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Homeless area set up in Las Vegas; Nevada seeks supplies amid outbreak

Michelle L. Price
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — People unable to use a shelter tied to a coronavirus case were laying out blankets on white-lined patches of pavement in Las Vegas as officials nationwide work to protect residents who cannot stay in homes to help slow the spread of the illness.

Residents were preparing to sleep in areas marked by painted boxes on the ground of a parking lot at a makeshift camp for the homeless Monday in Las Vegas. Officials opened part of the lot as a makeshift homeless shelter after a shelter closed when a man staying there tested positive for the coronavirus.

The move in Las Vegas comes as officials in California, with the nation’s largest homeless population, also look to protect unhoused residents. There, the governor had pledged thousands of hotel rooms to help homeless people weather the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Nevada business leaders are hoping to leverage their global contacts as a shortcut to get the state medical supplies for fighting the coronavirus, former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said Monday.

Murren, who left the giant casino operator and Nevada’s largest employer earlier this month, was picked by Gov. Steve Sisolak to helm a new task force to mobilize the private sector to secure supplies, equipment and to support funding of the state’s efforts.

Murren, who is not being paid, said in an online news conference Monday that the week-old Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force was primarily focused on helping find protective equipment for medical workers and coronavirus test kits.

“We have major, major challenges. The state has brought them to us, and our job is to knock off the barriers to those challenges and to get stuff done,” he said.

Murren said the state can be limited by regulatory rules about government purchasing that make it harder to get supplies, whereas business leaders can draw on their international relationships to find equipment to be donated or purchased by the task force and then donated.

“In my case, I’m calling people I’ve known for 10 or 20 years,” Murren said. “And I’m saying, ‘Look, you like Las Vegas. You like coming to Nevada. We need you. We’ve helped you. You need to help us.’ “

The news conference came as the state reported at least 17 deaths and more than 1,000 people diagnosed with the COVID-19 respiratory illness. The 17th death reported in Washoe County Monday afternoon was a woman in her 30s with an underlying medical condition, according to local health officials.

Most people with the virus experience mild or moderate fever and coughing that clear up in two to three weeks. Some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can face severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The governor’s office said the state has made multiple requests for coronavirus testing kits from the federal government but has been told the items are on an indefinite backlog. The state has received less than 25% of the protective equipment it requested, though it received about 26,000 respirator masks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday.

To help with coordination on the government side, Sisolak announced he was moving to have the Nevada National Guard help coordinate efforts between the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the state Emergency Management Division and other state agencies. Sisolak has not formally activated the Nevada National Guard to respond to the virus, but his office said in a statement that the new move was done to ensure all of the state’s government is “utilized effectively and efficiently.”

The Nevada Office of the Military, which oversees the Nevada Army and Air National Guard, will report to the governor’s office, according to Sisolak’s office.

In the private sector, Murren pointed to large donations from casino operators Wynn Resorts and MGM as among the task force’s early efforts.

Wynn Resorts on Friday said it had procured 240,000 particle-filtering respirator masks, 600,000 surgical masks, 500,000 pairs of medical gloves and 2,000 medical gowns. MGM donated 1,000 respirator masks, 100,000 surgical masks and 800 units of goggles.

The task force has raised nearly $4 million in donations, Murren said. The donations will be housed by the Nevada Community Foundation, a philanthropic group that serves as an intermediary for a number of charitable funds, housing donations and handling administrative work.

Donations that the task force collects could be used for a wide variety of causes, including buying supplies, grants and payments for the state and local governments, and help for local nonprofits.

Joining Murren on the task force are: Wynn Resorts board chair Phil Satre; Nevada Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela; NV Energy CEO and President Doug Cannon; Purestar executive and former Circus Circus executive Alex Dixon; homebuilder Steve Menzies of Focus Companies; consultant and former executive at Red Rock Resort Inc. Scott Nielson; and from the health care world, OptumCare Mountain West Region president Dr. Rob McBeath.

Associated Press photographer John Locher contributed to this report.