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Nevada will expand testing, tracing with federal money

Updated June 3, 2020 - 3:32 pm

CARSON CITY – Nevada will commit roughly $221 million in mostly federal money through 2021 to rebuilding state protective equipment stockpiles, expanding COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and preparing a mass vaccination program when a vaccine is ready, state health officials outlined in a briefing Wednesday.

The largest chunk of that outlay, nearly $129 million, will cover the cost of standing up a contact tracing effort that will initially employ more than 600 people in the coming months before declining to 400 by November, according to the state’s outbreak management plan, which officials reviewed for reporters Wednesday.

The state currently has 100 paid and volunteer staff handling case investigation and contact tracing. As of Wednesday morning, the state had reported more than 8,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 429 deaths.

As testing increases, the number of cases “may increase almost fivefold in the next several months,” the report noted, citing a need for up to 700 staff and volunteers to support case investigation and tracing.

Caleb Cage, the state’s recently named COVID-19 response director, was joined by Mark Pandori, director of the state Public Health Laboratory who now also serves as the state’s overall testing chief, and Julia Peek, deputy administrator in the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, to outline the management plan.

Broadly, it looks at three stages — building the state’s capacity to respond to a new surge, transitioning from the current emergency effort to a sustainable, normalized health response, and preparing to aggressively respond to a potential resurgence of the disease.

To-do list

Those three stages encompass five categories of effort:

— Rebuilding the state’s supply of personal protective equipment, at a cost of more than $50 million. That includes creating a 60-day supply in the event of a new surge in cases.

— Obtaining supplies to collect and test up to 200,000 samples “at any point of the crisis,” at a cost of $8.6 million.

— Building out capacity for both testing those 200,000 samples as well as 680,000 antibody tests, at a cost of nearly $13 million.

— Setting up the contact tracing program, which seeks to have a tracer contact every person who tests positive within 24 hours, and close contacts of that person within 24 hours of that.

— Establishing a “mass vaccination infrastructure” to manage an 80 percent vaccination rate. The plan notes that the current expectation for a vaccine available for U.S. distribution is early 2021. It estimates an outlay of $2.5 million to expand the state’s existing immunization tracking platform, expanded staffing and a $1.3 million public awareness campaign.

The plan also estimates a monthly outlay of $504,000 to support continuing National Guard deployment.

The funding sources include $96 million from federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the state’s share of federal CARES Act money, which totaled about $836 million; and reimbursable expenses through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in addition to private contributions.

Ramping up testing

Nevada is working toward the standardized goal of testing 2 percent of its population per month — roughly 60,000 people, or an average of 2,000 a day. The state has reported as many as 9,325 test results in a day.

“What you’ll absolutely see in Nevada is that we’ll exceed that given the amount of testing that I just quoted to you that is occurring right now in the state,” Pandori told reporters Wednesday, adding that the target number was “not magical.”

“Really what we want is a high capacity to test on a daily basis as we reopen, because we don’t know what’s going to happen and we want to be able to detect and squash outbreaks very very quickly.”

The purpose of the plan is “to develop an operations surge strategy and sustainment capability” to prevent or deal with additional COVID-19 outbreaks and transition the state’s response to a “shared public and private partnership utilizing Nevada’s public and private health care systems,” according to a 32-page report.

“This strategy will be a bridge from the current crisis response to an enhanced normal disease management process while being prepared for a significant outbreak,” the report states.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

COVID 19 Outbreak Management by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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