Nevada governor urges good hygiene, officials prepare for virus threat

Coronavirus testing available in Las Vegas

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Gov. Steve Sisolak (Nevada Current file photo)

State and local officials Friday outlined steps being taken to monitor and prepare for the threat of coronavirus in Nevada.

“There’s no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nevada, and sustained transmission of the virus is not occurring in the general public,” said state epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock in Las Vegas.

“At this time, there hasn’t been a single COVID-19 death in the U.S.,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said of the emerging epidemic threatening to become a pandemic. The virus has now infected 89,000 people in at least 60 countries. About 2,900 have died, according to world health officials. 

Health officials estimate the lethality rate at of COVID-19 at 2.3 percent, 23 times the .1 percent death rate of the flu. 

Efforts to contain the new virus have been hampered by the fact that some infected people are asymptomatic, yet infectious, as well as delays in procuring a reliable test.

The state laboratory has had the ability to test for the virus since February 11, said Dr. Mark Pandori, Director, Nevada State Public Health Lab. 

The state has tested three people.

“Our capacity to test right now is in the order of several hundred specimens with the ability to obtain more chemicals to perform more testing from CDC within the next couple of weeks,” he said.

The Southern Nevada Health District, which initially received faulty test kits from the Centers for Disease Control, is now capable of testing, which is currently free, officials said. 

“Since yesterday, this test is actually fully functional and ready for testing,” said SNHD acting chief health officer Dr. Fermin Leguen.  “We will be offering this service to all our hospitals. The testing will be based on CDC criteria for testing.”

Officials acknowledge the accuracy of the test is unknown. 

“The false-negative rate of the test has not been ascertained,” Pandori said.

Until Thursday, the CDC criteria for testing was limited to travel to China or other affected areas, or contact with a confirmed infected patient.  

The discovery of a patient in Solano County, California, who had no known source of infection, prompted the CDC to expand the testing universe to detect what health officials call “community spread,” transmission of the virus from unknown sources.  

The CDC now permits testing of patients who are hospitalized with an unexplained respiratory infection, patients with symptoms of the virus or those are suspected by a clinician of having the virus.  

On Friday, a resident of Santa Clara also tested positive for the virus, as did a person in Oregon, and two in Washington state, increasing concerns about community spread.  

This week, a whistleblower filed a complaint alleging that U.S. Health and Human Services personnel were directed to greet quarantined Americans returning on a State Department chartered flight from Japan.  The government employees were allegedly not trained to enter a quarantine nor provided protective gear. They were also reportedly not required to isolate after the event.  

Fourteen of the returning passengers tested positive for COVID-19 just before take-off from Yokohama, where they’d been stranded aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship.

State and local authorities are monitoring travelers returning from locations identified by the CDC.     

“These travelers are under public health surveillance for 14 days,” said Peek-Bullock. “During this period these returning travelers are monitored for any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and asked to self-quarantine.  This process allows for early detection, isolation and testing of potentially infected and infectious individuals.” 

“All Nevadans who have met the CDC criteria as a potential case have been immediately isolated and testing has occurred and all the tests to date have been negative for COVID-19.”

Until now, state and local health officials have been unwilling to say how many people in Nevada have been asked to self-quarantine upon returning from affected countries.  

Richard Whitley, Director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, says local health agencies, which were not releasing the information, have agreed to allow the state to release statewide numbers.  

“Not today,” Whitley responded when asked when.

“It will be in the near future,” said Sisolak.  

California is monitoring some 8,400 returning travelers. 

“The biggest threat to emergency management is panic,” said Director of Public Safety George Togliatti. State officials have “personal experience dealing with unexpected emergencies of the past as well as preparing for potential or perceived emergencies,” Togliatti said.  

“This morning we had a meeting with our first responders, hospitals, community partners to discuss our response to the coronavirus,” said Leguen.

“We have our pandemic response plans in place.  We are making sure they are up to date,” said Washoe County Board of Health chair Dr. John Novak. “We’ve got a very robust plan for all kinds of emergencies and this is just one we’ve been planning for years.”     

“At this time the risk to Nevada communities is low and we encourage all Nevadans to practice individual hygiene including proper handwashing and not touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands,” said Peek-Bullock.

The Trump administration Friday canceled summit of Asian leaders that had been scheduled next month in Las Vegas, NBC reported Friday.

Asked if he’s considering banning tourists from California, where community spread of the virus is growing, Sisolak said he doesn’t anticipate ever doing so.

“We’re not building a wall on the Nevada/California border.”

Dana Gentry
Senior Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.