Nevadans can shed their face masks, as the state lifted its mandate days ahead of an expected busy Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas.
The shift — announced by Gov. Steve Sisolak during a Thursday morning press conference — follows suit with other Democrat-led states easing pandemic mitigation measures amid a nationwide decline in COVID-19 cases.
In Nevada, the seven-day average of new cases reported as of Wednesday was 1,574 per day, down from the Omicron wave peak of roughly 6,300 new cases per day in mid-January. Sisolak also noted that there are 800 fewer people hospitalized with COVID in Nevada than at the Omicron peak, and that fewer than one-tenth of a percent of Nevadans required critical care hospitalization on any given day.
The termination of the mask mandate is effective immediately, Sisolak said, though some places serving vulnerable populations, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, may still ask people to wear face coverings.
The governor also announced that masks will no longer be required at schools starting Friday, giving families time to discuss the change. He noted that school districts need to work with their local health agencies to have plans for if and when COVID-19 outbreaks occur.
While no longer required in public places, Sisolak said employers and organizations, including school districts, can set their own policies if they desire.
Sisolak urged Nevadans to be kind to one another and respect the decisions of people who still want to wear a mask even though the mandate is gone.
The state’s lifting of its mask mandate does not apply to people inside airports or aboard planes, public buses and school buses. Federal guidelines cover Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas and Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which remain under a mask mandate until March 18, regardless of state decisions.
Nevada relaxed its mask policy briefly last year after vaccinations rolled out, but by July 30, the governor reimposed a mandate for counties experiencing “substantial” or “high” rates of coronavirus transmission. The decision was largely driven by the Delta variant at the time and has remained in place through the Omicron surge. The mandate, which follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, has affected most Nevada counties.
Under that metric, masks were almost always required in virtually every county for people regardless of vaccination status, although a few small rural counties saw their requirement relax for short periods.
Pressure began mounting for Sisolak, who’s facing a re-election bid this year, after his Democratic colleagues in other states began easing their mask mandates. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared face masks would be lifted for vaccinated residents of the Golden State on Feb. 15. Governors in states such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island have made similar masking decisions, though they have largely held off making changes to school policies.
In August, Sisolak issued a directive that made face masks mandatory for school staff, regardless of vaccination status, and students in Clark and Washoe counties. The directive also required students to don face masks while riding school buses.
But schools in Nevada’s 15 other less populous counties were given leeway to craft their own face-covering policies for students, as long as they didn’t conflict with state directives or local health decisions.
Critics, including Republicans seeking Sisolak’s governor’s post, have panned the decision to rescind the mandate as political, in spite of the Democratic governor’s previous refrains that COVID mitigation measures would be based on science.
Others, including Washoe County Health Officer Kevin Dick, have warned that Nevadans are likely to see greater COVID transmission if masks are largely abandoned.