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Coronavirus testing will be offered to 3,000 Elko County residents next week

ELKO — Elko County residents can be tested for COVID-19 next week in an effort that officials say could bring the county closer to the state’s second phase of recovery and reopening.

Nevada National Guard troops will be arriving in Elko to assist the county in meeting its Phase 1 goal of testing between 2,500 and 3,000 residents in four days.

Testing slots will be available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 27 and 28, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on May 29, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 30 at the Elko Convention Center.

The community-based testing is still in the logistics phase, said Elko County Public Health Officer Bryce Putnam, but approximately 60 to 100 people could be tested per hour, thanks to the multiple resources available.

“We’re going to have some county employees, as well as the Nevada Gold Mines mine rescue team,” Putnam said, “and possibly some medical students from the University of Nevada, Reno, who have been wonderful in assisting us in our hotline.”

To register and select a time, visit the link at https://bit.ly/elkocv2020. For more information, call 775-777-2507.

Individuals will be tested with a PCR nasal swab. The tests will then be shipped to the Nevada State Lab for analysis.

Turnaround on the tests could take three to five days, Putnam said.

Putnam and interim Elko County Emergency Manager Annette Kerr updated county commissioners on Wednesday, explaining the next steps the county needs for transitioning into the next phase of the state’s recovery plans.

The testing is one of the requirements, Kerr said. Another involves maintaining patient capacity at the Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital, and having its ICU stocked with enough ventilators and personal protective equipment on hand.

After the community undergoes testing, the county will test Highland Manor patients next.

“The manor has been good at keeping things locked down,” Kerr said. “That will be our next area to test those patients who are considered to be the vulnerable population.”

The community testing announcement came on the last day of drive-thru testing at Walmart, which lasted three days.

“The White House asked Walmart as a private entity to come out and test,” Kerr said.

About 21 vehicles entered Walmart’s testing center on Monday, Kerr said, adding she did not know how many more came since then.

The Walmart tests are returned to Quest Diagnostic labs, which are then shipped to the state lab, taking about four to five days.

There are no limitations on who qualifies to be tested, Putnam added. It includes those who fear they may have been exposed or those who want to be tested to see if they are asymptomatic.

“The directive from the governor and health officials is to test as many people as we can to see how many people who look healthy and feel healthy right now, to see who is carrying it,” Putnam said. “All the tests we are going to conduct will give us a snapshot out of 3,000 people that are feeling well and could pass it along to members of our community.”

Putnam said the tests are 99% reliable.

With the conclusion of community-based testing, the county could move into Phase 2, where the state will consider reopening schools, bars, and other areas. “Extreme social distancing measures” for public gatherings will remain in place, Kerr said.

She stressed that Gov. Steve Sisolak had not yet confirmed those guidelines.

“He hasn’t put out a specific plan for Phase 2, other than he’s calling it the Silver State Stabilization,” Kerr told commissioners. “Their goal is making sure we have a downward trend.”

Casino workshop to cover safety for reopening

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada gambling regulators are calling casino companies to a workshop next week with health and safety officials aimed at sharpening rules for reopening the state’s shuttered gambling establishments.

With no opening date currently set, the session scheduled for Tuesday by the Nevada Gaming Control Board could help show when Gov. Steve Sisolak will lift his mid-March order that stopped gambling in Nevada and closed casinos to prevent groups from gathering and spreading coronavirus.

A control board statement said regulators will determine how reopening will occur and the governor will determine when.

The Democratic governor allowed a May 9 partial return of customers to restaurants, salons and other nonessential businesses. But he kept casinos, nightclubs, spas and gyms closed, along with indoor movie theaters, community centers, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and brothels.

Some Las Vegas resorts are taking reservations and aiming for a June 1 reopening — while warning customers that plans remained subject to change.

Three major Las Vegas casino companies announced that their employees will be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work.

MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Boyd Gaming have launched employee testing measures as businesses prepare to reopen, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The University Medical Center will administer tests at the Las Vegas Convention Center, company officials said in a statement. Results are expected within 48 hours and the Southern Nevada Health District will conduct contact tracing for workers who test positive.

“The ability to safely reopen our properties has been our singular focus over the past several weeks,” MGM acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle said.

Depending on where employees work, testing may not be required.

MGM Resorts International has made the test voluntary for furloughed MGM employees and will offer it to other employees as they return to the company’s casino properties, beginning with Bellagio and New York-New-York.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio said his company’s employees must complete questionnaires to determine if they will be tested.

Boyd Gaming requires testing for all its employees in Nevada and is covering the cost, spokesman David Strow said.

State health officials on Thursday reported 7,255 positive cases of COVID-19 and 381 deaths.

top story
Trump orders flags flown at half-staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will order the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over the next three days as the death toll from COVID-19 surpasses 95,000.

Trump tweeted Thursday: “I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus.”

He said the flags will continue to be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day in honor of those in the military who died serving their country.

The move follows a request from Democratic leaders to do so to recognize a “sad day of reckoning when we reach 100,000 deaths.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to Trump that an order to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff would “serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country.”

Final county budget adjusts for pandemic

ELKO – Elko County’s final budget for the upcoming fiscal year continues a hiring freeze and spending cutbacks started in early April due to expected financial hits from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the total impact is still a mystery.

“Obviously, when this COVID-19 situation hit us, we jerked the reins back pretty quickly,” Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi said at the county’s May 20 meeting.

Sales tax revenue reports coming from the state are two months behind, so just how much lower sales tax collections were during the pandemic shutdown will be discovered later, and Elko County Assistant County Manager and Chief Financial Officer Cash Minor said he expects the county can “more than likely” relook at the budget Oct. 1.

“My hope is that with the mining activity in the county” the hit to revenue “won’t be as drastic as in some counties,” he said.

Commissioner Jon Karr said that maybe with the businesses such as Home Depot open during the pandemic and the amount of purchases in Elko by the area gold mines, the drop in sales tax revenues “won’t be as bad as we think.”

The budget for the combined county funds falls $26.55 million short of anticipated revenue, but an ending fund balance of $32.88 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year covers the deficit and leaves a $6.23 million ending fund balance for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Higher expenditures include nearly $22.07 million for general government, compared with $12.44 million in the current fiscal year; $16.13 million for judicial, compared with $13.77 million this fiscal year; $17.2 million for public safety, compared with $14.83 million this year; and nearly $15.27 million for public works, compared with $10.22 million.

Expenditures also include $1.17 million for health, compared with $1.31 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year; $4.06 million for welfare, up from $3.28 million this year; $2.28 million for culture and recreation, compared with $2.39 million in the current year; $440,256 for community support, down from $461,787; intergovernmental expenditures, $952,849, down from $977,689; and $948,550 for contingencies, compared with zero in the current fiscal year.

Budget message

The message that accompanies the final budget that will be submitted to the Nevada Department of Taxation states that “due to the unknown impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Elko County has reduced projected revenues received from the Department of taxation in an attempt to mitigate the economic effects of the crisis.

“Ad valorem revenue is budgeted at 94% of state projections, and consolidated tax is budgeted at 90% of state projections,” the message says. The consolidated tax is the sales tax.

“In addition, to offset the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have instituted a hiring freeze, a current year spending freeze on capital and non-essential services and supplies. The freeze for hiring and capital spending will continue into the budget year until such time as the economic effects of the pandemic can be assessed. A 10% reduction to services and supplies spending has also been instituted for departments in the operating funds of the county,” the message continues.

Minor told commissioners there is no money in the budget for any department requests, and he said at the subsequent meeting of the Elko County Board of Fire Commissioners that there are no raises in any county department budgets nor in the fire protection district budget.

He told commissioners in April when the preliminary budget was approved that no layoffs were anticipated.

The budget anticipates 338.5 county employees in the upcoming fiscal year, up from 320.24 employees this year. One of the jumps will be in the transit system, because the county is taking over the bus system from a contractor, going from one to 11 employees.

There also will be five more employees in public safety for a total of 102.5. Public safety was exempt from the hiring freeze. Public safety employees totaled 113.5 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and 97.07 this fiscal year. The judicial branch also will gain employees, going from 106 to 112 with judicial changes, including adding a third district court. Culture and recreation employees drop from 22 to 16.5, however.

The budget shows that the population of the county is expected to be 55,116 people by the end of the 2021 fiscal year, according to the state Department of Taxation, and the tax rate for county property owners will be 0.8386% of assessed valuation in the upcoming fiscal year, the same as this year.

The total assessed valuation of the county for the current fiscal year is nearly $2.19 billion, and the estimate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is up 7.39% to nearly $2.31 billion, according to the final budget.

Along with approving the county budget on May 20, commissioners approved separate budgets for Jackpot, Jarbidge, Montello and Mountain City. Minor said Jackpot, which relies on revenue from hotels and casinos, is taking a budget hit and could even have to temporarily shut down the recreation center.

Fire district budget

Commissioners acting as the Elko County Board of Fire Commissioners approved a budget for the fire district on May 20, but there was an element of mystery in that budget, as well.

The fire district budget is in two parts, the operating fund and an emergency fund, with revenue for the operating fund at $3.25 million, expenses at $3.68 million, a carryover of $831,259 from the current year and a projected ending fund balance of $398,254. That is 11.77% rather than the preferred 16.67%.

This compares with $4.58 million in revenues and $4.3 million in expenses for the current fiscal year.

The goal for the emergency fund is to bring the total to $1 million, so there is a $300,000 transfer budgeted from the operating fund. The beginning fund balance is $700,000 for the new fiscal year, according to the budget.

The fire district, however, will not know the results of arbitration in the contract dispute with the firefighters’ union for some time because the session planned for the end of March was put off due to the pandemic.

“We’re trying to establish a meeting in September,” Minor said.

The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5046 asked for raises, but he said the only pay increases in the budget are steps for longevity. If arbitration leads to pay hikes, Minor estimated the cost at $110,000.

If arbitration requires the fire district to pay retroactive overtime over three years in addition to the 3% pay increase, Minor said he does not have an estimate for what that would cost. He said, however, that if the county loses on the requested overtime policy changes, then the planned $300,000 transfer to the emergency fund could be reduced.

The fire commissioners also do not know what revenue will come in from the Wildland Fire Protection Plan, which reimburses the fire district for help in range fires on government-managed land. The amount was roughly $90,000 last year but $460,000 the prior year.

Andreozzi suggested the fire district estimate an amount for the budget like the county does for the PILT (payments in lieu of taxes) federal funds that come to the county each year before knowing the amount “instead of a guess going forward.”

Minor said he could put in a number, and probably $100,000 would be close most years, and there could be budget adjustments later.

“We don’t want to budget for $460,000 and get $90,000,” said Commissioner Rex Steninger.

This is the first time the fire district has an entirely separate budget now that the county has pulled the fire district into a stand-alone entity and has been completing an agreement with the county on services. The separation followed union complaints to the state about county commissioners not meeting as the fire district board under its own agenda.

The fire district was formed in 2015 to take over from the Nevada Division of Forestry, and the county later established a 26-cent property tax to support the district.

The valuation for the fire district for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is $1.22 billion, up 3.97% from $1.17 billion for the current fiscal year, according to the budget.