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Elko hospital restricts visitors due to rise in COVID patients

ELKO – Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital is restricting visitors because of a rise in the number of COVID-19 patients.

The hospital made the announcement Monday afternoon.

With a few exceptions, patients in the hospital will not be permitted to receive visitors until May 17 at the earliest.

“This is not a decision we made lightly,” said Steve Simpson, hospital CEO. “But patient safety is always our number one priority. We have seen an exponential increase in patients hospitalized for COVID-19 over the past few days, so this was the logical next step.”

A week ago Elko County listed only one COVID-positive patient. As of Monday there were nine at NNRH.

According to the hospital’s revised visitor policy, only the following patients will be allowed a single healthy visitor: people undergoing outpatient surgery, minors under the age of 18, expectant mothers in active labor and individuals with special needs who require a full-time caregiver.

Exceptions may also be made to allow multiple visits from family for patients receiving end-of-life care. The complete visitor policy can be viewed at www.nnrhospital.com/visitors.

“We understand how frustrating it can be for people to get turned away from visiting their loved ones,” Simpson said. “But we must protect our most vulnerable patients, and that means limiting the number of people entering our facility. We appreciate everyone’s understanding and cooperation.”

Simpson explained that the hospital’s leadership team will continue monitoring the COVID-19 positivity rates of both inpatients and the community at large. Based on how the data trends, the hospital could make the decision to allow visitors again as early as May 17.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors back inside just as soon as it’s safe to do so,” Simpson stated. “In the meantime, we encourage everyone to keep practicing COVID precautions like wearing a mask and washing your hands. And please, if you haven’t done so already, get vaccinated. This pandemic is not behind us just yet.”

Authority over some COVID-19 restrictions — such as business occupancy levels — was transferred from the state to the county on Saturday.

Elko County’s coronavirus dashboard listed 49 active cases and a test positivity rate of 8.6% on Monday.


State-and-regional
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Drones drop pine seed, soil over forests ravaged by fire

RENO (AP) — Conservationists on the California-Nevada border are experimenting with a new way to try to revive forests devastated by wildfires: by using drones to rain balls of nutrients, soil and pine seeds over the ravaged landscapes.

Teams working on the project told the Reno Gazette Journal that they hope it will prove to be an easier alternative to replanting by hand in order to replenish steep, remote and hard to reach areas that burn.

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest partnered with the groups Flying Forests, the Desert Research Institute and the Sugar Pine Foundation on the project. Using large drones, they dropped balls of Jeffrey pine seeds, nutrients and soil over 25 acres in the area known as Dog Valley, west of Reno. The area burned in the lighting-caused Loyalton Fire in August, which burned 78 square miles and several structures.

Researchers chose the area because its accessibility will allow them to watch the seedlings develop and determine if the drone drops are effective and should be used elsewhere.

“We have a lot of bare mineral soil to work with, so we can see how the seed balls are dispensed by the drone, how they land on the ground, and also what the success rate is of those seed balls without competing vegetation growing around them,” Carson Ranger District Forester Annabelle Monti said.

The 30-plus pounds of seed used in the drop were collected by the nonprofit organization The Sugar Pine Foundation, which used its social media pages to solicit donated seeds.

The seeds were shaped with nutrient-rich soil into 500 to 700 balls, which were loaded into drones.

If the project proves successful, it may be expanded to other parts of the Eastern Sierra, Monti said.


Local
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Former Elko public defender sets up law firm

ELKO – A new law office has opened in Elko.

The office may be “new,” but the man behind the desk, Ben Gaumond, is no stranger to criminal law. He has served as Deputy Public Defender here in Elko and worked at the State Public Defender’s Office in Ely.

Gaumond was born and raised in Massachusetts. He attended the University of Massachusetts where he received his bachelor’s degree.

“In 1999 I crossed the Mississippi River, the first time in my life, to go to the University of Texas at Austin,” said Gaumond. “Indeed, it takes a few minutes to cross that river.”

Gaumond received his law degree there.

“I went to law school thinking I wanted to be a prosecutor, but then I saw how disadvantaged people were being treated,” Gaumond said. “Those who were poor were not getting adequate representation in even death penalty cases. I decided that being a defense attorney was what I needed to do.”

Gaumond took clinics in criminal defense and capital punishment.

“We got to actually meet death row inmates — five total — in 2002,” he said. “It was a very eye-opening experience.”

Gaumond is focusing on criminal defense in his firm.

He began his career at a law firm in 2003. After that, he moved to Ely.

“I got a lot of work there, a lot of jury trials and cases out of prison,” Gaumond said. “The Ely Max Prison is about 12 miles from downtown. We covered three counties — White Pine, Eureka and Lincoln counties — when I first started.”

In 2013 he took a position at the Public Defender’s Office here in Elko. Toward the end of his tenure they were getting more cases than they could handle.

“I came to the decision that starting my own law firm would be the best way to have control of my case load and have a caseload where I can dedicate adequate time to each individual client,” Gaumond said. “This is a client-centered practice.”

Gaumond is focused on representing rural Nevadans.

“I’ve seen how cases are handled differently between Las Vegas and some rural areas. Under the old marijuana law if someone got caught with a minute amount of marijuana on the Las Vegas Strip they might get a warning, they might get a ticket. Under the old law if you got caught using marijuana in White Pine County they’d get charged as a felon. I’ve known approximately seven people who have gone to prison for using marijuana.”

“We have seen a wide liberalization of our drug laws, especially our trafficking threshold,” Gaumond said. “Still, minute amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin is still a felony. Next door in Oregon it can be a ticketable offense; here it is still a felony.”

Gaumond says it costs about $70,000 to $75,000 per person per year in Nevada to incarcerate.

“That is money that can go into rehabilitation programs,” Gaumond said. “I think society does have a role to play in helping people rehabilitate. We have drug courts here [and] we have a DUI Diversion Program.”

“What I help a lot of people do, even people who plead guilty or no contest, is to find a way to give an alternative to the six-month maximum sentence,” Gaumond said. “I fight very hard when rehabilitation is a viable option to present that to the court.”

He works with local services like Vitality Unlimited and licensed clinical social workers.

Gaumond does have a life outside of his career which involves a recent enthusiasm for long distance running.

“I love to run marathons,” he said. “I’ve done seven and was going to do one in February, but pipes were freezing in Southern Texas and in Galveston the electricity went off.”

Gaumond started with the 5K at Elko’s Basque Festival. His first long-distance run was with Ruby Mountain Relay in 2018.

“I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Marijuana comes to Nevada:

Marijuana comes to Nevada - Read all 30 questions in our series

Govt-and-politics
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Attorneys defend tax extensions before Nevada Supreme Court

CARSON CITY (AP) — The Nevada Supreme Court weighed arguments Monday in a lawsuit filed by Republican lawmakers over how to interpret state law that requires revenue-generating proposals to win two-thirds approval in the Legislature to become law.

Since 1996, the Nevada constitution has mandated that two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers must approve any proposal that “creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form,” setting a high bar for any proposal to raise taxes without bipartisan support.

Republican state senators allege that the Legislature’s 2019 decision to extend two expiring revenue streams — a Department of Motor Vehicles $1 transaction fee and a payroll tax — violated the mandate because the extensions passed with simple majorities in the Democratic-controlled Legislature and didn’t receive two-thirds approval.

The court’s decision could have multi-million-dollar implications for the Legislature, which relies on the taxes and fees in question to balance its budget. The payroll tax is projected to generate roughly $98 million over the next two years. The decision will also signal to lawmakers how they can navigate the two-thirds requirement in future revenue battles, as they weigh taxes and fees needed to fund state services.

After a district court judge ruled in favor of the Republicans last September, attorneys for the Legislature — who represent Democratic leaders in the case — appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Legislative Counsel Bureau attorney Kevin Powers and Nevada Deputy Solicitor General Craig Newby argued on Monday that extending revenue streams didn’t violate the constitution because it didn’t “create, generate or increase” revenue and therefore didn’t require two-thirds approval.

Powers said the intent of the law “was never to hamstring the government and impair existing revenues” and pointed to state courts in Oklahoma and Oregon that had interpreted similar two-thirds requirements in a narrow manner.

He and Newby argued legislative leaders had the right to take the advice of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, which issued an opinion stating that they could extend the tax and fee without two-thirds approval.

“There is ambiguity within the term ‘increase.’ And under those circumstances, legislators are entitled to some deference ... based on separation of powers,” Newby said.

Attorney Karen Peterson, representing the Republican lawmakers, disagreed.

“The words used in the constitutional provision are plain. They’re ordinary. They’re easy to understand. And they’re unambiguous,” she said.

Peterson argued that the Legislative Counsel Bureau had contradicted itself when it told the statehouse Democratic leaders that they could extend the taxes without two-thirds approval because in prior years similar extensions — for business license fees, for example — had required two-thirds approval.

If the court upholds the tax and the fee, Peterson said it would change the nature of tax expiration clauses and make it more difficult to win two-thirds approval to adopt temporary measures to raise revenue.

“Going forward, the minority is never going to agree to a sunset provision on a bill and never going to agree to a true reduction in a rate in a bill,” she said.


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