Gov. Steve Sisolak, flanked by state health workers and other government officials, delivered a message of unity and calm Friday afternoon as Nevada prepares for possible coronavirus cases.
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19 — in Nevada, Sisolak said, before urging residents to continue practicing basic hygiene methods, such as washing hands with soap and water, coughing into your elbow and staying home from work or school if sick.
“We’re going to prepare, not panic,” he said at a press conference in Las Vegas. “We’re going to choose collaboration over chaos.”
State epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock said health authorities are working to monitor returning travelers and keeping them under health surveillance and a “self-quarantine” for 14 days to look for the emergence of symptoms. The main symptoms of coronavirus, she said, are fever, cough and shortness of breath, although the seasonal flu has similar symptoms.
“The plan of our ongoing public health response is to early detect and rapidly contain introductions of this virus in Nevada, with the goal of delaying and ultimately preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Peek-Bullock said.
Mark Pandori, director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, said the lab has been able to test for the coronavirus since Feb. 11 and has the capacity now to test several hundred specimens. He said the lab can also obtain chemicals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to test even more specimens in the next few weeks.
“We have trained several staff members in the public health laboratory to run this test so that we can minimize what is called the turnaround time and maximize the efficiency by which we can get you results,” Pandori said.
Richard Whitley, head of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, didn’t venture a guess on how long it might take to develop a vaccine against the virus. He compared it to the imperfect science of developing a vaccine each year for the seasonal flu.
“In terms of testing and the vaccine development — I would be wrong in trying to give you a date or time. That’s science, and it’s happening … at a federal level with CDC,” Whitley said. “This is a virus, and you don’t always at a science level get it right with the flu vaccine each year. Sometimes it’s better than others.”
There have been 560 cases of flu reported at the University Medical Center since November, officials said.
Officials said there were three tests performed for coronavirus so far, and it has turned up negative each time. The test is currently free.
Asked about cases cropping up in California, Sisolak said he’s “not anticipating ever banning tourists coming from California.”
“We’re not building a wall on the Nevada-California border,” he said. “And I speak with Gov. Newsom on a very regular basis.”
When asked about contingency plans for any major events, such as the upcoming NFL draft in Las Vegas, Sisolak said he didn’t want to get into “hypotheticals” but is staying aware of the developing situation and working with the appropriate agencies. NBC News reported on Friday that the Trump administration had canceled a special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was planned for mid-March in Las Vegas.
State health officials said they would be releasing information about the number of people who have been asked to self-quarantine. It’s unclear how soon that will be done, though.
One attendee asked whether the president’s quick action was the reason the coronavirus hasn’t spread more widely to date.
“This is as nonpartisan of an issue as you can possibly find,” Sisolak replied. “Every agency nationwide, statewide and local is working together to protect all of our citizens.”