Update: According to Commissioner Heath and County Manager Jim Barbee, the county transition plan was accepted by the State COVID Task Force at their meeting on Thursday, April 22.
On Wednesday afternoon, Churchill County Commissioners terminated the emergency COVID declaration that has been in effect since last March and approved a Local COVID-19 Transition Plan. Presented first to the County Board of Health for their approval Wednesday morning, the plan will be presented today to the State COVID Task Force and if approved, will go into effect May 1.
“I wholeheartedly approve of our plan and support opening up 100%,” said Commission Chairman Pete Olsen.
The state template for local transition plans requires commissioners to address monitoring, mitigation, and enforcement of state COVID restrictions. Manager Jim Barbee clarified that the local plan “recognizes” the statewide mask requirement, school reopening requirements, and the state regulation of industries through independent regulatory bodies such as the Gaming Control Board, Board of Cosmetology, and the Cannabis Compliance Board.
“We will continue enforcement working across agencies, and continue providing public information, recognizing there is one person responsible for enforcement in our county, our elected Sheriff and we will follow his lead.”
Sheriff Richard Hickox has said his office will not enforce state-mandated restrictions. Wednesday he said, “I’ve been on the record, we will not be enforcing COVID restrictions.”
Under the transition plan, authority for enforcing COVID restrictions moves from the Governor under his emergency declarations, to local governments on May 1, with plans to lift statewide restrictions on June 1. In his February 15 announcement, Governor Sisolak directed counties to follow a template with specific guidelines in creating their reopening plans.
The county will continue monitoring COVID-19 measures and indicators with testing and rates of positivity to “determine prevalence and community spread.” Barbee said the positivity rate is still being used by the state in decision making as the key leading factor in terms of decision making, however, fewer and fewer people are being tested, and anyone who has been vaccinated cannot be tested, leading to skewed data. “A 6% positivity rate today is 20 positives over a rolling 14-day period and that is a lot different than a 6% positivity rate last November when we were seeing 75 positives in one day,” he said.
Barbee said county staff is working on ways they can continue testing enough people to keep the positivity rate down.
Commissioner Justin Heath, M.D., agreed, saying, “the data needs to reflect a trend.”
Under “Mitigation Measures” the county plan lifts occupancy restrictions for public gatherings, events, and activities, youth and adult sports. The county staff will continue to provide important public health information to promote public health measures, encourage testing, vaccines, and provide regular data updates. There are no additional restrictions on libraries, museums, art galleries, gyms, places of worship, or food and beverage establishments other than the state directives for face coverings.
The transition plan was presented to the County Board of Health Wednesday morning for approval and then sent to the Commissioners at their regular meeting Wednesday afternoon.
During the Board of Health meeting, Barbee and Shannon Ernst, social services director, presented data from the county response, saying so far there have been a total of 7,275 doses of the COVID vaccines administered in the county with 6,074 of those being actual residents of Churchill County. Testing since May 4, 2020, has shown a total of 742 positives out of 11,154 tests given.
According to Ernst vaccinations have slowed somewhat, saying, “we’re lucky to see 200 in a day.” The new vaccination facility was designed to deliver up to 300 vaccinations per hour. County Health Officer Tedd McDonald said everyone is having a hard time getting people vaccinated, “we are seeing a difficulty reaching out and bringing them into the immunization herd.”
Representatives of the City of Fallon, Churchill County School District, Oasis Academy, Banner Churchill Community Hospital, and the Pennington Life Center attend the Board of Health meetings and weighed in on the plan.
Mayor Ken Tedford offered “complete confidence and support of this transition plan.”
Superintendent Summer Stephens said the county has been responsive any time anything would happen. “I’m sure you would just reconvene yourselves if something needed to happen.”
She also said the face-covering mandate is something the district will continue through the end of the school year on June 4. “I don’t know everyone’s vaccination status in this room, but I’m the only person wearing a face-covering in a face-covering mandate situation so I would reiterate it is important to us in school that that not become a challenge for us as kids see out in the community that people do or do not follow that…we will continue that in our schools and I feel like I could not leave here today without making that comment as a leader of the system.”
Commissioners heard public comments from local community members, as well as comments over the virtual platform from people who are not residents of the county. Speakers urged the county to open 100% and drop all mask mandates, saying children particularly are suffering from being forced to wear the mask at school.
Heath said the commission would like the schools to be open and encouraged people to contact the school board. “Make sure you let your voices be heard at the next school board meeting, this plan is to reopen fully, there are no restrictions to open completely.”
Koenig reiterated, “We have no control over the school district, we have no say in their decision. We’re opening everything up. The template says we have to say masks, but as of May 1, the enforcement leaves the state and converts to the county, and the person who enforces that is Sheriff Hickox.”
During the Board of Health meeting, Tedford said the plan is local control of state parameters. “We have come up with something for the community that fairly reflects what those who elected us, and even those who didn’t, is something that we can all live with and will be favorable for our people.”