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Events centers in Reno to serve as COVID-19 testing, care facilities


By Lucia Starbuck | Cover photo by Lucia Starbuck

A parking lot at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center has been turned into a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site. It would normally be used in preparation for the annual Reno Rodeo, scheduled for June of each year.

Instead, on Saturday, April 11, 280 people were tested at the location. 

The Washoe County Health District aims to collect 300 tests per day. The site opened April 1, moving from its previous location at the Washoe County tuberculosis clinic in order to increase capacity. 

County officials said the emphasis on testing remains on high-risk populations. If you have coronavirus symptoms, stay home, health experts maintain.

“I think we still concentrate on the high risk and we can go from there as more test kits become available,” said Lisa Lottritz of the county’s Division of Community and Clinical Health Services.

Nurses and volunteers on the front line

The testing site is open from 9 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. only to those who have an appointment. Testing for COVID-19 takes about 15 minutes. 

A suspected patient fills out an online form, a staff member calls the patient to schedule an appointment and the patient pulls into the parking lot at their designated time.

Three testing stations are operational, with a
fourth in the works. Image: Lucia Starbuck

From there, the patient fills out paperwork and gets their ID checked. A golf cart directs the patient to one of three testing stations. A fourth station is in the works to handle an expected influx of new patients.

Two testers handle the testing kit and specimen. The patient first blows their nose, then a swab is deeply inserted up their nose. Once their sample is collected, the suspected patient returns home for the results, which takes about 72 hours. 

The site is staffed by 10 county nurses, a lead nurse, and volunteers from Washoe County School District, the University of Nevada, Reno and the Medical Reserve Corps of Washoe County. 

The nurses wear hazmat-like paper Tyvek suits. They work in shifts of four hours, which can be gruelling in the sun.

“Once they’re in, they do not drink. They do not eat. They do not use the restroom,” Lottritz explained.

The suits are disinfected after each use and are worn for three or four testing shifts. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is notoriously in short supply as health workers struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the face of a virus that only hit the Reno area just more than a month ago.

Testing process


Scott Oxarart, communications manager for the Washoe County Health District:

“You’ll stay in your car the whole time,” he said. “We will take a nasopharyngeal swab, go up tour nose and package the sample. They will then package the sample and send it to Nevada State Public Laboratory. If it’s negative we will let you know within 48-72 hours; if it’s positive we will probably let you know a little sooner than that. I think we did about 220 tests just today.”

Oxarart emphasized he is worried about the collection sample kit availability.

“So right now that is what we are worried about, because that is what we need to get the sample from people. That has a swab that we send to the lab, where they have a separate kit that they insert the sample into: it’s an intake and an out take,” he explained.

A positive test sample will result in a “mandated quarantine” by the county.

When asked about enforcing such a policy Oxarart said: “We obviously don’t have the resources to go to every house so we rely on trust from them, because the alternative is they are going to get their family members or somebody else sick.”

This Is Reno reported in late February that county officials were gearing up for the coronavirus to hit our area. Health officials then said they hoped it wouldn’t hit Washoe County.

“Our hope is we don’t have a resident contract the virus; however, our staff is working diligently with the CDC and our local partners to do whatever we can to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 appearing in our community,” said Washoe County Health District officer Kevin Dick.

Convention Center as alternate care site

As of today, 500 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. The Health District is now proposing Reno’s other major event center, the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, be used to house patients who no longer need life-saving care in the hospital but still require medical attention. 

The beds are needed to treat those most negatively affected.

“That would then free up beds that would be available for that higher level of care within the hospital setting,” Dick said.

The convention center has the capacity to hold 500 beds, if needed. Renown this week plans to open its alternate care facility, constructed over the last week in its Mill Street parking garage and outfitted with 1,200 beds along with basic patient care support equipment.

As of Sunday, April 12, about half of the licensed acute care beds and intensive care unit beds in Washoe County are being used, and 12 percent of the county’s available ventilators are being used.

In order to get tested one must call 775-328-2427 or fill out an online form that will assess symptoms. Testing still isn’t available for everyone.

Image: Eric Marks

Lucia Starbuck
Lucia Starbuck
Lucia Starbuck is a graduate of University of Nevada, Reynolds School of Journalism. She has reported on issues impacting Northern Nevada, including the affordable housing crisis, a lack of oral healthcare and challenges voters with disabilities face while trying to participate in the election process. She has directed and filmed two documentaries about homelessness.Through reporting, Lucia strives to shine a light on the challenges vulnerable populations face in our community.