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Clark County OKs plan to ease pandemic restrictions

Nevada Casinos

John Locher / AP

In this Aug. 27, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus plays an electronic slot machine during the reopening of the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

Updated Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | 3:34 p.m.

Clark County will expand building occupancy to 80% of capacity and reduce physical distancing buffers to three feet under a pandemic mitigation plan that takes effect May 1.

The Clark County Commission today approved the plan, which promises a return to full capacity once at least 60% of county residents have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some of the changes to existing practices and restrictions include expanding the size of dining parties at restaurants to 12 people, reopening self-serve buffets, nightclubs and adult entertainment venues, and expanding elevator capacity to eight people.

The commission significantly adjusted the plan, which requires final approval from Gov. Steve Sisolak, since releasing a draft last week. Sisolak has announced Nevada is positioned to return to full capacity June 1.

Clark County is “cautiously optimistic we will meet this goal if Southern Nevadans continue with current robust vaccination efforts,” the plan states.

Here are some restrictions that will be relaxed:

• Tables at bars and restaurants can accommodate up to 12 guests. Currently the maximum is six.

• Buffets can go back to the self-serve format, with employee supervision, hand sanitizer nearby and frequent replacement of serving utensils.

• Food sampling can resume.

• Public pool tables and arcade games can resume play.

• Public hot tubs and spas can reopen.

• Body art parlors can resume doing tattoos and piercings in and around the nose and mouth as long as the artist wears a face mask and face shield. Services will remain by appointment only.

• Adult entertainment will return. Although some have been operating as bars and restaurants, they can go back to entertaining with nude or nearly-nude dancers. Patrons must be masked if not actively eating, drinking or smoking.

Entertainers can be less than three feet from the public if the entertainer has taken the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior. The entertainer must complete the second dose of the vaccine within 6 weeks of taking the first dose, if taking a two-shot regimen. An entertainer who chooses not to be vaccinated must provide a negative COVID-19 test every week.

• Nightclubs and dayclubs can reopen, although dance floors cannot reopen until the county has reached the 60% vaccination mark.

Large gatherings have slightly different goalposts.

Gatherings of less than 20,000 people can go forward starting May 1, with the 80% capacity and three feet of social distancing once 50% of eligible county residents have had at least one COVID-19 shot and event organizers have had their gathering approved by the county. Optionally, an event can go forward at full capacity at the community-wide vaccination level with no social distancing if organizers can prove attendees are fully vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 within the prior two days.

Once 60% of county residents are at least partially inoculated, all events under 20,000 people are free to fill to 100% capacity with no physical distancing, or offer unassigned seating, without first submitting a plan to the county.

The county will consider approving gatherings with more than 20,000 attendees on a case by case basis depending on “disease burden” in the community, said Chris Saxton, Director of Environmental Health at the Southern Nevada Health District.

SNHD Health Officer Dr. Fermin Leguen said that at current vaccination rates, the county can reach the interim 50% goal by May 1 and 60% by June 1. About 43% of Clark County residents 16 and older had received at least one shot as of Monday.

Mason Van Houweling, University Medical Center’s CEO and vice chair of the Nevada Hospital Association, said his hospital and the association support the county’s plan.

As of Monday, 301 confirmed COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide. It’s not the lowest point of 208 confirmed coronavirus patients across Nevada on March 27 but far from the Dec. 22 peak of 1,867 patients.

In Southern Nevada specifically, about 9% of hospital patients are currently being treated for COVID-19. Van Houweling acknowledged that’s a bump over recent lows and not “extremely low,” but “manageable.”

“I think we're in a really good place,” he said. “This is a very detailed plan, some of the best we've seen throughout the country.”

Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the effort was a collaboration between the county, cities, institutions and business interests, along with constituents’ everyday suggestions.

She said restaurants in her northeastern valley district told her they want to put salt and pepper shakers back on tables instead of using individual packets. Car dealerships want to bring back test drives.

Commissioner Justin Jones said because the county further loosened its plan after Sisolak’s announcement last week, he wanted to hear from leading local public health officials and reassure the public “that we're not going to revert to another shutdown again. We all want to get reopened.”

UMC’s Van Houweling agreed. “We don't want to go backward either,” he said.