Health officials fear rebound of COVID-19 cases if restrictions lifted ‘too soon’

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A closed bar on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Photo: Bridget Bennett)
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A closed bar on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Photo: Bridget Bennett)

As Gov. Steve Sisolak prepares to unveil a plan Thursday for beginning to reopen Nevada’s economy, the Southern Nevada Health District is advocating a “very gradual reopening so we don’t have a rebound,” by lifting social distancing restrictions too soon, says Dr. Mike Johnson, director of SNHD’s Community Health Division.  

Johnson noted “a plateauing” of cases in Southern Nevada.

Slightly more than one percent of the state’s residents have been tested for COVID-19, leaving officials crafting policy in the dark. 

Health officials, still hampered by shortages in testing materials, are sending “strike teams” to geographic hot spots and areas of higher risk, such as neighborhoods with high minority populations, health district officials said at a media briefing Wednesday.  

But having all the components needed to obtain samples and process tests remains elusive and is hampering the effort. 

“We don’t want to have community collection sites set up where we are taking samples but can’t get them processed,” said Jeff Quinn, manager of the Office of Public Health Preparedness, who noted the tests are “not good after a certain time.” 

“Everyone is competing for the same testing resources,” Johnson said, adding the volume of tests conducted by commercial labs such as LabCorp and Quest give them priority in obtaining supplies.  

The SNHD says it is requesting to double its 54-person staff of personnel conducting contact tracing, a crucial function necessary for preventing a rebound as businesses and schools reopen.  

“It’s quite an undertaking,” said Johnson.   

In early April, the state notified hospitals and health officials that deaths related to COVID-19 are “likely much higher” and are being underreported.  

“There’s a lot of room for judgment so it may be difficult to tell how many cases we may be missing,” said Dr. Vit Kraushaar, Medical Investigator for the health district. 

Kraushaar says Southern Nevada officials are not seeing a “large spike prior to this outbreak” of potentially misdiagnosed deaths as seen in other locations.  

“I think our death records are fairly accurate,” 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.