Sisolak: ‘We are not rounding the corner’

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Businesses may close and hospitals may need to adopt “crisis standards” that include care rationing if the coronavirus continues to spread at current rates in Nevada, state leaders said Wednesday.

“I don’t care who says it: We are not rounding the corner,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said at a news conference flanked by members of his COVID-19 response team. “Anyone who says to the contrary is lying. They’re trying to intentionally deceive people and have them let their guard down. We cannot let that happen.”

As the pandemic surges, Sisolak said more painstaking choices are likely unless Nevada commits to steps like mask-wearing and social distancing. After business closures and decreased activity on the Las Vegas Strip cut deeply into the tax revenue base used to fund schools and health care services in Nevada — an effect he called “devastating” — Sisolak said he hoped to prevent rolling back policies that have allowed the majority of businesses and schools to reopen.

He called the decision between shutting down or reopening completely a false choice, but said if case counts continue to rise, Nevada will be forced to consider trade-offs.

Those trade-offs, he said, could prevent students from returning to classrooms and discourage the tourists and convention-goers who normally crowd Las Vegas and fuel industries that employ thousands.

Although the Nevada Hospital Association says patient counts are manageable, about three out of every four Nevada hospital beds are in use. COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage said the state could soon be on the brink of implementing crisis standards.

“That means hospitals rationing their resources and making evaluations of patients who have a better chance of survival. Crisis standards of care means gurneys in hallways; it means zero visitors for loved ones; it means nurses and professionals, struggling to find enough (personal protective equipment) to use,” Cage said.

The urgent warning comes a day before the state COVID-19 response task force is expected to convene for an emergency meeting with Washoe County officials to discuss the growth in the outbreak in the Reno-Sparks area. 

In Washoe County, active cases stood at 1,329 on Oct. 13 but reached record highs on each of the last six days, increasing from 1,516 last Thursday to 2,017 on Tuesday, amounting to a 52% increase over the past two weeks. 

Health district Officer Kevin Dick called the spike “a huge increase” and said, left unchecked, it could force businesses to close again. The county’s seven-day moving average of about 57 newly reported daily cases in mid-September has nearly tripled to about 158 as of Tuesday, he said.

Dick noted a resurgence of cases in other parts of the world have resulted in re-tightening restrictions on businesses, pointing to Europe, where curfews have returned and bars and restaurants have again closed. 

The community itself has to decide whether it is willing to take the precautions necessary to prevent further spread, he said.

“If it is not important to us to have the schools open, to have our businesses, workplaces, economy open, then we can slack off and ignore the precautions that have been recommended. And that will put us in a situation where potentially we need to start closing things down again,” he said.

Dick said the spike wasn’t confined to any particular age group or demographic, but noted rates have remained high for residents ages 20-29. Although death rates are significantly lower for younger individuals, Dick said their choices affect the entire community during a surge.

“They don’t then live in a bubble,” he said. “And because of increases in that group, we are seeing increasing cases in the group of 30-59 — pretty significant increases that are occurring there.”