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Vaccine hesitancy forces county’s pivot to COVID treatment centers

Updated October 6, 2021 - 1:15 pm

Clark County is planning to fund at least one clinic for COVID-19 treatment under a potential $10 million plan that would divert patients who otherwise would end up in local hospitals.

“We know we can’t test our way out, can’t vaccinate our way out (of the pandemic), so now we have to ensure that we have the treatments that are available out there,” said county Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who proposed opening the clinics throughout the county.

Factoring in costs of $1,000 per treatment, Kirkpatrick said Tuesday that using up to $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars would represent a “good start” and a significant cost savings from the estimated $40,000 it costs per day to treat a patient at county-run University Medical Center.

The money to be earmarked for the program is not set in stone. Instead county officials are expected to return to the commission with a specific plan, including a budget and details on who will run the clinics.

Kirkpatrick said the county is not alone in its effort, pointing to seven Nevada counties that she said plan to set aside federal funding to set up treatment centers, similar to dialysis clinics, where COVID-19 patients can receive care.

She said the clinics in the county would offer one of four treatments being offered at UMC right now, including Monoclonal antibody therapy, antiviral treatment and an oral drug.

“We’re in an environment today where we got to focus on the treatment because there are just some people that are not going to get vaccinated,” she said.

Nearly 58 percent of county residents eligible for a shot have been fully inoculated, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

More gift cards coming

The plan’s movement came as county lawmakers authorized spending up to $100,000 in federal funding to give $100 prepaid gift cards to more people who get vaccinated.

The incentive was again championed by Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who was behind a pilot program last month at Eldorado High School that provided gift cards to anyone who received their first or second shot.

Nearly 900 people were vaccinated over the two-day clinic, which was significantly more than the 60-person average each day at clinics throughout the valley, according to the health district.

“It works,” he said. “You’re getting people who actually wouldn’t get it otherwise, or you’re speeding it up.”

Segerblom had sought up to $1 million for the second wave of the gift card program, but fellow commissioners preferred the scaled-back option, citing staffing burdens and administrative costs. The details of when and where the gift cards would be dished out still needed to be determined.

Traffic safety czar seems likely

Clark County inched closer on Tuesday to creating an office to address traffic safety in Southern Nevada, which has seen a rise in deadly crashes.

The Office of Traffic Safety would be led by a director whose job would be to oversee critical transportation issues, including developing a regional plan that addresses local traffic trends and concerns.

The director would be responsible for securing federal grants for traffic safety programs and managing those projects, acting as the lead spokesperson for all traffic safety issues and working with commissioners to set priorities.

Commissioner Michael Naft, who has spearheaded creating the office since his appointment to the commission in early 2019, said that while “it will be an office of one,” the director can lean on engineering, education and enforcement efforts already in progress at the county level.

“We on this board and our taxpayers are the ones paying the cost, so I believe strongly that countermeasures must be instituted, and I think those three “E’s” that we’ve all talked about routinely are the way to move forward,” he said.

As of Aug. 31, there were close to 25 percent more fatal crashes in the county this year over the same period in 2020, according to the state’s Office of Traffic Safety. The issue is prominent across the state, where the first seven months on Nevada roads this year were the deadliest in a decade.

Erin Breen, director of the Road Equity Alliance Project at UNLV, told county lawmakers that “we’re losing our efforts to save lives more and more every year.”

“We are literally in line to have the worst year we’ve ever had in Clark County, and great leadership is what’s required so I urge you today to take a step to have a director’s-level office at the county that can actually support traffic safety efforts,” she said.

Naft said it wasn’t clear exactly where the money would come from for the office, but there were several sources to tap. With support from fellow lawmakers, he said he was left “with a lot more optimism than I’ve had on this topic for a long time.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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