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Nevada keeps shot mandate for university staff; virus surges

January 1, 2022 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Hundreds of unvaccinated employees who work at public colleges and universities in Nevada were being fired Friday for failing to comply with COVID-19 mandates as the spread of the virus statewide accelerates at its fastest rate in more than a year.

In the Las Vegas area — where thousands of tourists gathered to celebrate New Years’ Eve — officials said Friday 3,363 new cases had been reported a day earlier. The spike broke the Southern Nevada Health District’s previous record for the most cases reported in a single day.

State health officials attributed about one-fourth of the new cases to the omicron variant.

The 14-day moving average for cases statewide stood at 1,072 as of Wednesday. Before this week, the cases reported daily — as measured by a 14-day moving average — had remained below 1,000 since the end of September, after dropping to a low of 150 in early June and then rising to 1,184 in mid-August.

“We are in the midst of seeing a significant increase, which we have not seen since early November 2020 at the beginning of the winter surge that tested our hospital capacity,” DuAne Young, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s policy director, told reporters on Thursday.

He said hospitalizations are on the rise in both northern and southern Nevada. And he expects the surge to continue in the coming weeks.

The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents deadlocked 6-6 Thursday on a measure to repeal the staff vaccine mandate at universities and then rejected a measure to push the effective termination date back two weeks.

Without majority support for a repeal, the mandate — which Sisolak and the Nevada Faculty Alliance support — remained in effect. Employees who did not provide proof of vaccination by Friday faced termination.

Higher education officials said Friday that 379 employees were being terminated, 188 attribution employees ended their contracts and 18 more voluntarily resigned. Employees who are fired can seek reinstatement if they show proof of vaccination in January, regents said.

“The pandemic has underscored the importance of delivering a safe and effective in-person educational experience for our students and the vaccine will help our institutions achieve that goal,” Regent Amy Carvalho said in a statement.

With the staff mandate remaining in effect, universities are set to begin the semester with a mandate on staff and without one on students. Last week, an emergency mandate imposed on students by the state Board of Health expired and a state legislative panel on a 6-6 vote decided against making it permanent.

Regents in support of the mandate said it was the best way to maintain health on campuses, while those opposed said it was unfair to impose a mandate on staff but not on students.

Kyra Morgan, Nevada’s state biostatistician, said the latest surge appears to be — at least in part — a result of the contagious nature of the omicron variant. But she also noted that while most mask requirements remain in place, businesses are subject to fewer restrictions than at this time last year.

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Sonner reported from Reno. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.