Nevada has issued an emergency order requiring people in 12 of 17 counties — whether they’re vaccinated or not — to wear masks in public indoor spaces.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, the mandate becomes effective in counties with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, according to a news release shared Tuesday afternoon.
Nevada counties that will be impacted include: Carson, Churchill, Clark, Douglas, Elko, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Washoe and White Pine.
In Washoe County, the seven-day average for new cases rose to 67 as of July 26. The number represents a steep increase from just a couple months ago, when the county reported a seven-day average of 13 on May 31.
The COVID-19 positivity rate, which measures the share of COVID tests that return with a positive result, has also seen a steady increase this summer ever since dipping all the way down to just 2.8% on June 7. The rate hit 5% — the World Health Organization’s upper limit for reopening — on July 10. Less than two weeks later, the positivity rate in Washoe broke past the 8% mark, which is one of the thresholds set by the governor when assessing whether a county is at elevated risk for COVID-19. The rate was at 9.1% as of July 25.
More COVID-19 coverage:Surge in Delta variant cases raises concerns about summer events in Reno
The city of Reno on Tuesday afternoon announced a mandate that all people regardless of vaccination status will be required to wear a mask or face covering in public indoor settings at all City of Reno facilities effective Wednesday.
Nevada mandate follows CDC guidance
The state’s announcement of the new restrictions comes the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course and urged even fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in areas of high coronavirus transmission.
While masks aren’t likely to crush community spread, experts say, they might ratchet up pressure on the unvaccinated and encourage businesses and schools to implement mask mandates.
The CDC is also now recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors inside schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status. That aligns closely with guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended this month that anyone older than 2 be required to wear a mask in school.
Cases surge across Silver State
Nevada has resurfaced as a COVID-19 hotspot in recent weeks due to the spread of the Delta variant.
After falling to just 132 daily new cases on June 9, Nevada saw a steep increase in the following weeks as the variant started to take hold in the state. By July 24, new confirmed COVID cases shot up to 870 per day, a level not seen since early February.
On Tuesday, Nevada logged 792 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases recorded during the pandemic to 352,567. In all, 5,854 people statewide have died from COVID-19.
Clark County — home of the Las Vegas Strip — accounts for nearly 80% of COVID-19 cases in the state, as well as the highest incidence rate. In Washoe County, health officials have logged 47,296 cases and 690 deaths.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 1,143 people were hospitalized statewide — 36 of them on ventilators, according to state data.
The surge led Clark County commissioners last week to mandate all employees working indoors in a public space to wear masks.
A week earlier, the Southern Nevada Health District recommended mask wearing for vaccinated and unvaccinated people at crowded indoor public places. The district changed its mask policy following rising case rates and hospitalizations for COVID-19.
Vaccination rates low
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new data shows the Delta variant, which accounts for more than 80% of the new infections in the U.S., behaves “uniquely differently” from its predecessors and could make vaccinated people infectious.
“Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that in rare occasions some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” Walensky said. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendation.”
In Nevada, vaccination rates remain low, state data shows.
Carson City has the highest vaccination rate in the state — about 50 percent. In Washoe, that number is 48 percent.
Clark County, where the majority of new cases have been recorded, has a vaccination rate of 39 percent.
A big part of the challenge in boosting vaccination rates is vaccine hesitancy. While the county saw a high number of vaccinations earlier this year, rates have since slowed down. Reasons for vaccine hesitancy range from health concerns to personal and political beliefs.
Earlier this month, Washoe District Health Officer Kevin Dick pleaded for residents to get the vaccine as the Delta variant continued to make inroads within the state. At the time, Dick said higher vaccination rates were crucial in ensuring that things don’t go backward after the progress seen in prior months.
“The vaccine is free and readily available to anyone 12 and older, regardless of immigration status,” Dick said at the time. “That’s our path forward regarding COVID-19. We don’t want … to be in a situation where we mandate everyone to wear masks.”
Health officials also expressed concern back in late June about the variant quickly establishing a foothold after a COVID cluster was confirmed at a Washoe kindergarten.
“The super contagious nature of the Delta variant is very concerning,” said Nancy Diao, division director of epidemiology and public preparedness for the Washoe County Health District.
“We already saw in the U.K. that it took over in the course of a month.”
Contributing: USA TODAY.
This is a breaking story. Check RGJ.com for updates.