LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada’s top coronavirus official didn’t guarantee Friday that the state can meet President Joe Biden’s goal of offering a vaccination to every adult who wants one by May. But he said the target was “giving us something to all work towards.”
“We are eager to achieve the same results,” Caleb Cage, the head of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 response task force, said during a conference call with reporters. “We see the challenge ahead of us … making sure that all Nevadans who wish to be vaccinated can be vaccinated by that time. We would love nothing more.”
Regardless of whether the state reaches Biden’s target, the prevalence of the coronavirus is dwindling throughout Nevada as more vaccines are administered. In light of the progress, Sisolak announced Friday that he planned to accelerate the state’s reopening timeline.
The governor reversed plans to limit the number of concerts, conventions and trade show attendees to 1,000 people and decided to allow them to host up to 50% of total venue capacity - the same as most businesses in the state - starting March 15.
The decision will allow the Las Vegas Convention Center and venues like 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip to apply for permits to accept thousands more people.
The move won quick praise from the hospitality industry.
“The meetings and convention business is critical to our economy with tens of thousands of jobs depending on it,” Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said in response to the decision. “All in all, Las Vegas’ reopening momentum continues to build.”
Biden on Thursday marked a year since the first closures nationwide brought on by the pandemic with a declaration that all adults should be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations by May 1.
Sisolak has said he’s leveraging all state resources to administer vaccines quickly. On Thursday, he expanded eligibility to frontline workers in Nevada’s restaurant, hospitality and hotel sectors - following reports from Las Vegas-area health officials that vaccination appointments slots were going unfilled.
Health officials also promised that by next week people ages 55 and older with underlying health conditions will be able to book vaccination appointments at pharmacies.
Along with other governors, Sisolak has not announced plans to change Nevada’s vaccine strategy to meet the target. Cage said whether or not the state made its way through groups prioritized for early distribution before depended on the supply sent by the federal government.
“All of this is driven by allocation,” Cage said Friday. “We want to be very clear about that. As we receive more allocation and messaging from the federal government that there will be enough allocation by the end of May, we know the (vaccine group) restrictions … can be removed over time.”
Seventeen new COVID-19 deaths were reported statewide Friday, bringing the total since last March to 5,097.
The number of COVID-19 cases reported by state health officials jumped by 858, to 298,623, after the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Health District added about 460 new cases that had been delayed in reporting. Nearly 231,000 of the cases in the state since last March, or 77%, have been in the Las Vegas area.
Nevada also passed the 575,000 mark in vaccines initiated, including almost 324,000 first and second doses delivered, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Nearly 10.3% of the state’s more than 3.1 million residents have been inoculated.
Sisolak on Friday marked what he termed a milestone, noting that for the first time in more than six months, none of Nevada’s 17 counties was flagged for having an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Cage, for reporters, noted that 13 counties exceeded one of the three tracking factors - average number of tests per day, case rate and test positivity - but no county had more than one mark. Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln and White Pine counties had none.
“Let’s keep up the good work by wearing masks & getting a vaccine when it’s our turn,” Sisolak said on Twitter.
AP writer Sam Metz contributed reporting from Carson City, Nev.
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