Updated March 15, 2020 - 6:14 pm
RENO — Northern Nevada logged five new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, health officials in Washoe County announced, bringing Nevada’s total to 26.
At the same time, some three dozen Reno area residents who were passengers on an ill-fated cruise ship quarantined after an outbreak of the virus returned the region shortly after noon Sunday to begin 14 days of self-isolation at home. A chartered 737 carrying the passengers from San Diego was bound for Las Vegas after first stopping in Reno. A total of 50 Nevadans were in the passenger group.
The five new cases, which brings the Reno area total to nine, are all travel-related or connected to a previously-identified local case. The Washoe County Health District said the five were three women and two men ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s.
Two of the women had traveled to California. The two men and other woman were close contacts of earlier cases. All were said to be in stable condition and are self-isolating at their homes, as are the rest of the Reno area’s cases and one case in Carson City. Cases tested by authorities in Nevada are no longer being treated as presumptive prior to additional confirmation by federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has discontinued testing. Clark County had reported 16 cases as of Sunday afternoon.
The plane carrying cruise ship passengers landed in an isolated section of Reno-Tahoe airport about 12:15 p.m., where they disembarked and moved into Washoe County vehicles for the trip home. They did not enter the airport terminal or parking garage, and airport equipment used to process their luggage and the plane was disinfected after use, airport spokesman Brain Kulpin said.
“We had many starts and stops with this through the week,” he said “We’re utilizing the plan we’ve have had on the shelf for many years.”
In addition to isolating the plane and passengers in a remote area, Kulpin said the airport parked vehicles around the plane to shield the identities of passengers as they disembarked.
“It was an intricate operation for the airport,” he said. “None of our staff was exposed in any way to the passengers. That was all handled by the health department.
He described the scene, with health district workers in hazmat suits, like “a science fiction movie.”
“We let the health department do what it is that they do. It was inspiring. It was wonderful to see people working that hard at what they do.”
The passengers, all of whom have been described as asymptomatic for the disease, are are expected to spend 14 days at home in self-isolation. In most cases the coronavirus causes milder symptoms similar to a cold or the flu, such as a cough and fever. Most people who contract it recover fully after about two weeks without needing special treatment.
But the virus has proved far more threatening to older people and others with weakened immune systems or underlying health problems, such as cardiovascular disease. Children, while they may contract and spread it, are far less affected. In China, figures from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed the death rate for people over 80 was 14.8 percent, but just 0.2 percent for those ages 10 to 39.
None of the Reno area’s five cases to date have required hospitalization and all have been self-isolating at home, as is the Carson City.
In the capital city, nearly all scheduled public meetings in the Nevada Legislature building have been canceled through March.
Besides now-typical long lines at supermarkets and runs on certain types of groceries, as well as emptier or closed restaurants, retail businesses and gathering spots, Sierra and Lake Tahoe-area ski resorts including Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley and Sugar Bowl are closed indefinitely because of fears about the virus, as are Mammoth and Big Bear Mountain in California. The Mount Rose ski area, the closest to Reno, remains open and “has no immediate plans” to alter it schedule, according to its website.
The ski area closures come amid a mid-March weekend snowstorm that has dumped upward of 2 feet of snow around Lake Tahoe and more at higher elevations. Interstate 80 was closed for 60 miles Sunday afternoon from the Nevada-California state line to Colfax due to blizzard conditions and avalanche warnings were posted.
This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.