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May 15, 2021

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Las Vegas-area bars sue over Sisolak’s shutdown order

Velveteen

John Locher / AP

Alanna McDonnell mixes drinks at Velveteen Rabbit, a cocktail bar in the Las Vegas Arts District, on the last night before they had to close Friday, July 10, 2020. Bars in seven Nevada counties were ordered to once again shut their doors and reimpose limits on restaurants because of the coronavirus.

CARSON CITY — Dozens of Las Vegas-area bars are suing the state and Gov. Steve Sisolak to invalidate last week’s order temporarily shuttering bars in seven Nevada counties.

The lawsuit, filed Sunday in the 8th Judicial District Court in Clark County, asks the court to reverse Sisolak’s order, which required bars in seven counties — Clark, Washoe, Elko, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon and Nye  — to cease service. Bars that serve food are allowed to remain open, and bars are allowed to do curbside service or deliveries.

“We know that COVID-19 can easily spread when people are congregating for long periods of time, like inside a bar,” Sisolak said when he announced the closure. “In states where we have seen significant spikes, such as Arizona, Texas and Florida, they have all taken actions to roll back bars. Recently, Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious-disease expert, advised that congregating in bars poses a significant risk and is one of the most dangerous things people could do right now. We must heed his advice.”

Counties that met at least two of three criteria for elevated disease transmission had to shut down bars under the order. The criteria, set out by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, involve the average number of tests conducted per day, the number of cases diagnosed and the overall test positivity rate. 

The counties are set to be reevaluated for a possible reopening on July 24.

The lawsuit claims that Sisolak unfairly singled out bars, claiming that other businesses had higher rates of noncompliance for the face-covering mandate.

“The disparate treatment of bars and taverns is unreasonable because there is no rational basis for treating bars and taverns differently than other, similarly situated, nonessential businesses,” the lawsuit reads.

Under Sisolak’s order, restaurants with a bar must close their bar area and continue to limit capacity to 50%. Casinos must also close bar areas but can still serve alcohol. Indoor dining, while not outright banned, is limited to parties of six or less.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration observed more than 1,500 businesses in the past two weeks, of which 79% were compliant with state requirements. But when inspecting bars, fewer than half were in compliance of safe social distancing and face-covering protocols, the governor said.

The lawsuit states that July 3 field observations by OSHA showed a compliance rate of 80% for bars, and draws comparisons between bar compliance and cited compliance rates in late June and early July by other business types, such as home improvement stores.

“Despite the available evidence showing compliance by bars and taverns, (the directive) unfairly and unlawfully singles them out for closure,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks an invalidation of the order and a restoration of bars’ abilities to operate under previously defined mandates. The governor’s office had no comment on the lawsuit.