CARSON CITY, DUCKWATER AND LAS VEGAS – More than eight months into the Nevada guard’s support of the battle against COVID-19, the stubborn microscopic enemy showed no sign of surrender as many of the state’s counties reported record number of cases in late autumn.
Despite the fact that nearly 400 Nevada Guard Soldiers and Airmen were on duty daily in November supporting the state’s effort to curb the pandemic, health officials continued to report record high numbers of coronavirus cases. Clark County reported it had topped 100,000 cases of COVID-19 on November 19, the same day Washoe County reported its record high of active cases, 5,878. The number in Washoe County on November 19 was four times the number of cases on October 18 (1,432). The Nevada Guard was not immune from the sting of COVID-19, as dozens of Airmen and Soldiers also reported contracting the disease.
Through October, Nevada Guard Soldiers and Airmen had recorded some staggering statistics during the Guard’s mission to assist the state during the pandemic. Since the mission began in April, Guardsmen had distributed more than 2 million K/N95 masks, 3.5 million surgical masks, 8.3 million pairs of gloves and 1.1 million Tyvek shields. They also distributed about 2.9 million meals and administered more than 1.1 million coronavirus tests.
Yet the spread of the coronavirus ran rampant despite the efforts of the Nevada Guard and its community partners. Officials said it would take a concerted effort by the entire community to reverse the coronavirus spread.
“The Nevada Guard has been an indispensable part of the whole of community response to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, despite all efforts to increase testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment distribution, we will not be able to mitigate the exponential spread of the virus unless the public embraces all aspects of strict adherence to social distancing and protective measures,,” said Lt. Col. Brett Compston, the director of the Nevada Guard’s Joint and Domestic Operations section.
Down from April’s high of 1,150 Nevada Guard Soldiers and Airmen on duty, the nearly 400 Guardsmen who remained on health response duty through the autumn performed a familiar list of tasks, including staffing of community based collection sites, warehouse support and contact tracing. The COVID-19 health response this past spring was the largest domestic activation in Nevada Guard history.
On any given day in autumn, there were dozens of missions ongoing throughout the state. In late November, Task Force 422 in northern Nevada had more than 130 Soldiers on 12 separate missions, including assisting at the Northern Nevada Food Bank, helping with Washoe County Health District mapping and data input, and conducting community based collections.
The health response duty for all Nevada Guard Soldiers and Airmen was set to conclude by late December. Compston said it was likely Gov. Steve Sisolak would request funding for future Nevada Guard support, but he did not know if that request would be granted.
Snapshots of support
In November in Las Vegas, more than 50 Guardsmen teamed with the Clark County Fire Department’s mobile surge command to test Las Vegans during the city’s autumn uptick in coronavirus cases. More than 1,900 people were screened on the first day of operations at a new testing site at the Texas Hotel and Casino.
Deputy Incident Commander with CCFD, Noah Wheatley, the Clark County Fire Department’s deputy incident commander, said the goal at the site was to test more than 2,000 people per day.
“This is a cooperative effort between University Medical Center, the Southern Nevada Health District, the Nevada National Guard and the Clark County Fire Department,” Wheatley said. “We want to get as many people tested as possible – without an appointment and for free. We are all professionals with the same resolution – winning the battle against this coronavirus.”
In rural Duckwater, Soldiers and Airmen on Task Force South’s mobile collection team headed north to the remote Nye County village in November to assist the Shoshone Tribal Health District with its community-based testing for COVID-19.
Eight members of the Nevada Guard surge team helped test more than 70 people at the Duckwater Health Clinic. It was the second visit for the Nevada Guard to Duckwater this year for coronavirus support after the task force tested 80 percent of the Tribal elder community in July.
Duckwater has a population of about 220. The village is in Nye County about 50 miles south of Eureka. Despite being small in population, Duckwater includes more than 4,300 square miles of area. The community was named for the ducks which frequented wetlands near the original town site.
Brenda O’Neil, the health manager for the Duckwater clinic, said her community – just like the entire state -- was experiencing an uptick in positive coronavirus cases in November. She expressed her gratitude for the Guard’s willingness to go anywhere in Nevada to assist the state’s citizens.
“We are very grateful the Guard is here to help,” O’Neil said. “I want to give them a huge thanks for their ongoing support.”
That same week, the Nevada Guard also assisted the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony with coronavirus testing at the nation’s Hungry Valley and downtown Reno locations.
Bethany Sam, spokesperson for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said that the colony’s increasing number of cases correlated with Washoe County’s increasing number of positive tests.
“We are seeing numbers go up here,” Sam said. “We appreciate the state of Nevada and the Nevada National Guard's efforts to help us combat the pandemic.”
The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony includes 1,157 members with locations in rural Washoe County and its urban colony just east of downtown Reno. The majority of the members hail from the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe tribes.
Since the beginning of the Nevada National Guard’s health response support in April, task forces have provided assistance at 10 tribal locations across Nevada with either food distribution support and/or COVID-19 testing medical and logistical support.
In addition to the Duckwater Shoshone and the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, other Native American sites, tribes and organizations receiving assistance from the Nevada Guard included: the Moapa band of Paiutes; the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada; Hungry Valley; the Pyramid Lake Paiute; the eastern Nevada bands of Te-Moak and western Shoshone; the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute; the northern Paiute and western Shoshone in McDermitt; and the northern Paiute in Yerington.
With the conclusion of the state’s largest domestic activation in history about to conclude, Compston emphasized all of the state’s residents needed to cooperate to eradicate the coronavirus.
“Nevadans must work together to combat this fiend,” Compston said. “It’s not about politics. It’s about doing the right thing to help your neighbors and quicken our return to normalcy.”