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Federal COVID support for Nevada is open-ended, HHS secretary says

Updated July 22, 2021 - 7:50 pm

Federal support teams aiding state and local COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Southern Nevada — including conducting door-to-door canvassing to encourage reluctant Nevadans to get shots — will remain here as long as they are needed, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday in Las Vegas.

Led by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the teams are working with community groups and other volunteer organizations — including AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, Tzu Chi USA and Sewa International — to go door to door in some neighborhoods with high COVID-19 transmission rates or low vaccination rates, or both. The volunteers, who began the effort last weekend, encourage residents to get vaccinated and, if they agree, direct them to nearby clinics, Becerra said.

FEMA Acting Associate Administrator Dave Bibo said he has heard from volunteers that the door-to-door operation has been successful. Bibo said that when volunteers meet people who vehemently oppose getting vaccinated, they respond by staying on message.

“We want to keep people healthy. We want to get our country open and on a sustainable path to being open, and in order to do that we need to get as many shots in arms as we possibly can and get that message out as aggressively as we can,” he said.

The volunteers also are armed with informational door hangers and brochures that state that vaccination is the best way to prevent infection and ward off additional mitigation measures such as the employee mask mandate issued Tuesday by the Clark County Commission.

‘Not here to tell anybody what to do’

After meeting privately with state and local officials, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, Becerra said at a news briefing that the federal government was participating at the invitation of the state and was not dictating the response to the recent increases in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the test positivity rate.

“We are not here to tell anybody what to do,” said Becerra, who was California’s attorney general before joining the Biden administration in March. “… You just tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it.”

After visiting a Clark County Fire Department training center, the officials toured a testing and vaccination site in Las Vegas, where they were joined by Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy, who represents the area.

The visit came as major COVID-19 metrics have been increasing in Nevada for over a month. On Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported 942 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths from the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

As metrics have gone up, officials have repeatedly said that getting more Nevadans vaccinated represents the best path forward. The state has been creative in trying to provide incentive-based programs for people to get vaccinated, including pop-up clinics on the Strip and the “Vax Nevada Days” raffle that offers a chance to win a variety of prizes to anyone who gets vaccinated.

‘Pandemic of the unvaccinated’

But with state data showing that just 46.76 percent of eligible Nevadans are fully vaccinated and that more than 90 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Becerra and other officials used Thursday’s visit to underline the importance of getting shots to protect family, friends and even Nevada’s economy. Many repeated a phrase that President Joe Biden and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, began using last month, calling the current national surge a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Sisolak told the Review-Journal in an interview that the state has seen progress since he announced the raffle on June 17 and cited figures that show Nevada has recently vaccinated a higher percentage of its residents than the national average.

“They’ve gone up,” he said of the recent numbers. “Nothing can solve this, (not) one specific item. This is going to take a lot of creative thinking and a lot of ideas, a lot of marketing, a lot of plans. And this has helped, definitely. ‘Vax Nevada Days’ has helped. It’s gotten more people getting shots in arms, and that’s a positive.”

The federal support teams, which are operating in four states, including Nevada, are aiming to help keep the numbers up.

Data guide: COVID-19’s impact on Nevada

Sisolak and Becerra also stressed throughout the day that there is no timetable for how long the federal teams will remain in Nevada.

“For me, what’s success? Getting one more American vaccinated,” Becerra said. “And then another. And then another. We’re no longer doing the tens of thousands. It’s now one American at a time. And hopefully, maybe 10 Americans at one time. At the end of the day, if we vaccinate one American today, that’s one more life that we may have saved than we did yesterday.”

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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