LAS VEGAS - Nevada and its casinos have rescinded requirements for people to wear masks in public, joining most other U.S. states lifting restrictions that were imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Thursday that he would no longer require face coverings in public places, "effective immediately."
State casino regulators followed with a rule change for casinos.
"Individuals are no longer required to wear a mask in public indoor settings in licensed gaming establishments," the Nevada Gaming Control Board said, "unless a local jurisdiction still imposes such a requirement."
Masks won’t be required in jails and correctional facilities, Sisolak said, but "there are locations where Nevadans and visitors may still be asked to wear a mask" including hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities, and at airports, on planes and on public buses and school buses.
The governor acknowledged a wide divergence of opinion about dropping the mask mandate.
"Some people think we were ready long ago, some people think we’re not ready yet," he said. "I feel now is the appropriate time to move forward."
He added that employers and school districts can still set their own policies.
The National Federation of Independent Business state chapter on Wednesday urged Sisolak to drop the mask mandate it said was making it hard for small businesses to retain and hire workers.
Separately, Bill Hornbuckle, president and CEO of MGM Resorts International, the state’s largest employer, said during an earnings conference call Wednesday that he anticipated the mask rule in Nevada would be relaxed.
"I expect that given positive COVID trends in Nevada we will start to see meaningful loosening of COVID restrictions in the very very near future consistent with what we have seen in other states," Hornbuckle said.
Nationally, cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have dropped markedly after peaking earlier this year amid the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant, and the vast majority of Americans are protected against the virus by effective vaccines and boosters.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend wearing a mask indoors in places of "substantial or high transmission" of the virus, which as of Wednesday was all of the U.S. but 14 rural counties.
New cases in Nevada have continued a steep decline since a statewide peak in mid-January. But the rate of the virus spread remains high — far above the CDC’s thresholds for positivity and new cases per population of 100,000.
"I want to be clear, the emergency is not over. The pandemic is not over," Sisolak said Thursday. "We’re still getting far too many cases, far too many hospitalizations and far too many deaths."
But he said a significant drop in hospitalizations in recent weeks has accompanied a dramatic decline in new cases, from a peak of 7,865 on Jan. 10 to about 1,280 cases per day statewide now. He also noted that two-thirds of Nevadans age 5 and older are vaccinated.
"I’m hopeful and confident, based on the data we have, we are in a good positions to drop this and to give people back some freedom. Everyone wants to get back to their normal life ... I mean, its been two years. I think the time has come," he said.
Sisolak, who is up for reelection in the Western swing state in November, said the state is spending $19 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to address the availability of COVID-19 test kits and therapeutics.
A crowded field of Republicans vying to run against Sisolak have criticized Nevada’s virus response and mask rules.
Sisolak acted just days after officials in neighboring California announced an end next week to indoor masking requirements for vaccinated people. Masks will remain the rule for schoolchildren in that state.
New York and Illinois on Wednesday became the latest states to announce an end to indoor mask mandates, but school mandates remain in those states.
The NFIB Nevada chapter cited a U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis that found the Silver State had the highest "quit" rate in the nation last year at 3.8%.
Workers cited mask requirements and harassment by customers who refuse to wear masks among reasons for leaving their jobs, the chamber said.
"While many question the effectiveness in stopping the spread of COVID, there is agreement that after two years more and more people are refusing to wear masks, which is presenting a challenge to employees who still have to act like the ‘mask police,’" its letter to Sisolak said.
Since July 2021, Nevada had been under a state emergency order requiring people in counties with high COVID-19 transmission rates to wear masks in indoor public spaces, consistent with CDC guidelines.
Sisolak said the CDC guidelines no longer would be binding in Nevada under the new executive order he signed on Thursday.
He said schools were the only place where his order did not take effect immediately, and that would happen on Friday.
"Masks are not required for students and teachers and employees beginning tomorrow morning," Sisolak said.
"But these students are in school right now and a lot of these civic classes watch these press conferences, so I didn’t want them ripping off their masks in the middle of the day. I want to give them a chance to go home, talk to their parents ... and in consultation with their families, decide what is best for them."
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