officials also clarified that National Guard assistance would continue through September in the vaccination efforts around the state.
The move to local control of decisions comes as health officials see positive signs in the fight against the pandemic. Only one county — Douglas — is currently flagged for elevated risk of transmission.
Morgan said she would be surprised if Nevada ever sees the kinds of COVID-19 cases that occurred in the surge during November and December, and she expects the state to be able to keep new cases at around 200 per day going forward.
Vaccinations are playing a big part in the fight, and they will also make a big difference if cases do begin to grow again. Morgan said even if cases grow, hospitalizations migh not necessarily follow because of the progress made in vaccinating the state’s most vulnerable people.