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Nevada to expand contact tracing under new reopening plan

By ThisIsReno

By SAM METZ AP/Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada plans to expand its contact tracing capabilities as part of a new reopening plan that targets high-risk businesses rather than entire industries.

“What we plan to do in the future is provide a level of breakdown to our county officials so that they understand businesses they might look into,” Department of Public Health administrator Julia Peek said Tuesday. “That information will be shared with licensing boards, should there be something they need to look into.”

Nevada has traced the origin of about 15% of the state’s 44,936 confirmed virus cases.

The other 85% were tested for reasons other than contact tracing — because their doctors referred them or because they displayed symptoms.

Health officials and Deloitte — the subcontractor the state has hired to assist with contact tracing — plan on hiring additional staff, rolling out a mobile app and asking 25 questions to better trace the origin of cases as the state pivots to the new reopening plan, Peek said.

Efforts to identify high-risk businesses where cases originate will complement enhanced enforcement for non-compliant cities and businesses, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday. Nevada has not provided data to suggest a correlation between compliance and where residents contract the virus.

Five months into the pandemic, unemployment continues to plague Nevada and its tourism-dependent economy, with another Las Vegas Strip casino giant announcing layoffs.

MGM Resorts International alerted thousands of furloughed employees that they’ll lose their jobs because entertainment, concerts and sports events are not scheduled due to the ongoing pandemic.

The company employed about 80,000 workers before casinos were closed in mid-March to prevent the spread of the virus. It notified about 63,000 idled workers in May that they might face layoffs Sept. 1.

A company statement on Monday did not specify the number of jobs to be cut, but said that could happen by Aug. 31.

“We’ve pledged to be as transparent and supportive as possible with employees and are working to reduce the impact and help them moving forward,” the statement said.

MGM Resorts has reopened most of its 29 properties in the U.S. and abroad, including 10 of its 12 in Las Vegas, where casinos reopened June 4.

Separately, Nevada’s state unemployment chief acknowledged Tuesday that some eligible recipients did not receive their $600 weekly federal coronavirus pandemic relief payments, but promised the money will be disbursed.

“The issue is expected to be resolved tomorrow and all payments will be caught up shortly,” Kimberly Gaa, administrator of the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said in a statement blaming the delay on a system error.

Retroactive benefits also will be paid, the statement said.

The department is under a court order to begin paying pandemic relief benefits to out-of-work gig and independent workers who haven’t completely stopped working and were cut off from receiving payments.

Judge Barry Breslow in Reno ruled that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments should begin for a group that an attorney who sued the state said totals nearly 190,000 people. Another hearing is scheduled Thursday.

Health officials reported 1,105 newly confirmed virus cases Tuesday and 20 additional deaths. The total number of known deaths stands at 759 while the total confirmed cases total 44,936.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, coronavirus causes mild or moderate fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness including pneumonia and death. The vast majority recover.

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AP writer Ken Ritter contributed reporting from Las Vegas.

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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