LAUGHLIN — On Monday, Nevada and Colorado joined a pact of Western states to coordinate reopening of businesses.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis eased some restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 and announced plans for more businesses to reopen May 4.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, however, still has given no indication on when he will lift orders that have closed casinos and scores of other businesses, bringing the state’s economy to a screeching halt.
Nevada and Colorado are the latest members of the Western States Pact, joining California, Oregon and Washington. Sisolak said the state leaders intend to exchange critical information about how to mitigate the outbreak and reopen businesses “responsibly.”
“As of right now, I cannot give you a firm date as to when we will meet all this criteria to begin ‘phase one’ reopening plans,” Sisolak said last week. “If we continue on this path, the date is on the horizon. Our behavior as Nevadans will ultimately help determine this day.”
State and federal guidelines have said counties can ask the state to ease restrictions if they can prove new cases are low or declining for 14 days or more; have an early warning system to detect new outbreaks; and have the approval of local health agencies, hospitals and county commissioners.
Nevada plans a gradual reopening. Meghin Delaney, spokeswoman for Nevada’s COVID-19 response, said Sisolak is following federal guidelines and talking to neighboring states.
“We are in close conversations now to share challenges, solutions and best practices and we look forward to strengthening this partnership in the near future,” she said. However, Sisolak said last week that he will “consider” a gradual opening only after federal guidelines have been met. First is 14 days of declining infection rates.
“You can’t tell if you have a downward trajectory until you’re a few days into that trajectory,” Sisolak said last week. “We have not seen that yet. We’re seeing the stabilization, we’re just kind of moving along with a steady flat pace. When we see that downward trajectory begin, then I’d be able to say, ‘hey, look, we’re seven days into the trajectory. If we maintain this downward trajectory for the next seven days, we’ll be able to move into Phase One.’ We’re not there yet. We have not started a downward trajectory. So I can’t give you that day.”
In the past week, the number of new cases in Nevada has fluctuated between 58 and 190; daily death totals have ranged from none to 12 over the last week.
Randi Thompson, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said her members are “very frustrated” by the lack of specific time frame for reopening Nevada’s economy.
“I think (Sisolak) should look at what other states are doing and that they are willing to put in protocols to allow businesses to start opening,” she said. “It’s a little too autocratic in the way (Sisolak is) acting.”
Meanwhile the Silver State continues to hemorrhage millions of dollars daily in lost gaming and tourism revenue, businesses remain shuttered with tens of thousands of Nevadans out of work and the state’s unemployment system has been so overwhelmed that many have said they have not received any compensation even after weeks of being unemployed.
Thompson said business lobbyists have had weekly calls with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, urging a time frame to reopen as businesses need to notify furloughed staff and get supply chains going again.
Thompson said “He’s (Sisolak) very focused on public health, but I’m not sure how much he is listening to businesses about the state’s economic health.”
As a start, Thompson said she would like to see local governments certify more small businesses as essential. She also suggested the state should start opening counties like Elko, which has seen very few cases.
“Our political leaders need a little more faith in personal responsibility and that we’re not going to do stupid stuff,” Thompson said.
On Sunday in Colorado, Polis eased restrictions despite an increase in new infections late last week. Colorado’s major cities, however, still have closure orders in effect. Colorado schools remain closed through the end of the school year. Nightclubs, gyms and spas will not be reopening yet, but starting Monday, retail businesses were allowed to start curbside service, real estate agents can show homes and elective dental, medical and vet services can resume. Starting Friday, service providers like tattoo shops, hair salons and dog groomers can reopen with strict precautions, including masks and sanitation regimes. On May 4, offices in parts of Colorado not under local orders can re-open but only with half the usual staff to allow for social distancing. Working from home still will be encouraged. Businesses with more than 50 workers in one location will be required to have daily symptom screening and cleaning protocol.
Colorado, which has a population of about 5.79 million people, has reported 13,441 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 680 deaths. Nevada, with a population of a little more than 3 million people, has reported 4,805 confirmed cases and 225 deaths.
Polis said he was lifting the stay-at-home order because the infection rate has gone down and there is enough hospital capacity to deal with the virus.
“This is more sustainable from a mental and physical health perspective,” he announced Monday afternoon. “This is not any kind of mission-accomplished moment. We have just avoided a catastrophe.”
Polis cautioned the gradual opening is not a “free-for-all” and mass gatherings, such as sporing events, parties, reunions and other events, are not part of the plan.
Polis said no one can be compelled to return to work if it involves close contact with others, or if it can be done remotely.
Last Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced plans to ease restrictions this weekend providing high-risk populations can be protected.
“We’re about managing risk,” he told reporters. “There is no belief that we can get to zero risk.”
He said residents and businesses need to know as soon as possible that restrictions are being eased so they can prepare.
“We want people to be ready and anticipate this will happen,” he said.
St. George, not far from the Nevada and Arizona borders, announced that it was opening some recreational facilities and surrounding Washington County is starting a phased reopening Friday. Utah has had one of the lowest rates of infection and deaths in the Southwestern U.S., with 4,123 cases and 41 deaths.