Official: Southern Nevada considered a COVID-19 ‘hot spot’

SNHD unsure how many test kits are available, ‘but we are running very low.’

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Employees screen people entering the building at the Southern Nevada Health District Monday. (Photo: Bridget Bennett)

Southern Nevada has suffered its first death from COVID-19, and health officials are already running out of test kits, the health district announced Monday. 

“We are out of extraction kits at this point,” Dr. Michael Johnson, Director of Community Health for the Southern Nevada Health District said at a news briefing Monday of the chemicals needed to process COVID-19 tests. “We have very few limited tests right now.” 

“There’s many states in the country that are experiencing this boom in coronavirus cases,” Johnson said. “So we’re one of many that are a top priority and what they would consider a hot spot, so I don’t think we’re a low priority. Just a lot of requests at once.” 

Johnson noted the number of Southern Nevada cases Friday was 16.  The health district reported 19 cases on Monday. With ten cases in Washoe County, the total number of cases statewide is 45. 

“I think we’re moving into a moderate risk,” he said.

Johnson says he doesn’t know how many test kits are available “but we are running very low,” he said. 

“We’ve emphasized and stressed the importance of getting other test kits,” Johnson said. 

“Preliminarily, I had a call with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) today and they are offering assistance to states across the country, including Nevada, for drive-thru swab pods.” 

“With medical personnel, they would be providing the test kits as well, we’re looking at being able to do 2,000 to 4,000 tests a week, which would really help,” he said, noting the health district would be giving FEMA “the specifics of our ask today.” 

“That’s an encouraging piece of information,” he said.

In the meantime, Southern Nevadans in need of a test “should reach out to a primary care doctor. It will most likely be done through a private lab,” Johnson said. 

“We have the capacity in our lab to do about 60 tests per day. So we may only have enough tests for a few more days.  That’s why we’re hoping that we’ll be getting these tests soon from the feds,” he said. “We have put in a request with the state lab up north to possibly send us tests and we’re working with some of the commercial labs to help with some of this, too, in the interim.” 

Johnson had no immediate direction for the uninsured who lack a primary care physician. 

“We’ve thought about having people come here,” he said of the health district, adding the idea was discarded because of concerns about capacity. 

He said the drive-thru swab pods, if they materialize, could be an alternative for the uninsured. 

Although he was unable to give a timeline, Johnson said he “stressed we need it immediately.” 

Johnson says the Centers for Disease Control has eliminated the requirement that states send presumptive positive tests for confirmation. 

“That should help with the process,” he said. 

Johnson says health officials do not know how many tests have been processed “at this time”  because “commercial labs and health care providers can also do testing.”

“Additionally, our disease investigators and staff are literally working around the clock.  We’re not able to give you case-specific details at this time,” he said of the newly reported cases.

Dana Gentry
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 is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.