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Health officer ‘aghast’ at commissioners refusing to wear masks

By Kristen Hackbarth

Health district to stay the course despite county’s end to emergency declaration

Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick on Wednesday said the decision by the Board of County Commissioners to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration was unfortunate, but that it wouldn’t have much impact on efforts to contain the virus. Funding for the health district’s COVID-19 operations comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dick said the message commissioners should be sharing is that “we need to continue to step up…to be vaccinated. We need to comply with the governor’s mask mandate. We need to care about each other.”

He added that he was “aghast” at Commission Chair Bob Lucey’s refusal to wear a mask, which is still required in government buildings based on the county’s risk level. Commissioner Jeanne Herman also said she refused to wear a mask. The county is not enforcing mask-wearing at the commission chambers.

Washoe County Commission Chair Bob Lucey goes maskless at the Dec. 14, 2021 meeting.
Washoe County Commission Chair Bob Lucey goes maskless at the Dec. 14, 2021 meeting.

Dick’s statement came during a media call a day after the county recorded its 1,000th death from COVID-19. He said more than 70,000 cases have been reported in Washoe County since March 2020.

“It’s extremely sad to have such a large loss of life,” Dick said. “This is what we feared when we started tracking the virus back in December 2019. It’s kind of hard to fathom.”

Vaccinations continue to increase, especially among children ages 5-11, and 62% of county residents ages 5 or older are now fully immunized against the coronavirus.

“What we’re seeing is very little side effects in the 5-11 year old group,” Dick said. “While parents may have had some side effects when getting their vaccine–feeling crappy—that doesn’t seem to be the case with children.”

WCHD’s James English said the health district has been successful in getting homebound residents vaccinated as well. The homebound vaccination team operates Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and has been visiting group homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Omicron on the horizon

Health officials said they are also preparing for the arrival of the omicron variant. The first known case of omicron in Nevada was reported Tuesday in Las Vegas. 

The variant has yet to be found in Washoe County, but Dick said that based on what’s happening in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe, “once it’s here we’re going to see a rapid increase in cases.”

The CDC said that cases of the omicron variant will likely spread faster than other variants of COVID-19, but existing vaccines are effective against it.

Washoe County remains at a high level of coronavirus transmission, at 117 cases per 100,000 people on a seven-day moving average. That number would need to drop to 100 to edge the county into the substantial transmission range, and below 50 to be defined as moderate.

Test positivity in Washoe County is down to 6.8%.

Testing is still being conducted at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Event Center drive-through site. English said they’re focusing testing efforts on those who are symptomatic, have traveled internationally or been identified as at risk through contact tracing. Appointments can be made at https://covid19washoe.com/

Vaccinations through the health district have moved inside to the county’s health clinic, and appointments can be made by calling 775-328-2327. English said new community vaccine distribution sites will be opened in the coming weeks with varying hours, such as evenings.

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