Rural Nevada county moves to shed masks, virus crowd limits

LAS VEGAS (AP) — One rural southern Nevada county could step ahead of the state and approve lifting mask mandates and business capacity limits enacted as pandemic prevention measures more than a year ago.

The Nye County Commission is scheduled to vote April 20 to let businesses return to 100% occupancy and make face coverings optional.

Gov. Steve Sisolak's spokeswoman, Meghin Delaney, said Thursday the Nye County plan will be reviewed along with others as the state's COVID-19 Response Task Force prepares to turn over pandemic mitigation control to local authorities beginning May 1.

Statewide directives to wear face coverings will remain in place after May 1, she added.

Current state rules call for masks and social distancing for people in public places and generally limit occupancy for businesses and gatherings at 50%.

Nye County commissioners on Tuesday passed a separate resolution asking the state Legislature to rescind the governor's pandemic emergency declaration, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The moves put the county west of Las Vegas in front of the other 16 counties for easing coronavirus precautions.

Several other predominantly Republican rural Nevada counties — including Elko, Eureka, Lyon and White Pine — have also chafed at the Democratic governor’s COVID-19 directives.

Sisolak declared a public health state of emergency March 12, 2020, days before the first COVID-19 death in Nevada.

State health officials on Thursday reported five new deaths, bringing Nevada's pandemic toll to 5,313, and charted an uptick in the number of newly reported COVID-19 cases statewide, at 386.

Nevada has surpassed 306,000 reported cases of COVID-19, with more than 77% in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and about 74% of the state population.

Hospitalizations also increased statewide to 341, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services, up from 257 on Tuesday. Most were in the Las Vegas area.

Nye County, with about 49,000 residents, has reported 2,866 cases of COVID-19 and 106 deaths during the pandemic.

Thursday's developments came as state health officials acknowledged that at least 58 people who had been fully vaccinated later contracted COVID-19, the Review-Journal reported.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls infections among vaccinated people “breakthrough cases.” It has said evidence shows that vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness.

State Health Department spokeswoman Shannon Litz said at least some cases were expected, because none of the three vaccines being used is 100% effective.

“These breakthrough cases are below what the department statistically expected to see based on the initial data available on vaccine efficacy,” she said.

Nevada health officials said nearly 560,000 people have been fully vaccinated statewide, representing more than 22% of the state's population. In Nye County, 16.3% of the population is fully vaccinated.

In other developments, the Washoe County School Board said its next scheduled meeting will be held virtually because people at the March 30 meeting refused to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, including mask mandates.

“Several attendees confronted/harassed staff asking them to comply,” board President Angie Taylor said in a statement, resulting in a “tense and unsafe environment.”

In Las Vegas, attendance was sparse at a one-day drive-thru coronavirus test site set up at at Allegiant Stadium. The Southern Nevada Health District had hoped to perform 1,200 nasal swab tests. It reported seeing 171 people.

Coronavirus tests statewide have surpassed 3 million, and a two-week measure of positivity, or the percentage of people tested and found to be infected, rose again, to 4.7%. The World Health Organization goal is below 5% for governments to relax restrictions.