AP NEWS

Some Nevada shelters close, sheriff reports no virus cases

March 26, 2020 GMT
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Workers clean and disinfect playground equipment due to the coronavirus outbreak at a park Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Workers clean and disinfect playground equipment due to the coronavirus outbreak at a park Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 524-bed Las Vegas homeless shelter closed and health officials began screening untold numbers of people who used it and a nearby city relief facility, after a homeless person was diagnosed with the new coronavirus, health officials said Wednesday.

City officials, who passed laws recently banning sleeping on public thoroughfares, closed a road off Las Vegas Boulevard to make room for up to 750 displaced homeless people to spend the night.

In Reno, the city’s downtown Events Center is serving as a temporary shelter for up to 400 homeless people displaced by closure of that city’s largest shelters because they couldn’t meet social distancing requirements ordered by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Meanwhile, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Wednesday that a jail detainee who was released to a hospital after about 11 days tested presumptively positive for coronavirus.

But the sheriff declared there are no cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness among nearly 3,200 people now held at county detention facilities in Las Vegas.

“As of today, we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our inmate population,” Lombardo said at a news conference at which he and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson assured the public that southern Nevada is safe and laws are being enforced.

The developments were among the latest related to the outbreak that has closed casinos, shuttered businesses and diminished tourism in the normally bustling gambling mecca of Las Vegas.

The air traffic tower reopened at McCarran International Airport after a one-week closure following a controller’s diagnosis with the virus, but airline traffic was sparse.

The University of Nevada, Reno campus canceled the in-person pomp of commencement due to the circumstances.

Workers sprayed Las Vegas playground equipment with disinfectant.

Police said two other Clark County Detention Center detainees were placed in infection-fighting “negative pressure” isolation cells at the county jail pending COVID-19 test results, and the sheriff said the person who was at University Medical Center was rehabilitating.

A veteran Las Vegas defense lawyer and activist who has raised concerns about a potentially deadly contagion at the usually crowded Clark County Detention Center said he thinks there are unreported virus cases at the usually crowded Clark County Detention Center.

“We have anecdotal evidence that at least two people with COVID were released,” said attorney Jonathan MacArthur. “Neither was released to UMC that I’m aware of. One of those inmates was homeless.”

Assistant Sheriff Chris Jones disputed MacArthur’s account, but said he didn’t immediately know the housing status of two men who weren’t hospitalized following their release. Jones said each tested negative for COVID-19. One had been in custody for one day and the other for 12 days.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The sheriff and district attorney said police calls are being answered and serious crimes are being prosecuted. But misdemeanor and petty offenses other than domestic violence and driving under the influence can draw citations instead of handcuffs, Lombardo said.

“Crimes of violence are being prosecuted in their normal fashion” with a skeleton staff at the courthouse, Wolfson said. “People who think this time of crisis is a good time to take advantage of others through scams or other criminal activity will face tough prosecution,” he added.

Lombardo said there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among his police department’s 6,000 employees, including more than 3,100 sworn officers. He said 28 were in precautionary “self-quarantine” after possible exposure to someone with the virus.

The Southern Nevada Health District said closure of the 524-bed Catholic Charities emergency shelter was prompted by discovery that a man who used it and the nearby city Homeless Courtyard services center had COVID-19 but had recovered. He was no longer considered a risk to others, officials said.

In Reno, where overnight temperatures have been below freezing, officials said only veterans and people with medical needs would be able to stay at the Events Center because of a shortage of mattresses and blankets. The Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission and three Volunteers of America facilities were closed.

In other Nevada coronavirus news:

— The death total due to the virus remained at six statewide, all in the Las Vegas area. State health officials said four requests to federal officials for COVID-19 testing components have yielded no results and they’re told there is an indefinite backlog. The state said it has received about 25% of the federal orders it has placed for personal protective equipment. Of more than 4,500 people tested in Nevada, 321 have been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19.

— The University of Nevada, Reno said it will have a “virtual” spring graduation celebration, and officials said even if the governor lifts orders for Nevadans to stay home through April 16, they’ll conduct courses remotely for the remainder of the semester. Decisions are pending about summer and fall sessions.

— The South Lake Tahoe City Council planned to decide late Wednesday whether to ban short-term rentals to keep visitors away and help stem the spread of coronavirus. All area ski resorts have closed, and the city asked owners of vacation home rentals, hotels and motels to close for a month. The Incline Village General Improvement District made a similar request on the north shore.

— A bipartisan group of four former governors joined Sisolak in a 30-second YouTube public service video urging state residents to “Stay Home for Nevada.”

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Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas and Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.