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Gov. Sisolak tests positive for COVID-19

Updated November 14, 2020 - 1:00 pm

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak has tested positive for COVID-19, he announced Friday afternoon.

“Today, as part of my regular testing COVID schedule, I underwent a rapid test and returned a positive result,” Sisolak said in a phone call with reporters.

The governor said he is not experiencing any symptoms at this time.

“I’m feeling fine. I don’t have any symptoms,” Sisolak said. “I’m a little tired, but I’ve been tired since March when we started fighting COVID.”

The 66-year-old Sisolak said that he will be quarantining at his residence in Carson City for 10 days. He said that given the spread across the state, it’s nearly impossible to pin down where he might have contracted the virus. He noted that he had two public events this week, a ribbon cutting Monday at a DMV office in Reno and a news conference Tuesday in Carson City.

First lady Kathy Sisolak tested negative for the virus after being tested Friday, the governor’s office said.

Virus surge

The news comes as Nevada is experiencing a massive surge in coronavirus cases across the state, with state officials saying the current rate of spread is rivaling the worst days of the pandemic.

Sisolak said that this “puts a spotlight” on how bad the spread is in the state in that even taking significant precautions may not prevent a person from coming down with the virus, and he stressed that people need to remain vigilant in following the guidelines on social distancing and mask wearing.

“More than 1,800 new cases were identified in Nevada yesterday,” Sisolak said. “We have to work together to get a handle on this virus.”

Sisolak said that he also took a PCR test, considered to be more precise than the rapid tests, on Friday, but that those results have not yet come back.

Epidemiologist Brian Labus, who serves on Sisolak’s medical advisory team, said that based on the results of a rapid test, it would be premature to conclude that the governor does indeed have COVID-19.

“We use the rapid test for screening because they’re much faster to get a result, but unfortunately, we trade off the accuracy for the speed,” said Labus, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at UNLV.

Labus had no knowledge about the governor’s case.

Different tests

Following a positive result from a rapid test, “the normal process is to confirm a rapid test with PCR (polymerase chain reaction test) because we know false results can occur,” Labus said.

Rapid tests, which are also called antigen tests, detect certain proteins in the virus. They do not require laboratory equipment to provide results, which can be delivered within 15 minutes. PCR tests, which detect genetic material in the virus, require processing in a laboratory.

Mark Pandori, testing chief for Nevada, earlier this week expressed his concern about the accuracy of rapid tests to the Review-Journal.

“When they are used on an asymptomatic population, they have the real possibility of generating more false positive test results than true positive test results,” said Pandori, director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory in Reno.

Sisolak said that it was important to him to notify the public of his positive result as soon as possible, and he offered a word of appreciation for health workers.

“I want to thank the health officials who assisted me through this process. They serve as a strong reminder of how proud we should all be of our state’s public health workers,” Sisolak said.

Sisolak said his last test before Friday was on Nov. 6. It came back negative.

Sisolak was last in his office on Thursday. All of his Carson City staff will be working from home starting Saturday.

All public events for the governor have been canceled, but the governor will work with his staff and Cabinet remotely.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead @reviewjournal.com.

Review-Journal staff writer Mary Hynes and White House correspondent Debra Saunders contributed to this report.

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