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COVID-19 Update: Nevada’s Not Alone

Earlier today, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) hailed his signing of SB 4 as critical in protecting Nevada’s hospitality workers and businesses from the scourge of COVID-19. He also hailed the gaming industry worker safety and corporate legal immunity bill as “first in the country to put protocols in place for the hospitality industry”.

While this may technically be true, Nevada’s overall response to COVID-19 is not all that unique. Rather, we’re just one of many states and municipalities that continue to struggle in figuring out what to do when there’s no national strategy to take on such a severe pandemic.

Surprise, Nevada is not the only state that’s been struggling to overcome COVID-19.
COVID-19, coronavirus
Photo by Andrew Davey

While it can be infuriating at times to witness Nevada’s struggle against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19, we can and should remind ourselves that we are not alone. And really, when we notice similar problems other states are having across the country, it’s easier to understand America’s larger systemic failure. 

For instance, there’s the famous/infamous San Quentin State Prison in Northern California. Over ⅔ of the prison’s population have been infected, 25 have died so far (out of a population of about 3,260), and the prison continues to reel from ongoing new infections of inmates and staff. While the infection rate has slowed, epidemiologists are certain they still haven’t reached “herd immunity”, or the point where so many people have been infected and have survived that it becomes difficult for the virus to find new people to infect.

COVID-19, coronavirus
Photo by Andrew Davey

Moving south and inland, Arizona health officials have hailed their state’s lower caseload following an exceptionally severe surge in COVID-19 infections that made headlines around the world. While Arizona’s test positivity rate has dropped in recent weeks amidst various municipalities tightening their health safety rules, Governor Doug Ducey’s (R) frequent refusals to implement stronger safety rules before this “summer surge” became too big to conceal led to a wave of business reopenings that reverted to another round of mass closures. And even now, public health experts continue to fear that less testing means we still don’t know the full scope of COVID-19 in Arizona.

Does either of these stories seem strangely familiar? We now know that Nevada’s prisons and jails face a greater COVID-19 outbreak than earlier publicly available data had suggested, and we now know that over ⅔ of the Nevada inmates who’ve been held at a private Arizona prison tested positive for COVID-19 last month. Meanwhile, Nevada has also been struggling to maintain the image of “reopen for business” while confronting the reality of our own “summer surge” of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths

So how’s Nevada doing on COVID-19 now?
health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

Now that we caught a glimpse at what two of our neighbor states are experiencing, let’s move closer to home. First, some good news: For the first time since, Nevada’s COVID-19 hospitalized patient count dropped under 1,000 to 971. Overall hospital occupancy now stands at 71%, and at 61% for ICU’s. And today the state is only recording 548 new infections, though the state has also been recording fewer tests for the last five days.

Nevada is also reporting 18 additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total death count to 981. And depending on how you prefer to calculate test positivity rates, the cumulative rate is either 10.5% (as Nevada Health Response reports) or 10.96% (as The Nevada Independent reports), and the latest one-day test positivity rate either lies at 13.3% (according to the state) or 22.75% (according to the Indy). Either way, this is still well above the WHO’s recommended 5% test positivity rate for safe reopening.

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s infection rate has dropped some more to 0.92, meaning that, on average, every group of 100 COVID-19 patients are infecting another 92. And while the state (through its partnership with Deloitte) has logged 42,584 contact tracing calls and text messages since June 18, Covid Act Now estimates that only 10% of Nevada’s COVID-19 infections are being contact traced within 48 hours of the positive test results.

“It’s not just about protecting industry. It’s about protecting the workers who make our industries thrive.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak, upon signing SB 4 into law today

SB4 bill signing with Governor Sisolak

SB4 bill signing with Governor SisolakLas Vegas, NV – Governor Steve Sisolak will be joined virtually by stakeholders and community supporters of Senate Bill 4, the “Adolfo Fernandez Bill” for a bill signing ceremony in his office on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at 3:00pm via Zoom.——Senate Bill 4 “Adolfo Fernandez Bill” will protect over 280,000 hospitality workers in Clark County and Washoe. The worker provisions in the Senate Bill 4 are the result of five months of the Culinary Union having thousands of one-on-one conversations with workers, two different car caravans on the Las Vegas Strip with over 10,000 Nevadans participating, dozens of public comment before the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Gaming Commission, and drafting, researching, and consulting with experts on the health and safety language in the Bill.Senate Bill 4 is a first-in-the-nation legislation that will protect all workers in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas and Reno – wall-to-wall, front-of-the house and back-of-the house, union and non-union, worker and manager – from the Bellagio to Motel 6. A majority of workers covered by this law are not unionized. Behind every worker in this state there is a family and the Culinary Union is proud to have won the best safety standards for all workers in the state’s largest industry. We urge elected leaders to continue working towards extending similar protections to all workers in Nevada. When workers are protected, our entire community – from the hospitality industry to customers and locals are protected.UPDATE ON CULINARY UNION MEMBERS: 35 Culinary and Bartenders Union members and/or their immediate family members have died from COVID-19, with more than 300 hospitalized due to COVID-19 since March 1. Since June 4, when casinos were allowed to reopen, the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations among Culinary and Bartenders Union members and/or their immediate family members has increased 1,380%, from 5 patients (hospitalized because of COVID-19 on June 4) to 69 (hospitalized COVID-19 patients on July 29). A majority of Culinary Union members live in the 20 Clark County ZIP codes with the highest COVID-19 infection rates.

Posted by Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signed SB 4 into law. Keep in mind that this bill contains the very broad corporate legal immunity that worker and consumer advocates decried, yet Sisolak framed this quintessential “politics done the Nevada way” back-room deal amongst his office, the major casino companies (such as MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands), and the Culinary Union this way: “This bill isn’t about economic expansion. It’s about economic survival. It’s not just about protecting industry. It’s about protecting the workers who make our industries thrive.”

To be fair, SB 4 does contain many of the casino safety rules that Culinary leaders and medical experts have been recommending for the last four months. However, SB 4 does not codify into law additional health safety protections for the rest of Nevada’s workforce beyond Sisolak’s orders on masks and indoor gathering capacity. And yet, it does grant legal immunity (in Nevada state courts) to businesses and governmental entities far beyond the Las Vegas Strip and Reno’s Virginia Street.

Nonetheless, Sisolak proclaimed today, “I believe this bill goes a long way to protect hospitality workers. We are the first in the country to put protocols in place for the hospitality industry.” And Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline added, “Over the last five months, we focused on how to protect the health of the workers. […] At the Culinary Union we represent 60,000, but this protects all 280,000 [hospitality] workers.”

“These important protections also send a message to our visitors: that they can take advantage of our wonderful amenities and rest assured of their safety.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
COVID-19, Steve Sisolak, Culinary Union
Screenshot provided by Andrew Davey

We can’t really fault Culinary Union leaders for taking action to protect member workers. Instead, it’s jarring to see how our state’s elected leaders proceeded with this legislation after casino workers like Adolfo Fernandez passed away… And, ironically enough, after the Culinary Union filed a federal lawsuit against two MGM Resorts properties and one Caesars Entertainment property for failure to comply with the workplace safety standards of their collective bargaining agreement.

During the signing ceremony, Sisolak hinted at the core purpose of SB 4 when he noted, “These important protections also send a message to our visitors: that they can take advantage of our wonderful amenities and rest assured of their safety.” But then again, how much can we fault Sisolak and other state leaders when the federal government essentially incentivized premature reopenings by failing to provide sufficient aid to account for Nevada’s and other states’ massive loss of taxable revenue?

COVID-19, Steve Sisolak
Photo provided by the Office of Governor Steve Sisolak

Herein lies the core reason why America’s COVID-19 outbreak has become such an epic tragedy: The Trump administration cared more about controlling the media narrative than controlling the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and their prioritizing of political games over medical science continues to jeopardize the public’s health and safety. Yet while America’s failure to contain COVID-19 began at the White House, it’s already resulted in a signature “Nevada solution” to the pandemic: One that famously lights up Las Vegas Boulevard while keeping workers off the Strip firmly in the dark.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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