Health official: Data, not public pressure, will guide decision to reopen

Rally Las Vegas Trump Covid
Las Vegas demonstrators in Las Vegas, April 17.(Screenshot from video posted on Twitter by Nevada Republican congressional candidate Dan Rodimer)
Rally Las Vegas Trump Covid
Las Vegas demonstrators in Las Vegas, April 17.(Screenshot from video posted on Twitter by Nevada Republican congressional candidate Dan Rodimer)

Nevada is in the grips of corona fatigue, a plague that could prove as fatal as COVID-19 itself.  

Even before Gov. Steve Sisolak has designated a Phase One reopening date for the state, businesses are formulating guidelines and executing plans for the new normal.  

Others, intent on exercising their First Amendment right to protest even in the midst of a pandemic, are pressuring lawmakers and calling for Sisolak’s ouster from office.

But the people who are monitoring the benchmarks that will eventually lead to reopening say they will not be swayed by the masses. 

“The governor has taken a very strong evidence-based stand,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, Director of Community Health for the Southern Nevada Health District. “It’s an evidence-based informed decision, in my opinion, and not in response to protest or public opinion.”  

Health officials say they are looking at a variety of indicators “holistically” rather than individually.  

Those indicators include new cases as a percentage of tests, the number of deaths, hospital stability, and ventilators in use. 

“There’s no one perfect metric that encapsulates” the indication the time is right to reopen, said Dr. Vit Kraushaar, Medical Investigator for the SNHD. 

“We’ve been plateauing for some time and beginning to see a bit of decline in some of the indicators we are looking at, which is good news,” said Johnson.   

Of the 4,473 confirmed cases in Southern Nevada, 3,659 people have recovered and 238 have died, according to the health district.   

On the testing front, SNHD is providing targeted testing to seniors and minorities and is “looking to expand community testing sites,” said Johnson.  

Lab manager Holly Hudson said the health district has a platform for antibody testing, which has yet to be validated.  She said the test, which detects the presence of viral antibodies in those who have been infected with COVID-19, is 95 to 97 percent reliable.  

Johnson said antibody testing conducted by the district, like testing for the virus, will target hot spots of vulnerable populations. 

Kraushaar cited the many reported flaws with antibody testing, such as picking up traces of previous coronaviruses other than COVID-19.  

“There are so many unknowns currently, so the best we can do is get a sense of prevalence in the community,” he said.   

Officials say the health district will be “very involved” when businesses open to ensure they are operated safely.  

“If we see a cluster in the same region or same facility, that’s a strong indication to us and we might send strike teams to investigate,” Kraushaar 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.