Dear Governor Sisolak,
As Nevadans, we have breathlessly witnessed the massive human toll that the coronavirus scourge has waged on our home state. Mercifully, our corner of the state has been spared from widespread infection rates like those seen in other parts of Nevada. In Elko, we have stepped-up and embraced the CDC guidelines along with your emergency directives, with full compliance.
Our community’s leadership in fighting the pandemic can be demonstrated by the containment of infection spread that we have achieved to date. In a county of approximately 55,000 residents (with a highly mobile workforce), we currently have just 7 active cases (as of 4/17/2020), down from a high of 11 active cases. Regrettably, our county has experienced a single COVID-19 fatality in West Wendover.
We have created an Emergency Operations Center to manage the crisis, and have even extended our resources to neighboring counties. This dedicated team has worked tirelessly to educate, communicate, and collaborate with demonstrable results. I don’t think that it’s an overstatement to proclaim that our community’s response can serve as a model to other rural communities both statewide and nationwide.
As a testament to our highly competent medical professionals and EOC management personnel, we are prevailing in the fight. Our medical infrastructure is strong, unstressed and prepared. Thanks to your office’s support, we just received a PCR machine which will allow for near immediate COVID-19 test results. This tool will help in the fight, along with the continued observance of social distancing and peer pressure from the community to comply.
Out of civic duty, Elko citizens reluctantly hunkered down for the initial 30 day shutdown, followed by the 15 day extension. Despite serious economic consequences, our essential businesses have operated responsibly, along with our mining sector partners and local governments. We mourn for the “nonessential” businesses that have suffered mightily, and pray for their recovery.
Much like Clark County, our convention, casino, tourism, airline and lodging sectors have been decimated. The CARES Act funding for the Payroll Protection Plan has now been exhausted, leaving most of our small businesses in our area unfunded and out of luck. If the shutdown is extended beyond April 30th, many of our small businesses will never reopen.
We are developing a comprehensive plan, and buy-in from the business community to responsibly reopen in a deliberate and phased way that will safeguard public health. It is understood that we can’t go back to “business as usual,” and that some services and community recreational amenities will need to be put on-hold. We will need to continue steadfast adherence with CDC guidelines for an extended time. However, it is time to begin reopening on May 1, and we are prepared for the challenge.
A large segment of our workforce will continue to be sidelined as long as our K12 schools are shuttered.
It is imperative that our children return to school and resume their studies, ensuring they will be ready to advance to the next level in the fall. Due to our low population densities, there is relatively low risk with the resumption of school. It will be a big morale boost for the kids to return to the classroom so that they can escape the stress and boredom of the lockdown.
Geographically, Elko County is the fourth largest county in the US, and benefits from an extremely low population density. This is a huge asset when it comes to the fight against the pandemic. Despite a mining sector that relies on busing and carpooling to transport thousands of employees each day to area mines, our operators have demonstrated that it can be done safely and responsibly.
Many of my constituents in the business community are longing for an end to the shutdown which was extended to April 30. Our workforce, businesses and governmental entities are bleeding cash with each successive day that this shutdown persists. If continued, many of us won’t have jobs to return to.
We clearly understand that we have many “at risk” citizens that will need to continue self-isolating in accordance with CDC Guidelines. This is an unavoidable consequence associated with pandemics.
While we care deeply about these individuals and their health, the continued sacrifice of our statewide economy creates larger societal problems. If the decision of a safe end to the shutdown were left solely to the medical experts, they would likely extend the shutdown beyond the economic “point of no return.” Despite the best of intentions, the models and projections have been grossly overstated.
It is a given that we will see outbreaks and “hotspots” into the foreseeable future. This virus is tenacious and will continue to be a threat until we have either better medicines or a vaccine. However, we cannot and must not continue to put our lives and civil liberties on hold until it is deemed “safe” to resume a semi-normal state. If, and when we experience an increase in new infection rates, we will be prepared to dial things back accordingly in a measured response.
We accept the responsibility, and with this, we need the flexibility to have local decision-making authority for our reopening timetables and planning. Please consider that a “one size fits all” approach does not work for a largely rural and sparsely populated Nevada. A statewide extension mandate will further deepen the economic damage that we have already incurred, plus it will be a huge psychological blow to the citizens that have diligently complied with the orders. Crucially, a statewide extension will invite civil disobedience and unrest. As mayor, I do not want to place our police officers in the untenable position of having to enforce state directives that are unpopular and impractical for our community.
Let’s get back to work! The City of Elko supports the reopening of the State of Nevada’s economy as well as responsible decision-making authority at the local level.
Reece Keener Elko Mayor
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