‘Remember there’s a pandemic. And wear a mask,’ officials caution for Fourth of July

Health District prioritizes surge in COVID cases among young Hispanics

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick is encouraging social distancing at gatherings of family and friends.  

And wear a mask.  

“We all know the numbers are rising,” Kirkpatrick said at a news conference Tuesday, where she floated the option of rolling back Southern Nevada’s Phase Two reopening. “I don’t want to do that and nobody else wants to do that.”

On June 13th, Southern Nevada’s seven-day moving positivity average was 185.9 per 100,000 population.  As of June 26, that number had more than doubled to 487.6 per 100,000. 

Southern Nevada Health District Acting Chief Health Officer Fermin Leguen said the increase has been more evident among 18 to 49 years old.  

“That’s where the bulk of increasing cases are in our community,” he said, noting young people are more socially active, more likely to be at work, and more “resistant to the message” because they think they are invincible. 

“We haven’t seen an increase of hospitalization or deaths in Clark County because that increase is in the younger population,” he said.  

Hispanics account for 31.8 percent of positive cases, whites account for 19.5 percent, Blacks make up 8.4 percent, and Asians comprise 6.7 percent of positive cases.  

About a third of those hospitalized in Southern Nevada are Hispanic, while 30.5 percent are white, 15.4 percent are Black, and 11.8 percent are Asian.  

Deaths in Clark County from COVID-19 are predominantly among whites, who make up 42.5 percent of fatal cases, while Hispanics account for 21.2 percent, Blacks for 16.1 percent, and Asians for 16.8 percent.

Kirkpatrick said she has been observing local businesses and their approach to keeping staff and customers safe. 

“Some are at 99 percent compliance. Some are at twelve,” she said. “If you value your business, you value the public safety, please step up and do your part. Help us ensure we can stay in Phase Two.” 

That means keeping a distance and wearing a mask when you can’t, she said. 

Kirkpatrick pledged to “put whatever resources behind the Health District” for contact tracing and investigating.  

As of last week, the Southern Nevada Health District had 60 contact tracers and investigators, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore, who acknowledged a backlog.  

“If by backlog you mean open cases – yes. There are open cases,” she said.  

Leguen said SNHD’s contact tracing efforts will get a boost from 15 members of the Nevada National Guard and 20 bilingual Clark County employees who will be trained this weekend.  

“We are also getting additional staff through the state – approximately 50-100 will be assigned to the Health District. The initial staff are just starting training,” Sizemore said.

“We have an electronic system that allows us to communicate immediately with a person who tests positive,” Leguen said, urging Southern Nevadans not to disregard a message from the health district.     

Commissioner Tick Segerblom announced a “full-court press” of testing in the east part of the valley.  

“You don’t have to be a citizen,” he said. “You don’t have to prove documentation.” 

“Testing is there. If you think you’ve been exposed to someone or feel symptoms, please don’t sit back.  Don’t sit around and worry about this. We can’t let our economy backslide,” he said.  

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz praised Southern Nevadans for their efforts in March, April, and May.  

“Something happened on Memorial Day weekend,” she said, urging residents to once again embrace their commitments to social distancing.  

“Está en tus manos. It’s in your hands,” she said, announcing a website for Spanish-speaking Southern Nevadans.  

Diaz said most Latino families live in multigenerational households, where elderly members may be put at risk.  She said the Latin Chamber will be distributing masks at its office near Charleston and Maryland Parkway.    

Las Vegan Alyssa Cortes lost her 41-year-old uncle to COVID-19 less than a week ago.  He is survived by a wife and four children, including a newborn.  Cortes says she hoped her uncle’s story would inspire others to protect themselves and their loved ones.  

Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, infectious disease specialist at UMC, noted that wearing a mask has become “an issue of contention nationally. I find it not a limitation of your liberties, but a sign of respect for your fellow citizens.”  

“Wearing a mask doesn’t make you any less an American. It makes you a better American,” he said.   

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.