- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The head of a new state coronavirus compliance review panel says decisions will be made Thursday about whether bars and other businesses will be allowed to reopen just hours later in Nevada’s two largest metropolitan areas and four rural counties.

Washoe County health officials said Wednesday they support reopening bars in Reno and Sparks because it’s easier to combat the spread of COVID-19 in regulated environments with strictly enforced protections than in private residences where people are increasingly socializing at large gatherings.

State COVID-19 response chief Caleb Cage acknowledged that directions provided during a Mitigation Task Force meeting Thursday might give hundreds of business owners as little as 12 hours’ notice about whether they can begin serving drinks across bars in Las Vegas and Reno, as well as in Pahrump, Elko, Winnemucca and Battle Mountain.

But Cage said the panel began accepting and reviewing coronavirus prevention plans this week from officials representing the affected counties: Clark, Washoe, Nye, Elko, Lander and Humboldt.

“We’ve been meeting with each of the affected counties … and had a number of conversations with their health and administrative leadership in order to make sure things are in place,” he said during a media conference call Wednesday in Carson City..

In Las Vegas, an attorney who represented dozens of bar and tavern owners trying to force Gov. Steve Sisolak to let them open said this week he expected business representatives will turn out in force.

Sisolak turned over authority for reopening to the task force last Friday and said his closure order would expire Thursday at midnight. Bars that don’t serve food would be allowed to reopen at 50% occupancy if all employees wear face coverings and customers sit 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.

Bars closed in March and remained shuttered for 48 days before being allowed to reopen June 30. Bars in and around Las Vegas and Reno were ordered closed again July 27 after coronavirus cases spiked in those areas.

Casinos, by comparison, were permitted to reopen statewide on June 4 and remain open.

State health officials on Tuesday reported the second-highest daily increase in COVID-19 deaths, at 32, and the lowest number of new confirmed cases a single day, 389, since tallying 381 on June 21. The total number of confirmed cases topped 63,000, and deaths rose to 1,134.

Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick supports reopening bars if they develop individual safety plans.

“We feel like it may be actually a better course of action … than having bars closed and not having that opportunity for people to get together to socialize in a regulated and controlled environment,” Dick told reporters Wednesday.

Reno city code enforcement officials said they have seen a significant increase in recent weeks with complaints about large parties at single-family residences where 100 people or more are gathering for parties.

In addition to large scale “party houses,” Dick said they suspect there are “numerous instances occurring in the community where if people can’t get together at a bar they are going over to somebody’s house to have a few drinks and socialize.”

It may be better to have that socializing occur in a “regulated environment versus not having the bars available and people getting together without any controls on their interactions,” he said.

Alex Woodley, a Reno code enforcement official, said they’ve seen a spike in disturbance complaints involving large gatherings at residences “for lack of another venue.”

“Unfortunately for us … there is no occupancy limit that’s being actually regulated as we do for businesses,” he said.


Ritter reported from Las Vegas.

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