In the fall of 2020, people in Nevada were required to wear masks in their own homes if anyone from outside their immediate household were present – and private gatherings were capped at 10 people from two households.
Schools were remote or hybrid for more than a year after students were sent home in March 2020. School sports didn’t resume until spring 2021.
Nevada’s indoor mask mandate was in place until February 2022, including in schools.
Now, after a federal judge blocked the federal transportation mask mandate on Monday, most Americans will go about their daily lives without any sort of lingering virus rules. But Nevada’s pandemic restrictions, largely put in place by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, remain front and center in a gubernatorial campaign that’s likely to be one of the most closely watched in the country. The dynamic is particularly noticeable in the GOP primary, in which the candidates are vying to be the most against the pandemic rules.
“We have a governor in his first term, half of the children were locked out of their schools,” former GOP Sen. Dean Heller told Fox News Digital. “The bigger problem is, of course, now we have second-graders that can’t read, third-graders who can’t write and fourth graders who can’t do math.”
“It made my decision to run for governor, part and parcel to that,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told Fox News Digital. He also said the state lifted its mask mandate “far too late” and called the restrictions “political theater.”
“It was the essential-nonessential mindset, picking the winners and losers,” Lombardo added on Sisolak’s restrictions. “As we progressed through COVID and the infection and everything else that went along with this, he kept constantly moving the goalposts.”
“It was the most arbitrary out of touch, unscientific, unnecessary nonsense we’ve ever seen,” lawyer and former boxer Joey Gilbert, another Republican candidate, said. “We are now number one in all the wrong columns because of these draconian, unscientific, unnecessary lockdowns. They were just pure, pure, pure evil. Absolutely political bullying like I’ve never seen before.”
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee has also made Sisolak’s COVID rules a major theme of his GOP gubernatorial primary campaign.
Nevada’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, was more susceptible to struggle from the pandemic than other states.
According to the University of New Hampshire School of Public Policy, in October Nevada ranked worse than nearly every state in percent job shortfall relative to trend from the beginning of the pandemic. It was also in the bottom half of percent change in employment and percent of jobs recovered as well, though it was among the highest in percent job growth in 2021 as a percent of pre-pandemic employment.
But the attacks in the GOP primary are not just targeted at Sisolak. Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County – where Las Vegas is – initially voiced support for the virus rules and was in a position to enforce them early in the pandemic. His opponents are not shy about reminding voters of that.
“I take with a grain of salt anything the sheriff says, because he was… just as bad as… the governor himself,” Heller said, citing a vaccine mandate Lombardo put in place for new recruits to his department. “The sheriff followed suit with this governor literally hand in hand.”
Gilbert said that “Lombardo is essentially a liberal Democrat.”
“He was behind the masks,” Gilbert said, “You don’t mandate a vaccine for your own people for a year.”
Nevada Democrats are also keen to bring up Lombardo’s early support for the virus rules as pushback to his criticism of the governor.
“Lombardo has been lying to Nevadans since day one. With his actions as sheriff consistently contradicting his words as a candidate for governor, he continues to prove he’ll do or say anything to win,” Nevada Democratic Victory spokesperson Mallory Payne told Fox News Digital.
Lombardo’s department did indeed take some actions to enforce Sisolak’s orders. In March 2020, Lombardo said his department was ready to enforce Sisolak’s shutdown order when he first issued, according to the Las Vegas Sun. Then on April 9, a press release from Lombardo’s department said it was “working with various partners to enforce Governor Sisolak’s executive orders as they relate to the closing of non-essential businesses.”
Further, a March 23, 2020 press release announced that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department “served 36 warning letters, 7 suspensions and 4 citations to non-essential area businesses that were not complying with state orders to shut down.”
“Of the 113 business that were visited by the compliance team, the 7 suspensions resulted in forced shutdowns of businesses that would not voluntarily close,” the press release said.
Lombardo, however, says that his department was put in a bad position by a governor who pushed for local law enforcement to act on his executive orders.
“Along with his regulations and mandates there was enforcement recommended associated with that,” Lombardo said of Sisolak’s orders. “We were put in that place less than a handful of times. So our mantra, in my communication the city and county was we were gonna educate before we did any mandates… 99.9% of the time that worked.”
The Sisolak shutdown order did not explicitly order local police departments to enforce government restrictions, though its wording appeared to imply that was the expectation
“Businesses that do not comply with this Directive or regulations promulgated under this Directive, after receiving written notice from law enforcement, may be subject to criminal prosecution and civil penalties,” Sisolak’s order said. “All law enforcement agencies in the State of Nevada are authorized to enforce this Directive.”
Further, Lombardo said, he quickly turned against Sisolak’s mandates after he started getting data that didn’t match how dire Sisolak said the situation was.
“He said a lot of this is based on overwhelming of medical services and I didn’t see that data to be true or accurate,” Lombardo said. He added that Sisolak appeared to largely follow what California did on virus restrictions.
“If and when elected governor here I’m not going to be asking Gavin Newsom what to do in the state. That was the perception and that was the reality,” Lombardo said.
While the Republicans will continue to battle over coronavirus restrictions ahead of their June 14 primary, Sisolak appears to be shifting his message to emphasize economic growth and moving on from the virus. The move was clear in his State of the State address in February, in which he emphasized the state’s “path forward” after the pandemic.
“Today, our economy is one of the fastest growing in the country,” he said in the Feb. 23 speech. “Tourism is up, unemployment is down. Our students are back – with 100% of our classrooms in person. Gaming revenues are at an all-time high, and, more importantly, wages are up, too.”