Activities, contacts of Nevada’s first COVID-19 patient unknown, officials say

Southern Nevada Health District acting chief medical officer Fermin Leguen discusses Nevada's first reported case of coronovirus Thursday. (SNHD video screengrab)

Nevada’s first COVID-19 patient is a man in his 50s with an underlying health condition who traveled by air to Washington state before becoming symptomatic upon his return to Las Vegas, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.  The man previously traveled to Texas, as well.

“We are investigating the different activities of this person,” said acting chief medical officer Fermin Leguen, who said he doesn’t know if the man has been back to work or his occupation.

Leguen says the patient “had a respiratory condition and went to the hospital,” but would not say what hospital.  

Health officials would not say whether the patient has a spouse or partner. 

“We don’t want to get into personal relationships,” Leguen said, but did reveal the patient has a child, a student in the Clark County School District, who is asymptomatic but stayed home from school today.  Leguen says the CCSD has been notified of the patient’s status.  

Leguen would not release the man’s condition, but said he is “in what is considered to be some respiratory depression,” adding it’s “hard to say ” whether the condition is life-threatening.   

“Currently our patient is in airborne isolation and has an underlying condition,” said Kimberly Hertin, a disease surveillance supervisor at SNHD. “We’re hoping for the best outcome.” 

Health officials, who say they became aware of the case Wednesday night, say they don’t know when the patient returned from Washington. 

Officials say they also don’t know where the patient has been since his return and “have not been in touch with every single person” the patient came in contact with, said Hertin, who says she also does not know the date of onset of symptoms. “I’m unclear on dates at this very moment.”

Those who have been exposed to the noval coronavirus have been asked to self-quarantine, health officials say. 

The patient is currently presumed to be positive on the basis of a local test that is pending confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Health officials in Las Vegas, who only received the capability to test for COVID-19 “a few days ago,” according to Leguen, have performed fewer than ten tests.  

“Today we cannot offer the community massive screening capability.  There are not enough kits,” Leguen said. “Right now we have 500 tests available and we are expecting a new batch of test kits next week.”

“The risk of transmission of coronavirus in Las Vegas and the country is low,” said Leguen.

“Our main message is about preparation,” he said. “If any person presents with respiratory symptoms — cough, fever, shortness of breath — they should go to their primary care provider.”

Leguen said people without a doctor should go to a local provider and notify them first.  

“We also encourage our community to avoid going to the emergency room departments because of respiratory symptoms, if they have a healthcare provider in the community who can take care of that,” he said. 

Leguen urged Southern Nevadans to wash their hands, not sneeze or cough into their hands, and keep a distance from people who are sick. 

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.