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Nevada National Guard helping nursing homes amid pandemic

SCOTT SONNER
Associated Press

RENO — The National Guard is joining Nevada health inspectors investigating outbreaks of the coronavirus at nursing homes and assisted living centers, which account for nearly one out of six of Nevada’s COVID-19 deaths and nearly 9% of the total cases statewide.

“The Guard is going in to work with our nursing homes to make sure they’re clean,” sufficiently staffed and have adequate personal protective equipment, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday. Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, the Nevada National Guard’s adjutant general, said Guard members will accompany state health inspectors doing “auxiliary spot checks” at the facilities.

“In the event that we can see a cluster, we have the ability to send teams in to help eradicate that,” Berry said.

About 15 Guard members planned to begin Wednesday assisting in the inspections and collection of virus test samples.

“This will effectively double the amount of teams they have to do the task,” Lt. Col. Mickey Kirchenbaum said.

Sisloak said targeting those facilities will be an integral part of a series of steps the state must take before he’ll begin to ease any statewide restrictions or start to phase in reopening non-essential businesses that he ordered closed in mid-March.

“Outbreaks need to be contained in special settings like health facilities, assisted living and skilled nursing homes,“ the Democrat said. “We know these populations are more susceptible to the virus.”

The 25 deaths attributed to COVID-19 at nursing homes and assisted living facilities — one staff member and the rest patients — account for about 15% of the 172 deaths statewide.

Of the more than 4,000 coronarvirus cases confirmed in Nevada, at least 350 have been at nursing homes and assisted living centers, according to state health officials.

The state started tracking that category of cases more intensely last week. Twenty nine facilities have COVID-19 cases — 25 in Clark County and four in Washoe County. About 10% of the residents and 4% of the staff at those facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.

Two nursing homes — one in Las Vegas and one in Reno — account for about one-third of the deaths and cases in those facilities. Seven residents and one staff member have died at Lakeside Health & Wellness Suites in Reno, where 46 cases have been confirmed. Silver Hills Health Care Center in Las Vegas has the most confirmed cases, 52 but just one death, a resident.

The biggest outbreak at a state-licensed facility in Nevada has been identified at a behavioral inpatient site with all ages in Reno. Willow Springs Center has confirmed 58 cases — 36 residents and 22 staff, including one staff member who has died.

Most people with the virus experience symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Over 8,400 deaths nationwide have been linked to outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term facilities. .

Also Wednesday:

— At least two Las Vegas-area hospitals say they’re among more than 1,600 treatment centers nationally taking part in a study to see if blood plasma from people who have recovered from the COVID-19 respiratory illness can help people newly diagnosed with the new coronavirus. Officials say the Mayo Clinic is studying whether antibodies from patients who already had the virus can help those who get it.

— The three-day Life is Beautiful music and art festival that had been slated for September in downtown Las Vegas has been canceled. Organizers promised in social and internet media posts that the event first held in 2013 will return in 2021. A separate festival, the Electric Daisy Carnival, previously postponed its mid-May schedule to Oct. 2-4 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.