Despite pleas from the state’s top officials to wear a mask now more than ever, a no-mask policy still stands for University of Nevada, Reno basketball games, Sunday’s home Las Vegas Raiders game and to see Adele on The Strip.
“I am now doubling masking,” Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said during a call with reporters on Wednesday.
He warned that even 6 feet separation from another person isn’t enough amid a alarming rise in cases.
On Friday, Washoe County hit a record number of 1,012 confirmed cases in a single day.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said hospitalizations are rising at alarming rates due to COVID-19.
“Please wear your face mask in indoor public settings, regardless of your vaccination status,” Sisolak said in a memo sent earlier in the week.
But a policy Sisolak signed last summer, amid lower COVID-19 case counts and widely available vaccines, stills stands.
Under that directive, indoor venues with a capacity of 4,000 or more were able to opt out of the state’s mask requirement if they verified guests were vaccinated.
Of the 12 organizations or businesses that applied for the mask-free events, four are still in place: basketball games at UNR and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Raiders games at Allegiant Stadium; and a 12-week residency at Caesars Palace Hotel by singer Adele.
The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week also was approved to go without masks, but the trade group reversed its decision as a safety precaution.
Sisolak’s office said the directive is still in place despite the governor’s statements that everyone indoors should wear a mask.
UNR also said there are no plans to require masks for games at Lawlor Events Center.
“There is no update at this time,” said Aaron Juarez, an assistant athletics director.
The university has had eight men and women’s basketball games canceled or postponed this season because of COVID-19.
‘You are more likely to catch COVID now than ever before’
When he signed the directive in August, Sisolak called the mask policy for conventions and athletic events “cutting edge.”
The mandate didn’t allow the same provision for small businesses such as restaurants. The state has continued to maintain that masks must be worn inside all public spaces in counties with high rates of transmission, which still includes Washoe and Clark counties and most rural counties.
Health officials welcomed the policy and said it encouraged people to become vaccinated to attend popular events.
But health experts across the country and in Nevada have warned over the last few weeks that COVID-19 now is much different than it was even two months ago.
People vaccinated are testing positive and spreading the virus at alarming rates, according to the Washoe County Health District.
Kevin Dick said that the current omicron strain of COVID-19 is more contagious, and people should avoid going to businesses and being in large groups, even if vaccinated.
Nevada State Lab Director Mark Pandori said in an interview with the RGJ Wednesday that vaccines are less effective in preventing someone from catching the omicron strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.
He said while vaccines are still expected to prevent those with COVID-19 from needing hospitalization or dying, the current vaccines aren’t neutralizing the latest strain.
He said it means that vaccinated people will get sick and are spreading COVID-19 in higher numbers than just even a few months ago.
“You are more likely to catch COVID now than ever before,” Pandori said.
Dick said it is important for people to take precautions by wearing masks and socially distancing. The health district opened four new testing centers to handle an additional 8,000 more people daily to help manage the dramatic rise in cases. Lines on Friday at some locations were in the triple digits.
Asked if the governor should change the no-mask policy for large events, Dick would not answer.
“I think the governor is working closely with his medical advisory team and the chief medical officer for the state,” he said. “I’m sure they are always evaluating those things and if there should be any changes.”
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.