"As of today, 13 of 17 of our counties are flagged for elevated risk of transmission. In the beginning of October, only two counties were flagged," Gov. Steve Sisolak announced at a press conference Sunday. "Our statewide positivity rate is at a record 16.5 percent, and as I mentioned, we’ve surpassed 2,000 deaths."
Sisolak noted that the state's case rate growth is outpacing other states at "wildfire levels."
"All available models indicate that Nevada is in a “red zone” and our health experts anticipate continued case growth based on current trends," he said. "In fact, 10% of all COVID cases recorded in Nevada since the beginning of the pandemic were reported in the last seven days. Every minute, a Nevadan is diagnosed with COVID-19."
He also warned that hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages. "We are on a rapid trajectory that threatens to overwhelm our health care system, our frontline health workers, and your access to care," he added. "So it’s time to act."
As a result, Sisolak issued what he called a "statewide pause" for at least the next three weeks. The pause, which goes into effect Nov. 24 at 12:01 a.m., involves a stronger mask mandate and new capacity limits.
According to Sisolak, Nevadans and visitors are required to wear a mask at all times, whether indoors or outdoors, when not in the presence of someone who is part of their household.
No additional businesses will be closed. However, occupancy at both indoor and outdoor restaurants and bars occupancy will be reduced to 25 percent. No more than four people will be allowed at one table, and reservations will be required.
"I know the majority of our bars and restaurants are doing their best, but these settings are proven to be high risk because they allow the opportunity for people to remove their face coverings in indoor settings around people outside of their household. That’s how the virus spreads," he said.
Gyms, fitness centers, dance studios and martial arts studios also must operate under 25 percent capacity. Masks must be worn at all times in these settings unless a patron is actively drinking.
"If the activity is too strenuous to be done while wearing a mask properly, you must seek an alternative," Sisolak said.
Other businesses that will be moving from 50% to 25% capacity during this pause include museums, art galleries, libraries, zoos and aquariums, arcades, racetracks, bowling alleys, mini golf, amusement and theme parks, and other similar activities.
Additionally, gaming operations will be restricted to no more than 25% occupancy. Restaurants and bars within gaming establishments will be restricted to 25% capacity.
Retail, including indoor malls, will not have to change their capacity during the Statewide Pause and can continue operating at 50%. Retail and grocery stores of more than 50,000 square feet must have employees at all public entrances counting patrons.
Hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, spas, massage establishments, and community and recreational centers will not have to change limits. Meanwhile, brothels, adult entertainment establishments, day clubs and night clubs will remain closed.
Public gatherings will be limited to no more than 50 individuals or 25 percent of fire code capacity, whichever is less, under strict social distancing requirements.
This includes places of worship, indoor movie theaters, live theater performances, casino showrooms, weddings, funerals and any other event where the public may be gathering, in the same place, for the same purposes. If larger events are approved during the period, they must be canceled.
The new public gathering limits do not apply to school districts. Sisolak stated that the closure of schools has had a huge negative effect on students.
"We have seen more deaths by suicide among students this fall than in years prior, and it breaks my heart to share that victims have included students as young as 8 years old," Sisolak said.
Sisolak said if the increase in cases slow, the government will decide whether or not they will slowly loosen the new restrictions.
However, if the situation worsens in the next three weeks, Sisolak said he will be forced to take "stronger action," including prohibition of indoor dining and service at restaurants and bars, closures of gyms and fitness facilities, and severe restrictions on gathering sizes.
"We decide how long we spend in a high-risk setting. We decide whether we are going to prioritize getting our kids into the classroom, allowing our businesses to operate by following responsible measures, and protecting our hospital system. If it doesn’t feel safe, it isn’t safe," Sisolak said.