Vegas firm sues China on behalf of small businesses, accusing country of ‘cover-up’ that fostered coronavirus spread

A Las Vegas law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against China, alleging the country is part of a “totalitarian government system” that engaged in a cover-up after learning about the virus, allowing it to spiral out of control and wreak havoc in the U.S.

The complaint was filed late Monday in federal court in Nevada on behalf of American small businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Law firm Eglet Adams said the country’s actions when it learned of the dangers of the virus in the fall contributed to its spread around the world and economic losses in the U.S. that could mount to trillions of dollars.

“The People’s Republic of China and other defendants intentionally misled the international community about the coronavirus and its devastating medical and economic effects,” said lawyer Robert Eglet. “It is believed that defendants intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers and ordered the destruction of medical testing data which would have exposed defendants’ attempted cover-up.”

Other defendants include the governments of the city of Wuhan, the province of Hubei, the national health commission of China and various ministries within the Chinese government. Officials from the Chinese International Press Center and embassy did not immediately respond to messages Tuesday afternoon seeking comment from the Chinese government.

In a press conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Eglet argued there were a series of actions taken by the Chinese government since mid-November that involved “exaggerating good news while suppressing bad news.”

Eglet accused government officials of underreporting early deaths in Wuhan, ordering patient data from the city to be destroyed after it was sent to genomics companies, censoring social media reports of the disease, ousting journalists and ordering them to delete footage of hospitals and downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

He said government officials misled people by describing the condition as pneumonia and failed to shut down large gatherings, allowing 40,000 families to gather for a potluck in Wuhan in mid-January in spite of health concerns. That conduct prevented the containment of the virus, he said.

“Defendants’ conduct has set off an unprecedented worldwide pandemic which has caused panic, illness, deaths and a … financial meltdown that may result in a global recession worse than the Great Depression,” Eglet said.

In an email sent Wednesday, a spokesperson for the People's Republic of China's U.S. embassy said the country has been sharing information with other countries about the outbreak in an "open, transparent and responsible manner."

" Regarding the case you mentioned in Nevada State, we have not got any relevant documents from plaintiffs," a spokesperson for the embassy said in an email. "We want to point out that those allegations are based on rumors and totally unfounded. This case is definitely a malicious and frivolous lawsuit."

The lawyer said that China had an obligation to be transparent about the disease and not suppress information about it because of its membership in the World Health Organization and as a party in international trade agreements.

“American small businesses are not just gonna stand by and idly let this kind of carnage and damage happen to them because of the Chinese government’s irresponsibility,” Eglet said.

Nevada-based plaintiffs include restaurant proprietor Bella Vista LLC, floral company Greenfield & Company Inc., Life Real Estate LLC and Mobile Medic CPR.

Eglet is known for major lawsuits including an ongoing one against opioid manufacturers on behalf of the state and political subdivisions, as well as one against pharmaceutical companies after a hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada colonoscopy clinics a more than a decade ago.

He acknowledged that the lawsuit against China could carry on for years but “we’re in it for the long haul.” Although he says he expects China to argue on the basis of sovereign immunity, Eglet said he believes China’s conduct falls into an exception category under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976.

He noted that the lawsuit was against the Chinese government, not Chinese people, who he said were victims of the government’s conduct. That aligns with a statement from Gov. Steve Sisolak last week that urged Nevadans to support Asian-American communities that have been “unfairly stigmatized and harmed by misconceptions and misinformation about the virus.”

“American Chinese and the people of China are not to blame for China’s government’s misdeeds,” Eglet said.

Lawsuit Against China - Cor... by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Updated at 5:15 p.m. to add a response from the People's Republic of China's U.S. embassy.

Coronavirus Live Blog: Washoe County announces first COVID-19 death

With the number of coronavirus cases in the Silver State on the rise, The Nevada Independent will be keeping you up to date on the latest here, both through regular live blog updates and updates to our infographic tracking cases around Nevada. The most recent updates will be posted at the top.

To see previous developments, you can visit our week one live blog here and our week two live blog here. You can also see our live blog tracking economic developments from first week here.

Resources:

Note: Deaths are recorded in this spreadsheet separately from previously announced cases; health district officials have not provided specific enough details to be able to match deaths with specific cases.

Tesla Gigafactory worker tests positive for coronavirus

A worker at the Tesla Gigafactory near Reno-Sparks has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an email sent to Panasonic employees Sunday. The positive test marks the first such case of the virus at the sprawling Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex, which has temporarily shuttered some operations as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Nevada. 

The story was first reported Sunday night by KRNV News 4 in Reno.  

According to KRNV, the email sent by Panasonic — which operates the sprawling gigafactory alongside Tesla — said the worker spent one hour at the factory before heading home sick, and has not returned since. 

The email goes on to say that Tesla has initiated a “safety protocol” as a result, including a 14-day quarantine for certain employees and new cleaning measures. 

A request for comment emailed to Tesla was not immediately returned, but a Panasonic spokesperson confirmed to The Nevada Independent that as of Sunday, no Panasonic employee has tested positive for coronavirus. 

Panasonic had already pulled its 3,500 workers from the gigafactory earlier this month over coronavirus concerns, while Tesla announced this week it would reduce its own workforce there by 75 percent.  

Jacob Solis, 3/29/20 at 7:15 p.m.

Nevada COVID-19 cases rise to 920, up 182 from day earlier

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Nevada has jumped to 920, up nearly 200 from the 738 cases reported a day earlier.

The state reported Sunday afternoon that 11,000 people have been tested. (Update at 3:42 p.m.: A query by The Nevada Independent revealed that the state's total is a rounded number. There have been 920 positive tests and 9,614 negative tests for a total of 10,534 tests administered.)

It comes as the death toll of the disease in Nevada has risen to 15, with a first fatality reported in Washoe County.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/29/20, 3:05 p.m.

Ely officials report first coronavirus case in White Pine County

An Ely resident has been diagnosed with COVID-19, marking the first case in rural White Pine County, officials announced Sunday.

Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson said the positive test result came back Sunday morning. The patient, who is self-isolating at home, was tested at the William Bee Ririe Critical Access Hospital and Rural Health Clinic in Ely, he said. No other information was released to protect the person’s privacy.

Robertson advised community members to continue heeding social distancing and hygiene recommendations given by local health authorities, Gov. Steve Sisolak and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said they should ask themselves “rational questions first” rather than panicking based off rumors.

Overall, though, the mayor said he has been pleased with the community’s response to the situation.

“By and large, our community has really been doing that,” he said, referring to following health advice. “They’ve done a great job.”

Ely, a remote mining town, sits about 240 miles north of Las Vegas and has a population of roughly 4,000 people. 

— Jackie Valley, 3/29/2020 at 1:02 p.m.

Health officials announce first COVID-19 death in Washoe County

Washoe County has confirmed its first death from COVID-19 — a man in his 40s who had traveled to New York City and been hospitalized since his diagnosis on March 23.

The news came Sunday, as the health district also announced 18 additional cases of the illness and a new total of 111 cases. Health officials said it’s unknown whether the man had any underlying health conditions.

“We’re devastated to learn that a Washoe County resident has died due to COVID-19,” said Kevin Dick, district health officer for Washoe County. “Our thoughts are with the family at this time.”

The death marked the 15th reported fatality from COVID-19 in Nevada. 

At a press briefing Sunday afternoon, Dick called coronavirus “a very real threat to our community" and said the region had not flattened the upward curve of virus cases. He also said he was “disturbed” to learn from investigators that some people who had the illness were out and about shopping, and that some employers were requiring workers to stay on the job in spite of being sick.

"This is also a huge threat to the public health of our community ... and their entire workforce."

He said 14 people remained hospitalized with the illness, but that areas hospitals had not yet tapped into overflow facilities for lack of bed space.

Washoe County also noted that a Reno police officer had tested positive for the virus after first showing symptoms on March 21. The patrol officer has been quarantined at home, and the agency said it learned Saturday evening that the officer tested positive.

Information about people who may have come into contact with the officer has been provided to the county health district.

Reno Police Chief Jason Soto said the department will continue screening employees for symptoms and have them work remotely if possible. 

The officer is one of several recent cases of COVID-19 among law enforcement. They include a Washoe County sheriff’s deputy, an employee of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and a correctional officer at High Desert State Prison.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/29/20, initially posted at 12:16 p.m.; updated at 7:20 p.m.

With 117 additional cases reported, statewide coronavirus cases surpass 700

Seven-hundred and thirty-eight people have now tested positive for coronavirus in Nevada with the number of tests performed hitting about 11,000 on 9,150 people, the Department of Health and Human Services reported Saturday. 

The 738 cases reported by the state Saturday evening marks a 117-case increase since the state data was last reported Friday. 

Earlier in the day, the Southern Nevada Health District reported four new deaths, bringing the number of deaths statewide to 14.

— Daniel Rothberg, 3/28/20 at 8:22 p.m.

Southern Nevada State Veterans Home resident dies of coronavirus

Southern Nevada State Veterans Home announced Saturday evening that one of its residents died of complications related to coronavirus. 

The Korean War veteran was 86-years old and died Saturday after he was admitted to a hospital and tested positive for the virus.

“Our hearts are extremely heavy,” Katherine Miller, director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, said in a statement. “We mourn the passing of this Navy Korean War veteran who served our nation with honor and dignity in its hour of need.  He was also a beloved member of our Veterans Home community and will be deeply missed."

The Southern Nevada Health District reported that the Clark County death toll from the coronavirus had risen to 14 as of Saturday morning. 

– Daniel Rothberg, 3/28/20 at 6:07 p.m.

Washoe County Sheriff Deputy tests positive, health district reports 18 additional cases

A Washoe County Sheriff's Deputy tested positive for coronavirus, the sheriff's office learned Saturday morning, as the number of cases in the county rose to 93.

According to a press release sent Saturday afternoon, the sheriff's deputy had returned to work on Thursday after a week off. She was tested after having coronavirus symptoms and sent home. Washoe County Health District officials are reviewing all contacts that the deputy had "during the short time she was in the office," according to the news release.

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam is immediately moving staff to single-point entry and instituting screening measures for all visitors and staff. According to the release, measures include temperature checks and "basic screening questions before admittance."

In a daily update, the health district reported 18 additional positive coronavirus cases, bringing the total case number for the county to 93 and the statewide total to 637 cases.

Eighty-three cases remain active in Washoe County. Seven residents in Washoe County have recovered from coronavirus. The health district reported Saturday that two residents have been released from self-isolation. 

— Daniel Rothberg, 3/28/20 at 5:37 p.m.

Las Vegas, Clark County to temporarily use Cashman Center as homeless shelter

The City of Las Vegas and Clark County announced on Saturday that the Cashman Center will be used as a temporary homeless shelter with capacity for about 500 people after the Catholic Charities emergency men’s shelter was shuttered last week due to a positive COVID-19 test.

The two municipalities said the temporary shelter would be located on the upper parking lot of the facility, and will run between now and April 3, at which point the previous shelter is expected to reopen.

The shelter at Cashman will operate from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., and will be for individuals able to walk to the site from the Homeless Courtyard, which will remain open to serve individuals with fragile health or mobility problems.

Earlier this week, Catholic Charities announced it would temporarily close its emergency men’s night shelter after the Southern Nevada Health District announced that a man who used several homeless facilities in Las Vegas — including Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center operated by the city — had tested positive for COVID-19.

— Riley Snyder, 3/28/20 at 2:16p.m.

Clark County reports four more deaths, 85 more positive COVID-19 cases

The COVID-19 death total in Nevada has risen to 14, including 10 individuals with preexisting health conditions, and is up to 528 cases in populous Clark County as of Saturday morning, according to a dashboard maintained by the Southern Nevada Health District.

The latest update shows 85 additional cases in Clark County as compared to the county’s total on Friday; the number of statewide cases is now sitting at 621. About 17 percent of cases in Clark County (92) have required hospitalization, with another 21 individuals requiring care in an Intensive Care Unit.

Of the 14 deaths, 11 of the individuals were in an ICU unit, and most had an underlying health condition — 5 had diabetes, four had hypertension and two had a chronic kidney disease.

The district also provided an age breakdown of Clark County individuals who have tested positive for the virus, including one person under the age of four, four individuals between the ages of five and 17 and 30 cases in individuals between the ages of 18 to 24.

The largest chunk of positive cases (41 percent, or 218 people) were individuals between the ages of 25 and 49, with another 155 people between the ages of 50 and 64 testing positive and 120 people testing positive over the age of 65.

— Riley Snyder, 3/28/20 at 10:42 a.m.

New COVID-19 cases reported in Carson City, Douglas County

Carson City health district officials announced two new positive COVID-19 cases in Carson City and Douglas County on Saturday morning, bringing the total count of confirmed cases up to five in each jurisdiction.

The new cases involve a female Carson City resident in her 30s and a male Douglas County resident in his 30s, both with recent travel history. Both people were described as stable and self-isolating at home.

The Carson City Health and Human Services Department, which is overseeing coronavirus response in the “Quad County” region — Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties — is now reporting 11 cases throughout its jurisdiction.

— Riley Snyder, 3/28/20 at 9:20 a.m.

Coronavirus cases increase by 86, bringing statewide tally to 621

Just under 90 additional people have tested positive for coronavirus in Nevada in the past day, bringing the statewide total up to 621, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services reported late Friday.

The previous statewide tally was 535 cases, meaning 86 more people have tested positive in the last day. But 1,826 more people were tested compared to a day ago.

The number of deaths has remained the same at 10.

A total of 8,522 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Nevada. About 7 percent of those tested have received positive results.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/27/20, 9:25 p.m.

3 residents at state-run Boulder City nursing home for veterans test positive for COVID-19

Three residents at a state-run nursing home for veterans in Boulder City have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Nevada Department of Veterans Services announced Friday evening that it had tested 19 residents of the Southern Nevada State Veterans Home on Wednesday who were currently or recently showing cold or flu-like symptoms. It learned of the three positive cases on Thursday.

The agency said it took “immediate and aggressive measures” upon learning the results, including restricting all visitors from the facility except for health care personnel.

The three patients are in isolation and staff is following “established infection disease prevention protocol.”

“We are committed to doing everything in our power to protect our residents and staff from the spread of this virus and will remain vigilant in our efforts to do so,” said Kat Miller, director of the state veterans agency. “We are passionate in our commitment to ensure our residents receive exceptional care; it is our duty to care for and protect Nevada’s heroes.” 

The veterans home is a skilled nursing facility that has capacity for 180 people. It houses veterans, their spouses and Gold Star parents.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/27/20, 7:25 p.m.

Southern Nevada Health District releases underlying medical conditions for hospitalized cases

Of the 80 non-fatal hospitalized coronavirus cases in Southern Nevada, at least 36.25 percent of patients were found to have underlying medical conditions. Twenty percent of those patients have been in the intensive care unit and 13.75 percent have needed intubation.

The more detailed case information was added Friday to the Southern Nevada Health District’s report on the virus. There are 443 confirmed coronavirus cases in Clark County.

The most common underlying medical condition in non-fatal hospitalized patients has been hypertension, reported in 17 cases, followed by diabetes, reported in 14 cases. Another patient was immunocompromised, one had chronic kidney disease and a third had chronic pulmonary disease. The health district reported that four patients had “other” underlying conditions. 

In the 10 fatal cases reported in Clark County, eight patients were found to have an underlying medical condition. Four patients had diabetes, three patients had heart disease and one patient was immunocompromised. Eight of the 10 fatal cases were in the intensive care unit and seven of the 10 patients who died from coronavirus were intubated, the health district reported. 

— Daniel Rothberg, 3/27/20 at 5:52 p.m.

Washoe County logs eight new cases for total of 75

Washoe County has announced eight additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the county total to date to 75.

The county also said that a fifth person who had been diagnosed with the illness had recovered and was released from self-isolation.

Washoe County is keeping tabs on its cases, including with more granular information about the age and gender of patients, on a new county-specific dashboard

As of its last update Thursday night, the state has had 535 positive cases. 

— Michelle Rindels, 3/27/20, 5:10 p.m.

Metro Police employee tests positive for coronavirus

A Metro Police employee who recently visited a city heavily affected by COVID-19 has tested positive for the virus, officials said Friday.

The employee, however, never returned to work after his vacation and before developing symptoms, authorities said. No workplace contamination occurred. 

A primary care physician determined the Metro employee had COVID-19, officials said.

Metro officials said 31 employees have been tested for the virus and 14 of those tests have been negative. The department is awaiting the results of the other pending tests.

— Jackie Valley, 3/27/2020 at 4:02 p.m.

Regulators require utilities to start tracking COVID-19 response costs 

Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission approved an emergency order on Friday requiring all utilities in the state — such as NV Energy and Southwest Gas — to start tracking costs associated with deferring shutoffs and other responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the commission met briefly Friday to approve the emergency order, which comes after many utilities in the state including electric, gas, water and telecommunication companies announced they would defer shutoffs in cases of nonpayment amid mass layoffs and ordered shuttering of nonessential businesses.

The order requires utility companies regulated by the commission to begin tracking “the costs of maintaining service to customers affected by COVID-19 whose service would have been terminated, discontinued, and/or disconnected under normally-applicable terms of service.”

Those costs will be tracked in regulatory asset accounts in a way that will allow regulators to readily identify costs — essentially ensuring that utility businesses are accurately tracking the data in the case they seek to recover costs through future rate cases.

Commissioners, including PUC Chair Hayley Williams, lauded the “proactive” efforts by utility companies to defer service shutoffs. 

— Riley Snyder, 3/27/20 at 2:56 p.m.

Email: Tesla expects to reduce Gigafactory staff by more than 75 percent

Tesla expects to reduce its Gigafactory workforce by more than 75 percent, according to an email sent to employees and Storey County officials on Wednesday. 

In the March 25 email, a Tesla executive told employees that it was pausing non-essential operations and asking employees to work from home. The Gigafactory employs thousands of employees and is one of the major employers in the Reno-Sparks area. 

"By next week, as we complete further ramp down of non-essential functions in a safe and orderly manner, we expect our total headcount on-site will decrease by more than 75 [percent] from our normal number of employees," wrote Chris Lister, vice president of operations. 

According to the email obtained through Storey County, essential employees will be required to take measures, including temperature checks and social distancing, aimed at preventing coronavirus spread. Essential employees include security, maintenance and "limited critical production" staff.

The Nevada Independent has reached out to Tesla for further comment.

The email was shared with Storey County officials Wednesday evening. Storey County Manager Austin Osborne announced the reductions on the county website Thursday. 

The move comes one week after Panasonic said it planned to cease production at the Gigafactory to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Last week, Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all non-essential businesses to close their operations to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. Although manufacturing and infrastructure operations were allowed to continue, some businesses have reduced their operations or suspended them.

Osborne said other companies operating at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, where the Gigafactory is located, are taking measures "to adhere to the established guidelines while maintaining essential operations." 

— Daniel Rothberg, 3/27/20 at 12:50 p.m.

Humboldt County reports first COVID-19 case, virus now in eight counties

Rural Humboldt County is reporting its first positive cases of the novel coronavirus, making it the eighth county in Nevada to report a case of the virus.

Humboldt General Hospital announced the positive case in a blog post on Thursday, saying it had received a positive test result after a patient was tested earlier this week. The hospital said the patient has been in self-quarantine since the test, and county health officials are working to trace the patient’s close contacts.

“I think the hospital really did a great job in this case,” Humboldt County Health Officer Charles Stringham said in a statement. “The practitioner who saw this patient did exactly what he should to ensure both the patient’s health and the community’s safety.”

The hospital has also enacted a no-visitors policy as of Thursday, excluding only pediatric patients, obstetric patients and those receiving end-of-life care. The county had an estimated population of 16,831 as of 2019.

Although most of Nevada’s positive COVID-19 cases have been centered in populous Clark and Washoe counties, positive cases of the virus have also been detected in Elko, Nye, Carson City, Douglas and Lyon counties.

— Riley Snyder, 3/27/20 at 12:50 p.m.

Southern Nevada Health District: Only 119 coronavirus test kits left

Officials with the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) said federal coronavirus test kit shortages and spotty re-supplies have left them with just 119 test kits.

District officials say they have been conducting roughly 40 tests per-day. 

Those numbers do not include capacity at the state testing lab or private labs, but officials said a backlog in tests at those private labs could extend the time it takes to receive a test result — normally about a two-day wait — to anywhere from five to seven days. 

During a teleconference with reporters Friday, Misty Robinson, a senior public health preparedness planner with SNHD, said the health district has received “very limited” supplies from the federal stockpile, including personal protective equipment (PPE). Robinson added that when shipments do arrive, they are “very spotty” and supplies must be prioritized for hospitals over individual clinics. 

As of Thursday, the governor’s office said the state had issued four requests for more testing kits, but had so far received no new federal aid. 

The health district also said it expects to release additional data on hospitalized coronavirus patients, including more information on existing underlying conditions. Hospitalizations in Clark County have decreased slightly over the last few days, a marginally hopeful sign as the number of confirmed cases in Nevada has continued to climb by the hundreds.  

But Dr. Michael Johnson, director of the District’s Community Health Division, said it was “too soon to tell” whether hospitalization data marks a trend and that a clearer picture should emerge as time goes on. 

Jacob Solis, 3/27/20 at 11:50 a.m.

Elko County confirms third positive COVID-19 case

Elio County announced a third positive case of the novel coronavirus Friday. The individual with the virus is not hospitalized and is self-isolating at home, according to a news release from the county.  

The county did not provide any additional information, but officials are conducting an investigation of close contacts to contain the spread of the virus. 

— Daniel Rothberg, 3/27/20 at 11:37 a.m.

More than 90 new coronavirus cases in Clark County pushes total to 443

Southern Nevada health officials announced 93 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, putting the total caseload for Clark County to 443, up from 350 cases Thursday. Statewide totals were not updated as of 9:30 a.m. on Friday, leaving the total confirmed cases at 535. 

Another case was also reported in Douglas County Friday morning - a woman in her 70s with a recent travel history who is now self-isolating at home. It increased Douglas county’s total caseload to four and pushed the total reported cases in the Carson City-Douglas-Lyon-Storey County region to nine. 

Hospitalizations from the virus have steadily decreased in Clark County, however, with 21 such hospitalizations reported on Wednesday, nine on Thursday and just six on Friday. Whether that decrease continues remains to be seen, as some cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have rapidly worsened in the second week after symptoms appeared. 

So far, county data show 70 individuals remained hospitalized. 

Health officials reported no new deaths, leaving the total killed by the virus at 10, all in Clark County. With the new data from Southern Nevada Friday, the statewide mortality rate dipped slightly to 1.8 percent, down from 2.4 percent Thursday. 

Statewide, nearly 6,700 people have been tested, with roughly 8.2 percent of those results coming back positive. 

Jacob Solis, 8/27/20 at 9:30 a.m.

Coronavirus cases increase by 107, bringing statewide tally to 535

More than 100 additional people have tested positive for coronavirus in Nevada, bringing the statewide total up to 535, according to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

The previous statewide tally was 428 cases, meaning 107 more people have tested positive.

The number of deaths has remained the same at 10.

6,696 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Nevada. About 8 percent of those tested have received positive results.

— Jackie Valley, 3/26/20 at 9:15 p.m.

State pandemic report shows ventilator use increased over the last week

About 40 percent of Nevada’s ventilators are in use, which is up 9 percent since March 17, according to the state’s latest pandemic situation report.

The statewide hospital capability information included in the report comes from the Nevada Hospital Association. The percentage of intensive care unit rooms occupied during that period dipped slightly — 72 percent as of Thursday compared with 76 percent on March 17.

The percentage of airborne infection isolation rooms occupied, however, notched an increase, from 42 percent on March 17 to 51 percent now, according to the report.

Statewide, 5,117 people have been tested for the coronavirus.

— Jackie Valley, 3/26/20 at 6:55 p.m.

Washoe County reports 10 more cases, moving statewide count to 428

Ten more people have tested positive for coronavirus in Washoe County, officials announced Thursday evening, inching the statewide total up to 428.

Washoe County now has 67 confirmed cases, and four of those people have fully recovered.

Officials from the Washoe County Health District also released a message explaining why it cannot test everyone for COVID-19.

“Widespread community testing is not realistic because we currently do not have the capacity or supplies to collect samples from, or perform a COVID-19 test on, everyone in Washoe County,” authorities wrote. “In addition, a negative COVID-19 test result does not prevent you from contracting the disease later on.”

Health authorities went on to encourage prevention methods such as staying home, washing hands with soap and water and avoiding touching your face and mouth.

— Jackie Valley, 3/26/20 at 5:28 p.m.

Nevada Department of Corrections announces first coronavirus case

An employee at High Desert State Prison has tested positive for COVID-19, leading to inmates being isolated in their cells, the Nevada Department of Corrections announced Thursday.

Prison officials said the employee is self-isolating at home. No other information was given about the patient or how much interaction the person had with inmates. It's the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the state prison system.

Staff will continue observing inmates and employees for signs of the virus, such as coughing, fever and shortness of breath, officials said. A surface sanitation team, meanwhile, is using a “10% bleach concentration solution” to disinfect surfaces at the facility, which sits north of Las Vegas.

“Our top priority is the health of staff and inmates at our facilities,” prison system Director Charles Daniels said in a statement. “Our preparation and response is deliberate and in accordance with agency contingency plans and protocols. Now that we have a confirmed case, our next goal is mitigating and ultimately preventing the sustained spread of COVID-19.”

Prison officials said they’re monitoring the situation and consulting with local and state public health leaders.

— Jackie Valley, 3/26/20 at 4:27 p.m.

Las Vegas mulls options for temporarily homelessness housing, including Cashman Field

The City of Las Vegas is mulling options on how to best house up to 1,000 homeless people after a positive COVID-19 case led to the sudden closure of Catholic Charities’ temporary men’s shelter on Wednesday.

City Manager Scott Adams told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday that the city was considering three options for housing temporary homeless individuals, including construction of separated areas at Cashman Field, placing tents in the parking lot or renting out a vacant building.

City spokesman Jace Radke said in an email that “plans are still being discussed at this time,” and that the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center remains open and had 565 people use the facility last night. 

Catholic Charities announced it would temporarily close its emergency men’s night shelter after the Southern Nevada Health District announced that a man who used several homeless facilities in Las Vegas — including Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center operated by the city — had tested positive for COVID-19.

— Riley Snyder, 3/26/20 at 2:56 p.m.

Las Vegas restaurants can offer curbside alcohol with meals under new city permit

The City of Las Vegas announced Thursday that it will immediately begin issuing 30-day permits that will allow restaurants with both alcohol and food service licenses to offer curbside pickup of alcoholic beverages with takeout meal orders.

In a statement, city officials said that restaurants will only be able to sell the kinds of alcohol for which they are currently licensed, meaning restaurants licensed to sell beer and wine will only be allowed to offer beer and wine for takeout with meals. City officials added that alcohol must be in the manufacturer’s sealed container.

The city is planning to waive daily fees and only charge a processing fee of $100 per permit. The new “alcohol time-limited permits,” which will be renewable depending on how long the coronavirus pandemic lasts, can be applied for through businesses’ online licenses accounts. Permits are expected to be processed in one to two business days.

Under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s emergency directive, liquor stores, pubs, wineries and breweries are all considered non-essential businesses and have been shuttered in light of the ongoing pandemic. 

— Megan Messerly, 3/26/20 at 10:55 a.m.

Las Vegas backs off aggressive park cleaning regimen

Two days after announcing a new cleaning and disinfecting protocol for its 70 city parks, the City of Las Vegas is rolling back the enhanced cleaning schedule because of a nationwide shortage of protective equipment and disinfectant.

The city announced Thursday morning that it would cancel an aggressive cleaning schedule — including dispatching 12 crews of five to 10 people to clean and disinfect all city parks twice a day, seven days a week — because of a “community shortage” of protective gear and disinfectant, which the city said will be conserved for “first responders and for other more vital needs.”

Restrooms in city parks will remain open, but city officials are “discouraging the use of high-touch areas (playgrounds) and park equipment” and plan to post signs stressing the importance of six-foot social distancing and an admonition to avoid congregating in groups of 10 or more people.

Keeping park facilities open sits in contrast to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive on Tuesday prohibiting members of the public from gathering in groups of 10 or more in any indoor or outdoor area. 

Specifically, the state directed that local governments “shall limit the Nevada general public’s use of recreational equipment, including without limitation, playground equipment, basketball courts, volleyball courts, baseball fields, beaches, or football fields, in a manner that causes the congregation of ten or more persons in a manner contrary to best COVID-19 disease mitigation social distancing practices.”

The directive also authorizes all local, city and county governments to enforce the ban on large public gatherings.

— Riley Snyder, 3/26/20 at 10:08 a.m.

More than 93,000 Nevadans filed for unemployment last week; 40 times the number for first week of March

Nevada logged 93,036 initial claims for unemployment in the week ending March 21 — a 40-fold increase from the number of claims filed in the first week of the month and a 14-fold increase from the week earlier.

The figure comes in a report released Thursday by the Department of Labor that logged about 2.9 million initial unemployment claims last week — a figure that is not seasonally adjusted. Nationally, the seasonally adjusted number of initial unemployment claims filed last week is the highest on record and nearly five times the previous peak, which was logged in 1982.

It is the first data released about unemployment that reflects Gov. Steve Sisolak’s March 17 directive that all “nonessential” businesses, including casinos, close for 30 days.

The state office handling “unprecedented volumes” of demand for unemployment insurance says it continues to add resources daily to try and meet the need.

The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation on Tuesday acknowledged that some people are struggling to get through to staff by phone — a problem “due to the volume of people attempting contact.”

“We are aware of the issue and we are adding resources each week to address the access issue,” said spokeswoman Rosa Mendez. “Additionally, we are researching other alternative solutions and hope to provide updates out as soon as possible.”

The state received $5 million from a bill Congress passed last week to ramp up technology and staffing of unemployment offices. 

The agency said it is taking advantage of all possible flexibilities on eligibility for unemployment insurance. In addition to Sisolak waiving the requirement that people actively search for work while receiving benefits and a seven-day waiting period for a check, the Department of Labor authorized states to pay out benefits to people not working because their employer ceased operations, they’re in quarantine, they fear infection or are caring for a family member.  

“Nevada is taking advantage of the flexibilities provided by the Department of Labor guidance on the interpretation of all definitions,” Mendez said. 

The department said it doesn’t yet have updated projections on how unemployment insurance claims or the unemployment rate will go up because of mass business closures. The firm Applied Analysis has warned that Nevada’s tourism-dependent economy could see unemployment rates of more than 30 percent.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/26/20 at 9:18 a.m.

Confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Nevada reach 420; death total remains at 10

Nevada now has 420 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus statewide, including 350 in Clark County, according to updates provided by state and local health officials Thursday morning.

Southern Nevada Health District officials also announced that four deaths reported by the state late Wednesday evening were all in Clark County. They include four men, three with underlying medical conditions in their 60s, 80s and 30s and one with no underlying medical conditions in his 60s.

Ten people have died statewide from the novel coronavirus, all of them in Clark County. The death of the man in his 30s marks the first death in the state of someone under the age of 50.

The 350 cases in Clark County additionally include 74 individuals who have been hospitalized, or 21.1 percent of the county’s total positive cases. That number is up nine from 65 when the county last provided a case update on Tuesday.

Carson County Health and Human Services also announced two more cases Thursday morning, a female Carson City resident in her 60s who had close contact to a confirmed California case and a male Carson City resident in his 40s with travel history. Both are self-isolating in their homes and "doing well," according to a city spokeswoman. The total number of cases in Carson City is now four.

Statewide, about 8.2 percent of people who have been tested for the novel coronavirus have gotten positive results, and of those who have tested positive 2.4 percent have died.

— Megan Messerly, 3/26/20 at 8:40 a.m., updated at 9:16 a.m.

Statewide coronavirus cases jump to 405 positive tests, deaths increase to 10

Numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 tracking website show confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus spiked to 405 Wednesday night, up from 321 cases as of Tuesday evening. 

Those numbers include an additional four deaths, bringing the state’s total deaths from the novel coronavirus to 10 and the overall mortality rate to just under 2.5 percent. 

Combined with 15 cases reported in the morning, Wednesday’s 99 new cases mark the largest single-day increase seen so far in Nevada. 

The new positive cases come after nearly 300 new tests were administered by the state. To date, health officials had tested 4,862 people, with a little more than 8 percent testing positive for the virus. That’s a slight jump from Tuesday’s figures, when roughly 7 percent had tested positive. 

Jacob Solis, 3/25/20 at 9:00 p.m.

Client of closed emergency shelter reports crowded Courtyard, poor planning

After Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada announced on Wednesday that it was temporarily closing its 524-bed emergency shelter to ensure the health of staff, volunteers and clients, one client reported to The Nevada Independent that he and others were directed by police officers to go across the street to the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center. 

The emergency shelter’s closure came after Southern Nevada health officials confirmed that a man who tested positive for COVID-19 had used facilities at Catholic Charities and at the Courtyard while he was symptomatic.  

“If the governor wants social distancing, this is not happening here at the Courtyard … this is poorly planned” said John in an email on Wednesday, who asked that his last name not be used, for fear of repercussions. 

The closure of the Las Vegas emergency shelter comes after an emergency directive issued by the governor Tuesday night, to limit indoor and outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people. The governor said that the directive “does not apply to our state’s homeless population.”

City of Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke told The Nevada Independent last week that staff would begin screening people entering the city-run Courtyard this week by taking their temperatures before they entered. The Courtyard is a 0.6-acre, open-air facility, which city officials say has a sleeping capacity of 450 people. 

John said he spoke with several officers and paramedics who were on the scene, and deduced from those conversations that “nobody’s been tested.”  

He added that he heard the announcement from three Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officers that Catholic Charities would be closed for the night, when he and other clients were already lined up for the daily 6:00 p.m. intake. When he attempted to find shelter at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission and at the Salvation Army, he said that it was past check-in time and that the shelters "wouldn't let anyone in or out.”

He said that officers have told unsheltered clients that they may sleep on the sidewalk so long as they do not erect a tent. 

Dan Kulin, spokesman for Clark County, said in an email on Wednesday evening that the county was working with the city and the Southern Nevada Health District to expand the Courtyard’s service area into the adjacent street, Foremaster Lane, to provide space for approximately 750 people to sleep on Wednesday night.

Shannon Miller, 3/25/20 at 8:45 p.m.

Pharmacy Board clarifies emergency order restricting prescriptions of malaria drugs praised by Trump as as-yet untested COVID-19 treatment

The Nevada State Board of Pharmacy released a statement Wednesday that sought to clarify an order from Gov. Steve Sisolak that restricted new prescriptions of two malaria drugs that President Donald Trump touted as effective treatments for the coronavirus — even as little testing has been done to prove the president’s claims. 

In a release, the board said that the emergency order, adopted Tuesday, prohibited the prescription of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for any new diagnoses. It added that these restrictions do not apply to inpatients at hospitals or other “institutional settings,” meaning patients being treated for COVID-19 at state hospitals will keep receiving those drugs as treatment. 

The board also said that the emergency order does not apply to any existing diagnoses made before March 24, but that prescriptions made under those diagnoses are capped at 30 days and must come with a so-called “ICD-10 code,” or a code used by the World Health Organization to classify different diseases, illnesses or symptoms. 

The clarification comes after a flurry of online criticism from the president’s defenders, many of whom charged that Sisolak, a Democrat, would deprive COVID-19 patients of experimental drugs as a political ploy to spite the president. 

That includes Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who said in a tweet that Sisolak’s order was tantamount to “practicing medicine without a license.”

Sisolak later fired back in a tweet-thread of his own, which in part called on Cruz to “forget the partisan politics.”

Jacob Solis, 3/25/20 at 8:12 p.m.

Washoe County announces seven new coronavirus cases

The Washoe County Health District confirmed seven additional coronavirus cases Wednesday afternoon, bringing the county's total to 57. 

The health district did not release any additional personal or demographic information about the cases. The health district reported that the total number of recoveries stayed at four.

The state has reported 321 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Daniel Rothberg, 3/25/20 at 4:56 p.m.

Construction worker at Allegiant Stadium site tests positive for coronavirus

A worker at the Allegiant Stadium construction site near the Las Vegas Strip tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday, the latest positive case to hit the essential industries that have remained open during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Today’s case follows an announcement from this week that a worker at the Resorts World project on the Strip also tested positive for the virus. 

In a statement released by Mortensen and McCarthy, the two companies spearheading stadium construction, officials say the worker stayed home after feeling ill last week and has not been back to work since. He is now remaining in self-isolation and will not return to work until being cleared. 

The statement also said the employee had not come into close contact with other workers, and his work area and the surrounding vicinity have since been closed and sanitized. 

Major construction projects have continued progress as “essential industries” under an emergency order issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak earlier this month. 

But concerns have mounted nationwide this week as workers for those industries, especially delivery drivers, have protested poor sanitation guidelines and the possible increased exposure to the virus inherent to those jobs. 

Jacob Solis, 3/25/20 at 4:40 p.m.

State extends Medicaid, SNAP benefits for at least two months

The Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services announced Wednesday an extension in Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, to address increased assistance caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a press release, the division announced that "re-determinations have been extended for at least two months" in all cases set to close on April 1 or May 1.

Steve Fisher, the division's administrator, said in a statement that the agency was "confident that this extension will provide some breathing room for the people we serve."

Because of measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, welfare services are currently only available online and over the phone. 

— Daniel Rothberg, 3/25/20 at 4:00 p.m.

Man using homeless services in Las Vegas tests positive for COVID-19

Southern Nevada health officials announced Wednesday that a man who had utilized several homeless facilities in Las Vegas — including Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center operated by the city — had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

In a release, officials said the man visited those facilities while he was symptomatic, though he is now asymptomatic and no longer considered to be at risk of exposing others to the virus. 

As a result, Catholic Charities announced it will temporarily close its emergency men’s night shelter while it works with city officials to relocate shelter services. 

The positive test comes as concerns have mounted over how the deadly coronavirus may impact vulnerable homeless populations across the country, which largely lack the ability to socially distance as a means of avoiding catching or spreading the virus. 

Jacob Solis, 3/25/20 at 3:50 p.m.

Nevada colleges, universities will stick to online learning through spring semester, must prepare ‘virtual’ graduation ceremonies

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly said the state’s colleges and universities will need to continue online “remote instruction” through the rest of the spring semester and prepare to hold “virtual” graduation ceremonies in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memorandum published Wednesday afternoon, Reilly said that all NSHE institutions will need to continue online learning through the end of the semester, save limited case-by-case courses where remote learning isn’t possible, such as health care clinicals or career and technical education labs. Reilly said continuing remote learning into summer or fall semesters would be revisited at a later time.

Colleges and universities are also required to find an alternative to in-person graduation ceremonies at the end of the semester or reschedule them for later dates.

Reilly also says in the memorandum that he will ask the system’s Board of Regents to temporarily suspend a requirement prohibiting students with delinquent or overdue accounts to receive a transcript, diploma, a certificate or report of semester grades.

“The temporary suspension of this provision will allow students facing financial hardship to register for summer and fall courses and obtain transcripts and other academic records,” he wrote.

It also states that faculty will not receive extra compensation for moving to remote learning.

— Riley Snyder, 3/25/20 at 3:07 p.m.

Dispensary association backs nonessential business shutdown, supports delivery-only cannabis sales

The top trade group for legal marijuana dispensaries in the state says it backs Gov. Steve Sisolak’s nonessential business shutdown order — which allows dispensaries to continue operating by delivery only — and said it will kick out any member that fails to follow the guidelines.

In an open letter published by Nevada Dispensary Association head Riana Durrett on Wednesday, the association said the group and its members “are committed” to following the nonessential business shutdown, and commended the state for “quickly implementing a virtual vehicle inspection to help dispensaries quickly obtain certification for delivery vehicles.”

“While it is anticipated that all NDA members are following, and will continue to follow, the Governor’s Executive Order issued March 21, 2020, any NDA member found in violation of the order will be terminated as a member,” Durrett wrote in the letter.

Open Letter Re Following Executive Order by Riley Snyder on Scribd

— Riley Snyder, 3/25/20 at 1:50 p.m.

Two UNLV employees test positive for COVID-19

Two employees at UNLV have tested positive for COVID-19, the university announced Wednesday afternoon.

The two confirmed cases include an employee who tested positive for the virus in another state, has been working remotely for an extended period of time and was last on campus on March 10, and did not indicate contact with anyone on campus.

The other positive test was an employee who traveled out of state for university business earlier this month and was last on campus on March 11. UNLV said that the individual is self-isolating, and that individuals who came into contact with the employee have been notified.

“We knew this day would come as the number of cases continues to grow in Nevada and across the nation,” UNLV acting president Marta Meana said in a statement.

UNLV announced weeks ago that it will transition to online-only, remote instruction beginning this week to avoid risking further spread of the virus. 

— Riley Snyder, 3/25/20 at 1:20 p.m.

Poll: Nevadans support school closures, Sisolak’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

A new poll by the Retail Association of Nevada shows a majority of Nevadans approve of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, and decisions to close schools and other public places and events to limit spread of the virus.

The consumer opinion poll also found a majority of Nevadans are extremely concerned about the coronavirus, have had some difficulty in finding products at local stores and expect to work fewer hours in the weeks ahead.

“While Nevadans are very concerned of COVID-19, they are generally supportive of how it has been handled to date, giving high marks to the local retailers who have worked tirelessly to keep grocery stores open and as many products available as possible,” Retail Association of Nevada executive Bryan Wachter said in a statement.

Poll respondents were asked how Sisolak “has handled the coronavirus outbreak in Nevada” and responded positively — 64 percent said “very well” or “well,” compared to just 18 percent who said “poorly” or “very poorly.” 

President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak fared somewhat worse but was still overall positive — 50 percent of respondents said the president was handling the situation “very well” or “well,” with 41 percent calling his response “poor” or “very poor.”

The poll also found a majority of Nevadans — 53 percent — to be extremely concerned with the virus on a scale of 1 to 9, with “9” being the most concerned. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) said they were already working fewer hours, with another 35 percent expecting fewer hours worked over the next four weeks.

Strong majorities of poll respondents said they favored steps taken by the state to mitigate spread of the virus, including:

  • Closing public spaces and events (82 percent support or strongly support, 8 percent oppose or strongly oppose)
  • Closing college campuses and converting to online learning (82 percent support or strongly support, 7 percent oppose or strongly oppose)
  • Closing all K-12 schools (82 percent support or strongly support, 7 percent oppose or strongly oppose)

The poll was conducted by Amplify Relations on March 23 of 385 Nevada residents who reported being employed full or part-time as of March 1, with a margin of error of 5 percent. 

— Riley Snyder, 3/25/20 at 12:15 p.m.

RAN COVID Survey Results (2) by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Las Vegas police: Some inmates released for COVID-19 testing, crime statistics largely unchanged

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Joe Lombardo said there have been no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 cases among the agency’s nearly 6,000 employees or among inmates at the Clark County Detention Center, though several dozen police employees are self-quarantined and at least three inmates have been released for testing.

Lombardo, who spoke at a press conference Wednesday morning along with Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, said police agencies in Southern Nevada are taking proactive steps to address and prepare for mass business closures and limits on public gathering ordered by Gov. Steve Sisolak to mitigate spread of the virus.

Lombardo said there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Clark County Detention Center, but that police had released three individuals who showed symptoms of the virus. He said one of the inmates had tested positive for a coronavirus and is recovering, but did not know what strain of the virus he had tested positive for. Lombardo said the inmate was in the detention center for 11 days before he started exhibiting symptoms.

He added that 28 employees of the police agency are self-quarantined at home because of potential exposure, symptoms or travel history.

Lombardo also said that Metro had begun placing officers at food distribution sites and grocery stores, and that his office was prepared to enforce Sisolak’s directives prohibiting large in-person gatherings and nonessential business operations.

“We have to marshal our resources, per se, to ensure that we’re covering all calls for service on what we do on a daily basis, and address those secondary,” he said. “I think criminal acts will take priority to that, and then we’ll do everything within our resources to continue to address people in violation of the governor’s directives.”

He added that most crime statistics had not substantially changed since Sisolak ordered the nonessential business shutdown, noting that overall volumes of calls for service had decreased by five percent. He also said domestic violence calls had not substantially increased but that reports of aggravated assaults had slightly risen over the last week, but that the “data is still too fresh to make a determination.”

Wolfson said that the district attorney’s office was operating with a “skeleton crew” and had been forced to re-prioritize its workload because of courtroom closures, but that the office was still dedicated to filing charges in less serious cases (such as property crimes).

“The public should know that just because we may not file a case in the usual course, it doesn’t mean that we won’t ultimately file the case, because we are still going to be processing cases in the criminal justice system,” he said.

— Riley Snyder, 3/25/20 at 11:29 a.m.

COVID-19 cases now in seven counties as new cases reported in Lyon, Douglas county

Carson City health officials are reporting two new positive cases of the COVID-19 virus in rural Lyon and Douglas counties, with the virus now confirmed in seven of the state’s 17 counties.

The health district, which is coordinating the response to the virus for Carson City, Lyon County, Douglas County and Storey County, reported the two cases in a press release on Wednesday. 

The additional patients include a male Lyon County resident in his 60s with recent travel to the Bay Area in California, and a female Douglas County resident in her 60s with no recent travel history. It’s the first confirmed cases of the virus in Lyon County, and the third in Douglas County.

The health district said that both cases, as well as four others reported in the region, are self-isolating in their homes and are currently in stable condition.

— Riley Snyder, 3/25/20 at 9:11 a.m.

Nevada now reporting 321 cases of the novel coronavirus, up 15 from prior day

The state of Nevada is now reporting a total of 321 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus statewide, up 15 from Tuesday evening.

According to the state’s COVID-19 tracking website, the state has now tested a total of 4,572 people for the novel coronavirus. A little more than 7 percent of the total number of people tested have been positive for the virus, up from about 6.6 percent the previous day.

— Megan Messerly, 3/25/20 at 7:32 a.m.

UNR moves commencement online, announces all classes will remain online even if stay-at-home order lifted

The University of Nevada, Reno is canceling its in-person spring commencement and moving all ceremonial activities online in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The university, in a statement late Tuesday afternoon, said that its scheduled May commencement will occur in a virtual fashion and that more details will be announced. 

School officials also announced that all for-credit courses will be delivered remotely for the rest of the spring 2020 semester, even if Gov. Steve Sisolak lifts his stay-at-home-order on April 16, when it is currently set to end. Sisolak said at a news conference on Tuesday that any decisions to lift restrictions on Nevadans’ everyday lives would be made in consultation with medical professionals.

The university has yet to make any decisions about its summer and fall courses.

— Megan Messerly, 3/24/20 at 6:15 p.m.

Two more Nevadans die after contracting coronavirus, bringing death total to six; cases reach 306 statewide

Two more Nevadans have died after contracting the novel coronavirus, bringing the total deaths in both Clark County and statewide to six, the Southern Nevada Health District announced late Tuesday afternoon.

The two people who died included a man in his 70s with underlying medical conditions and a woman in her 50s with underlying conditions.

The Southern Nevada Health District also announced 37 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Clark County, bringing the countywide total to 249. Of the patients who have tested positive in Clark County, 65 are hospitalized, or 26.1 percent.

Washoe County Health District also announced six additional coronavirus cases Tuesday evening. Collectively, the new cases in Clark and Washoe counties bring the statewide totals to 306.

— Megan Messerly, 3/24/20 at 5:05 p.m., updated at 5:36 p.m.

Nevada ranks high for effective social distancing via location data

Nevada ranked third, right behind Washington, D.C. and Alaska, for effectively social distancing based on data from March 20.

The Washington Post posted a piece Tuesday afternoon citing information from Unacast, a company that took GPS data from smartphones and analyzed it to create a social distancing scoreboard.

Places that reduced overall movement by 40 percent or more received an A and places that reduced by 10 percent or less were awarded an F. Reduction of movement was calculated using their data that showed a decrease in the average distance traveled.

The United States as a whole received a B with 32 percent reduction in movement on March 20. On March 21 the country dropped to 40 percent reduction in movement while Nevada dropped from 48 percent to 51 percent.

The counties in Nevada in order from best to worst social distancing are Clark at 61 percent reduction, Carson City at 52 percent, Douglas at 50 percent, Washoe at 34 percent and Churchill at 20 percent. There was another story published by The New York Times earlier in the week that showed Nevada at number 10, based on information collected from a data collection company called Descartes Labs, a geospatial data company. The data was gathered between March 6 and March 20.

— Joey Lovato, 3/24/20 at 4:20 p.m.

Tribal nations declare state of emergency during coronavirus outbreak

The Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, Inc. issued a resolution Tuesday supporting the Tribal Nations’ declaration of a state of emergency amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The resolution requests immediate access to COVID-19 tests as well as assistance from the Indian Health Service (IHS), emergency health teams, state welfare teams, food security teams. It also requests access to game and fish, protection of and distribution of medicines, traditional medicine support and safe drinking water.

“As the world experiences these unprecedented times due to the coronavirus, our organization stands ready to help the first people of this land,” ITCN Executive Director Deserea Quintana said in a statement. “We thank our Tribal leadership and cooperating jurisdictions for working together to keep our communities safe, and to protect our elders and those who are most at risk.”

ITCN leaders say the resolution supports the 27 tribal governments’ authority as federally recognized member nations.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Indian Commission also announced it was postponing the grand opening of the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum in Carson City. It also canceled the 2020 Stewart Indian School Father’s Day Powwow.

“During these uncertain times, we cannot risk the wellbeing of our elders, nor any participant or spectators,” Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, said in a statement. “Our grand opening can wait, and even though since 2002, Native American dancers, singers, artists and on-lookers have helped build our annual powwow to be one of the most popular cultural gatherings in Northern Nevada, because of COVID-19, we must cancel.”

Prepaid vendors will receive full refunds.

— Jackie Valley, 3/24/20 at 3:30 p.m.

Sisolak restricts prescriptions of malaria drugs touted by Trump, but unproven as COVID-19 treatment

Gov. Steve Sisolak has signed an emergency regulation aimed at preventing people from “hoarding” two malaria drugs that are unproven as a treatment to COVID-19 but were promoted as a “game changer” in a tweet by President Donald Trump.

The regulation, which was promulgated by the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy, prevents the prescribing and dispensing of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for a COVID-19 diagnosis. It also limits prescriptions to a 30-day supply.

“This emergency regulation protects Nevadans who needs these drugs for legitimate medical purposes. At this point in time, there is no known cure for COVID-19 and we must not withhold these drugs from those who need them,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement. “The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home for Nevada, not to stockpile these drugs.”

Dr. Ishan Azzam, the chief medical officer for the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, noted that studies are underway about the effectiveness of the two drugs in treating COVID-19 but said “we must deal with facts, not fiction.”

Trump touted hydroxychloroquine last week in a televised news conference. Some experts said it appears doctors may be prescribing themselves or their families the drug to have on hand just in case, and an Arizona man died after hearing Trump on TV and ingesting a version of the chemical that is used to clean fish tanks.

Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients, who use the drug to control symptoms, have reported problems refilling their prescriptions because pharmacies have run out.

“Preserving these drugs for those who need it is the right decision,” Azzam said.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/24/20 at 3:25 p.m.

Former Nevada governors team up with Sisolak on video urging residents to stay home

Four former Nevada governors and Gov. Steve Sisolak have teamed up to produce a public service announcement urging residents to stay home and slow the spread of coronavirus.

Republicans Robert List and Brian Sandoval, along with Democrats Bob Miller, Richard Bryan and Sisolak, appear in the 30-second PSA released on Tuesday.

The script is:

"My fellow Nevadans, please follow Gov. Sisolak’s direction. As Nevadans we must all work together to care for one another and act with compassion. By staying home, we can protect our loved ones and our neighbors. And never forget, that as Nevadans, we’re all in this together.

Thank you governors for your lifetime love and support for the Silver State. If home means Nevada to you, stay home for Nevada.”

See the video here:

— Michelle Rindels, 3/24/20 at 11:45 a.m.

Las Vegas law firm files lawsuit against China, accusing country of allowing coronavirus spread

A Las Vegas law firm says it’s filing a class action lawsuit against China, alleging the country engaged in a cover-up after learning about the virus that allowed it to spread and wreak havoc in the U.S.

The complaint was filed late Monday in federal court in Nevada on behalf of small businesses. Law firm Eglet Adams said the country’s actions when it learned of the dangers of the virus in the fall contributed to its spread around the world and to hundreds of billions of dollars of economic losses in the U.S., including in Nevada.

“Instead of disclosing this evidence, the PRC and the other Defendants engaged in a campaign of misinformation and lies,” the complaint said. “Upon information and belief, they engaged in a campaign of intimidating and arresting any Chinese doctors, scientists, attorneys and/or reporters who tried to alert the public about this dangerous ‘new’ coronavirus.”

Nevada-based plaintiffs include restaurant proprietor Bella Vista LLC, floral company Greenfield & Company Inc., Life Real Estate LLC and Mobile Medic CPR.

Robert Eglet, whose firm is handling the case, is known for major lawsuits including an ongoing one against opioid manufacturers on behalf of the state and political subdivisions, as well as one against pharmaceutical companies after a hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada colonoscopy clinics a more than a decade ago.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/24/20 at 10:00 a.m.

Nevada lawmaker-led task force issues coronavirus response recommendations by Latinos, for Latinos 

A task force formed by the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus is recommending that Gov. Steve Sisolak create a health plan for undocumented Nevadans, drive-thru testing for COVID-19 and providing more information — including about where to find food — in Spanish. 

The group formed last week includes legal, political and medical experts focused on addressing the effects of coronavirus on the state’s Latino community, which they say is particularly vulnerable to the crisis because some are undocumented and many struggle to keep up on critical developments because of a language barrier. Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who leads the task force, said food security is the biggest concern she hears from constituents.

“I think a lot of people are scared. They recently lost their jobs. They’re not sure how they're gonna pay their bills at the end of the month, their rent, their mortgage, their car payments,” she said in an interview. “And so people are really scared that they're not going to have food, and that they might not already have food cause they're trying to figure out how they can use the money that they have to pay the spectrum of bills.”

While she said the school district’s food distribution program is helping, she said the gap she sees is among people who do not have school-aged children or when the need is among the adults in the family, not the kids.

She’s also concerned that the virus could disproportionately harm undocumented Nevadans who face more barriers to getting health insurance and care. Nevada has a higher rate of undocumented people as a share of its population than any other state.

“We know that our undocumented community is … vulnerable to not getting treatment and not seeking treatment,” Torres said. “And we know that that's going to continue to make this illness and this virus significantly worse in our communities. So we need to do our part and ensure that anybody that believes that they might have COVID-19 can get tested, that they can get treatment.”

The task force is in addition to task forces that the governor has convened around the issue. Torres said the lawmakers are able to tailor their recommendations based on what they’re hearing on the ground, and can serve to connect people to resources because of the name recognition they have in the community.

Sisolak’s office has acknowledged receipt of the recommendations but has not yet responded at length to them, Torres said. For now, the task force is fielding inquiries from the public and trying to compile resources on its bilingual website, AyudaNevada.com.

It also announced an education subcommittee focused on eliminating inequities in internet access, headed by UNLV law professor Sylvia Lazos. Concerns that some households do not have internet or computer access has been a roadblock for the Clark County School District to resume school in a distance-learning format.

Nevada’s senators also brought up that “digital divide” in a letter to a Senate colleague Tuesday, asking that Congress approve at least $2 billion in “E-rate” funds through the Federal Communications Commission to buy Wi-Fi hotspots or similar devices that students can borrow. 

Torres didn’t rule out the possibility of a special session to address the budgetary impact of the crisis and make changes to enact some of the task force’s recommendations.

“I don't think that's off the table, but right now we're just focusing on what we can do outside of special session,” she said.

Michelle Rindels & Luz Gray, 3/24/20 at 9:00 a.m.

Feds grant Nevada authority to approve products for COVID-19 testing, rather than wait for FDA

Nevada has been granted authority to give final approval on the safety and efficacy of testing products, rather than having to get that sign-off from the federal government — a change that state officials say “should increase testing capacity considerably.”

The state announced on Tuesday that it was one of only a handful of jurisdictions with the new authority. Previously, test kits and components had to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before use.

“This means that when labs in Nevada do validation studies on products to determine whether they are effective prior to launching testing, they can submit their findings to the state, not the FDA, for approval,” Dr. Mark Pandori, head of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, said in a statement. “This is a much faster process.”

Pandori said data on certain new products that will expand the number of tests should be in by the end of next week. 

While authorities say the change won’t open the door for all Nevadans to get tested, it will allow more people in priority categories — such health care workers in contact with COVID-19 patients — to check their status.

Other jurisdictions with similar authority include Washington State, New York State and Maryland.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/24/20 at 8:43 a.m.

Nevada up to 278 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 15 more cases reported statewide

Nevada is reporting 15 more cases of the novel coronavirus statewide Tuesday morning, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 278.

According to the state’s COVID-19 tracking website, a total of 4,232 people have been tested across four main labs — the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, the Southern Nevada Public Health Laboratory, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp — with a smaller number of tests being performed at Clinical Pathology Laboratories, Quality Laboratory Services and other labs.

— Megan Messerly, 3/24/20 at 7:36 a.m.

UNLV Medicine to begin curbside coronavirus testing on Tuesday

The clinical arm of UNLV’s medical school is launching curbside coronavirus testing — by appointment only — starting on Tuesday.

Only people who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for testing will be given appointments. People who have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case or who are exhibiting symptoms defined by the CDC can call 702-583-4408 between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday to book an appointment.

“All callers will be asked a series of questions to determine if they meet the CDC criteria and will be screened again upon arrival,” officials said in a news release.

The nasal swab testing will occur in the parking lot of UNLV Medicine, 1125 Shadow Lane in Las Vegas. When patients arrive for their appointment time, they’ll be directed to a drive-up site, where the testing will occur without them needing to leave their vehicles.

The tests will be provided at no cost to the patients, who will receive their results in five to seven days. Test results also will be reported to the Southern Nevada Health District. 

UNLV Medicine officials said the testing will occur for the next two weeks or until the current supply of test kits is depleted.

— Jackie Valley, 3/23/20 at 7:25 p.m.

Washoe County reports 19 new cases, increasing statewide count to 263

Washoe County health officials announced Monday that 19 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, while one more person has fully recovered.

That brings the Washoe County case total to 44 and the statewide count to 263. Washoe County Health District authorities say three people total have recovered in their region.

The 19 new cases come after more than two days’ worth of tests were submitted to the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, officials said. The health district is not providing any more information because of the influx of cases.

Health authorities also said the COVID-19 Incident Management Team is accepting “sterile, unopened Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from businesses,” including masks (N95, surgical or dust), gloves, gowns, face shields and protective eyewear.

Businesses with those items available to donate should call 3-1-1 or email donationsmanagement2020@yahoo.com.

— Jackie Valley, 3/23/20 at 6:38 p.m.

Las Vegas police issue warning letters, citations against ‘nonessential’ businesses defying shutdown order

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has issued 36 warning letters, seven suspensions and four citations against ‘nonessential’ businesses that have continued to operate in spite of a mandatory shutdown directive from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

The police department said in a press release on Monday evening that it had conducted 113 “compliance checks” of businesses along with Clark County business license officials, resulting in the correctional action including seven “forced shutdowns of businesses that would not voluntarily close.” 

The agency said it would begin the compliance checks on Saturday, following Sisolak’s directive on Friday requiring all nonessential businesses in the state to temporarily cease operations for 30 days to avoid further spread of COVID-19.

— Riley Snyder, 3/23/20 at 5:57 p.m.

Clark County COVID-19 positive cases jumps to 212

The Southern Nevada Health District reported 61 new positive cases of the COVID-19 virus on Monday evening, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the state’s most populous county to 212, with at least 245 cases statewide.

In total, 245 people in the state have tested positive for the virus, and 4 individuals — all in Clark County — have died, including two on Monday. The health district also updated a demographic breakdown of the positive cases, including the fact that 44 of the individuals who tested positive for the disease are currently hospitalized.

So far, three people in the county under the age of 17 have tested positive for the virus, as well as 12 people between the age 18 to 24, 97 people between the ages of 25 to 49, 59 people between the ages of 50 to 64 and 41 people over the age of 65.

Confirmed cases in the state have been found in at least six counties, including Clark, Washoe, Douglas, Elko, Nye and Carson City.

— Riley Snyder, 3/23/20 at 5:16 p.m.

Nevada taps into state stockpile, small federal government shipment to supply hospitals with masks, gowns

Nevada has tapped into its stockpiles and a small, preliminary shipment from the federal government to supply hospitals with thousands of masks, gowns and gloves to protect medical personnel on the frontlines of treating the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the state has disbursed a little more than 1,100 cases of N95 masks, at anywhere from 160 to 200 masks per case, nearly 7,000 gowns, and about 150 boxes of gloves from its inventory, which includes both existing supplies from the state’s public health preparedness warehouse and those sent to Nevada by the federal government. However, the state received less than 25 percent of what it had requested from the federal government in its first order and is waiting on additional supplies it has asked for through a second request.

Richard Whitley, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that the state has prioritized disbursing supplies to all hospitals and first responders through health districts, as well as direct deployment of supplies to rural health facilities.

“In our current situation, due to the high demand for all types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Nevada was immediately overwhelmed and asked our federal partners for help in the form of a detailed resource request for PPE,” Whitley said.

He noted that emergency responses in Nevada start at the local level and escalate up to the state and federal levels. So, if local jurisdictions are overwhelmed or scarce on resources, they ask the county, neighboring counties and then the state Division of Emergency Management for assistance. If the state doesn’t have enough resources, they call on other states for assistance — difficult at this point in time, because all states are under resourced — or the federal government, through its strategic national stockpile, or SNS.

“The problem is that with COVID-19, all states are asking for the SNS and there is not enough SNS to go around to fulfill every PPE request nationwide,” Whitley said.

Tribes requesting resources are allowed to send their requests directly to the county, state or federal governments.

— Megan Messerly, 3/23/20 at 3:45 p.m.

Nonprofits, companies launch system to deliver meals to homebound Southern Nevada residents during pandemic

Clark County officials and private philanthropists are teaming up to create a system to deliver meals to low-income, homebound people who fear leaving their homes because of coronavirus.

The program, called Delivering with Dignity, made its inaugural deliveries of 800 meals to 100 different families on Monday. The focus is elderly and medically fragile residents who may not be able to get out to grocery stores or food distribution sites, and can’t afford restaurant takeout or delivery.

“If you’re at home, and you don’t think anybody knows about you … we intend to identify you, work with you … so we can find a way to deliver wholesome meals to you,” said Julie Murray, president of The Moonridge Foundation and co-founder of food bank supplier Three-Square, in a press conference on Monday.

The initiative is a partnership between Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkptraick, groups including the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation and Intermountain Healthcare, and Copia, a for-profit technology company that redistributes leftover food from businesses and nonprofits to those in need.

Meals delivered Monday — which included enough food for two meals for a family of four — were prepared by chefs at Las Vegas restaurant Honey Salt and delivered by seven volunteer drivers to families identified by the nonprofit organization Foster Kinship. The recipients were largely seniors raising their grandchildren, who may be at risk by taking their grandchildren to sites such as schools where free meals are distributed during food closures.

Financial donations to Delivering with Dignity can be made at moonridgefoundation.org. The United Way of Southern Nevada is fielding inquiries about volunteering and service requests and can be reached at (702) 892-2300.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/23/20 at 2:45 p.m.

Regulators approve more than 100 marijuana delivery vehicles over weekend as dispensaries quickly switch to delivery-only

Officials with the Nevada Department of Taxation worked through the weekend to help dispensaries quickly shut their doors and move to delivery-only, notching a 50 percent increase in the number of stores that can legally deliver.

Tyler Klimas, executive director of the Cannabis Compliance Board, said that 127 requests for delivery vehicle inspections came in just over the weekend, and 101 of those have been approved so far.

Nineteen additional dispensaries now have approved delivery vehicles, up from 38 previously. There are about 70 dispensaries regulated by the state.

On Friday, the state announced that storefront dispensaries — which had previously remained open to foot traffic on the basis that they were essential businesses providing a medicinal product — were directed to close and only offer products delivered directly to consumers. Curbside pickup is also banned to avoid customers congregating on dispensary property.

Taxation officials replaced their normal process of an in-person vehicle inspection with a virtual procedure that involves submitting photos and video of a car so regulators can verify compliance with delivery vehicle regulations, which include having a secure lockbox.

Klimas said he’s aware of people stocking up on marijuana as coronavirus has spread, but said he has no indication there are issues with the cannabis supply chain.

Michelle Rindels, 3/23/20, 2:10 p.m.

Clark County closing park playgrounds and bathrooms; Lake Mead and state parks cut services to curb virus spread

Clark County is closing playgrounds and park restroom facilities “out of an abundance of caution to help reduce the possibility of community spread of the [coronavirus].”

The county announced Monday that it would be encircling playgrounds with yellow caution tape and posting signs, in addition to locking bathrooms, to try to keep people from congregating. Trails and open outdoor park spaces remain open, but visitors are strongly urged to maintain social distance with others.

Maintenance staff will be doing daily checks to ensure the caution tape and signs remain intact.

The county operates 100 public parks. A complete list is available here

The closures come as campgrounds and facilities such as visitor centers in Nevada state parks were shuttered last week. The parks are open for day use only.

Lake Mead National Recreational Area is also closing many facilities on the Nevada side of the park in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That includes parking areas, restrooms, beaches and campgrounds.

Officials with Lake Mead said that they had 40,000 people visit on Saturday, which is twice the normal level of visitation for this time of year.

— Michelle Rindels, 3/23/20, 1:41 p.m.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Nevada total 245, up 55 from prior day; two more deaths in Clark County

There are now 245 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus across the state of Nevada, up 55 from the previous day, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The Southern Nevada Health District also announced two more deaths — a woman in her 70s and a man in his 60s, both with underlying medical conditions — bringing the countywide and statewide death totals to four.

“We are saddened to report that two more people with coronavirus disease have died in our community,” said Dr. Fermin Leguen, the district's acting chief health officer.

The health district is also reporting a total of 151 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, up 25 from the prior day, with another case update expected for later in the day on Monday.

Individual county totals are currently lagging the state’s reported total, 245, but there have been confirmed cases in Clark, Washoe, Douglas, Elko and Nye counties, as well as Carson City. Clark County has, by far, the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases — 126 as of Saturday.

Carson City Health and Human Services reported Douglas County’s second case of COVID-19 on Monday morning, a woman in her 70s with no underlying health conditions who became symptomatic after having an out-of-state visitor. She is self-isolating at home.

— Megan Messerly, 3/23/20 at 12:48 p.m.

All school districts except Clark approved to begin, continue distance learning

Sixteen of Nevada’s seventeen school districts and all charter schools in the state have been approved to continue or start distance education as their brick-and-mortar facilities remain shut as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Monday morning.

The only school district that had not submitted a proposal for distance education or an extended school year by Sunday evening was the Clark County School District. The governor’s office said in a statement that while the state worked with the attorney general’s office to ensure that emergency plans could be approved, Clark County School District elected to consult its board.

The Clark County School District is holding a board meeting Monday morning, where distance learning will be discussed.

The 16 school districts and charter schools that have had their plans approved to engage in distance education as of Monday. Approval of the plans, which follows an emergency directive signed by Sisolak on Friday, means that schools will continue to receive payments from the state’s K-12 education fund, known as the Distributive School Account, and will not have to adjust their school calendars to make up missed time.

Sisolak, in a statement, expressed his “strong appreciation” for the school districts and charter schools who “stepped up in good faith” to submit their distance learning plans. The emergency directive requires districts and charter schools to begin offering distance learning no later than Monday, or the next regularly scheduled school session today.

“We are all operating under challenging circumstances, and I am proud of our educators for coming together to find creative solutions to ensure students can continue learning despite school closures,” Sisolak said.

The emergency directive additionally bars schools from reopening any earlier than April 16 in an attempt to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and suspends state testing requirements. It also suspends all statutory and regulatory requirements related to distance learning applications and expands the term to include paper correspondence, to allow kids to learn even if they don’t have access to a computer at home.

— Megan Messerly, 3/23/20 at 8:25 a.m.

Follow the Money: Fiore-led PAC paid daughter’s event planning company six figures over last two years

Four Vegas council members

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore’s political action committee paid a catering and event planning company run by her daughter nearly $109,000 over the last 18 months, records show.

The Fiore-led PAC, called “Future for Nevadans,” has reported making regular payments since June of 2018 to Hamlet Events, with the listed reason for the campaign payments falling into “advertising” and “special events” categories. According to filings with the secretary of state’s office, Fiore’s daughter, Sheena Siegel, is the registered owner of Hamlet Events.

The reported six figures in expenditures paid to Hamlet Events represents nearly a quarter of the funds spent by Fiore’s PAC and nearly 20 percent of the half-million dollars raised by the committee since 2017. Political action committees in Nevada have no limit on the amount of money they can accept from donors.

There is no Nevada law prohibiting candidates from making campaign payments to family members, but Secretary of State elections chief Wayne Thorley said in an email that such payments could run afoul of the state’s prohibition on using campaign dollars for “personal use” if the family member wasn’t actually providing any goods or services, or if the family member overcharged for a service in a way that financially benefited the candidate. 

Campaign payments made by Fiore’s PAC to a business owned by her daughter highlight Nevada’s loose laws and oversight on political spending, especially with no clear definition of “personal use” or guidance on how to avoid ethical conflicts when paying family members out of campaign funds.

In an email, Fiore said that she follows “the law to the letter on all my reporting,” and that she opted to list expenses through an events planning company as opposed to individual vendors to avoid having them “called and harassed repeatedly.”

“I love my community and provide many big and intimate events or gatherings with my constituency,” she wrote in an email. “My reporting is accurate and legal by our Nevada State law. I have a choice; I could list an event company that handles all the events, or I could list Visa and pay for everything with a credit card.”

Fiore did not directly respond to questions as to what advertising or special events were managed by her daughter’s event planning company, nor if she had sought out any other firms or tried to determine whether the rate paid to Hamlet Events was at fair market value. Calls to the phone number listed on the Hamlet Events website were not returned.

Bradley Schrager, an elections attorney with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin who often represents state Democrats in election-related cases, said Fiore’s reported spending through the PAC flirted with violating state and federal laws on use of campaign funds.

“Michele Fiore takes her contributors, the Nevada Secretary of State, and US Attorney’s office for marks,” he said in an email. “She’s betting either that no one cares or no one can stop her.”

Hamlet Events

Reported payments from Fiore’s PAC to Hamlet Events cover the period between June 2018 and the end of 2019, with all expenses filed under the categories of “advertising” and “special events.” The PAC reported making several payments (total of $15,100) to the business before it was registered with the state in October 2018.

The website for Hamlet Events includes details on possible events including baby showers, birthdays, weddings, parties, outdoor events and campaigns. Services listed in the ‘campaigns’ section include creating and sending out political mailers and mass campaign emails.

No other political campaigns have reported making any expenditures to Hamlet Events or to Siegel, according to a search of Federal Election Commission and Nevada Secretary of State records. Siegel, who was Fiore’s executive assistant in an unpaid internship role with the City of Las Vegas between August 2017 and October 2019, was paid $2,700 out of Fiore’s primary campaign account over eight payments in late 2017, with the listed expense category as “office expenses” and “special events.”

Hamlet Events is the largest vendor that received payments from the PAC, followed by payments to campaign consultants; $21,400 to SoCo Strategies, led by Zachary Moyle, and $89,000 to Alchemy Associates, an offshoot of political consulting firm Organized Karma run by consultant Ronni Council.

Fiore’s reported campaign spending has previously come under scrutiny; a 2019 Las Vegas Review-Journal story found that Fiore’s PAC and campaign had spent nearly $200,000 on “gasoline, Uber rides, travel, restaurant and grocery store tabs, furniture and her own businesses.” Fiore told the newspaper at the time that the spending was primarily for “constituent service.”

“Ward 6 has more constituent outreach and constituent events than any other ward,” Fiore wrote in a statement to the newspaper.

At least two candidates in the 2016 election cycle relied on family members for campaign work; Assemblyman William McCurdy reported spending more than $23,000 on advertising and special event-related expenses to a political consulting firm run by his parents, and former Democratic state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson paid his former husband more than $33,000 from his campaign and PAC accounts over an eight-year period. Atkinson resigned from Legislature in 2019 amid federal charges of misuse of campaign funds and was given a two-year prison sentence last year.

PAC Activities

According to the Future for Nevadans’ PAC registration form, its stated purpose is “Raising Funds to Educate Nevadans.” 

Although its raised a hefty $545,900 over the last two years, the PAC has reported making relatively little spending toward other political action committees or campaigns; $14,900 to three other political action committees, and $5,000 each to the campaigns of fellow Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman and the Nevada Republican Party.

Other expenses reported by the PAC include $20,000 to Fiore’s consulting firm, Politically Off The Wall, $10,000 to a fireworks display company and $16,500 at a political printing shop. The PAC also reported spending on food and gasoline primarily in 2018, including $8,700 at an Italian restaurant, $2,700 at Costco and more than $1,000 at Terrible Herbst.

Many of the contributors to the PAC are well-known in the Las Vegas business community, and include entities including the campaign of Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo ($5,000), personal injury firm Eglet Prince ($20,000) and several major real estate developers.

It received a combined $58,500 from prominent local government lobbyist Jay Brown and two affiliated business entities, Restaurant Consultants LLC and Washington D.C. Investments LLC.

Another major source of contributions came from cannabis industry executive Elizabeth Stavola and affiliated dispensary Greenmart Nevada (owned by MPX Pharmaceuticals, of which Stavola is an executive). Combined, Stavola and Greenmart contributed $37,500 to the PAC throughout 2018; MPX Pharmaceuticals announced in December 2018 that it had received a coveted retail marijuana license from the City of Las Vegas and three other municipalities.

Not all the donors are well-known. A top contributor to the PAC itself is real estate/rental homes businessman Gary Wu, who through a company called TD Associates NV LLC contributed $29,500 to the PAC. Wu is the owner of Total Max Homes, a Las Vegas-based rental and real estate company that as recently as last year was subject to complaints about violating short-term rental laws.

The Future for Nevadans PAC also reported making a $10,000 campaign payment to Wu in March 2019 for “advertising” and “travel.” Fiore’s 2020 financial disclosure form also shows that she took a trip to China in 2019 on behalf of TD Associates, with the stated purpose of “meetings.” The estimated value of the trip was $5,000.

Other major donors include a California-based real estate business called The Wellington Group, which contributed $25,000 to the PAC in April 2018. 

Fiore previously served two terms in the Assembly before mounting an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2016. She won a seat on the Las Vegas City Council in 2017 and was named mayor pro tempore in 2019.

In a single week, Las Vegas again reminds nation of what’s at stake in gun debate

Flowers lay on the ground near the Route 91 Festival grounds

Snapshots from a week in America’s endless civil war:

Shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, a small but solemn gathering took place at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater to mark the second anniversary of the darkest moment in Las Vegas history. Respectful tribute was paid, as it should always be paid, to the victims of the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting. Not only to the 58 murdered, but also to the hundreds wounded and thousands whose lives were changed forever.

Those victims should be remembered as part of the legion of people who lost their lives on the way to treating the nation’s gun obsession, but those words sound naïve even as I write them.

There were tears and prayers and uniformed first responders. Even officials with prepared texts at times appeared to search for the right words to reflect an indescribable loss. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who made gun safety measures and banning bump stock attachments a central part of his agenda, had it right when he said, “As painful as it may be, especially on a day like today, our capacity to remember, to feel what we felt all over again, is what binds us together as a community - as a family and it makes us strong."

Las Vegas will always remember. But will America?

With a friendly Legislature marching behind him and the horrors of 1 October haunting so many, Sisolak had a relatively easy path to the passage of AB 291, an omnibus gun safety bill. It’s a reminder of the power of leadership at the state level when Congress perennially fails to act.

On Wednesday, Democratic Party presidential candidates gathered to remind the nation of their deep concerns about gun safety, universal background checks, and banning semiautomatic assault rifles that are so easily converted to fire automatically. They also reminded Nevadans of the importance of the state’s first-in-the-West caucus. Most sang from similar choir books. They were loud enough, but given their general track record you’d be forgiven for being skeptical.

Will this time be different? The Democrats have an anemic success record against the gun manufacturers’ best friend, the National Rifle Association. Without a sweeping victory in 2020 that also changes the balance of power in the Senate, their mid-week speeches will be political drift smoke.

Cut to Thursday morning in a crowded law downtown law office: Attorney Robert Eglet, a hometown boy who made good, stood before the press to officially announce one of the largest civil settlements in American history just two years and two days after the nightmare of 1 October. Among the country’s most successful litigators, he’d come not to ridicule Mandalay Bay parent company MGM Resorts, but to praise it following a months-long mediation that will settle a sprawling lawsuit and provide from $735 million to $800 million to approximately 4,500 participating claimants including victims and their families, and with no admission of liability by the state’s largest employer. At times, the public face of the Eglet Adams law firm sounded as much like a representative of the casino giant as the plaintiffs’ lead Las Vegas counsel.

“While nothing will be able to bring back the lives lost or undo the horrors so many suffered on that day, this settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” Eglet said. “MGM Resorts is a valued member of the Las Vegas community and this settlement represents good corporate citizenship on their part. We believe that the terms of this settlement represent the best outcome for our clients and will provide the greatest good for those impacted by these events."

A few minutes later, Eglet went off script and said something that should echo all the way to Washington. Talk of change is fine as far as it goes, but turning back America’s semi-automatic slaughter machine will only be successful when the gun manufacturers who make the weapons of war and sell them to civilians can no longer hide behind the litigation impunity carved out in Congress by the gun lobby.

“Are we really free when children in our country are afraid to go to school because they might get shot?” he asked. “Are we really free in this country when people are afraid to go to the movies, or even the grocery store, for fear there may be a mass shooting out there? Are we really free in this country when people in Las Vegas and our visitors can’t enjoy a concert on a beautiful fall night here in Las Vegas? Are we really free? I don’t feel very free with those types of things. … I would hope our leaders in Washington will take notice of this and do something about it. I’m not optimistic that’s going to happen, but I still have hope.”

The October 1 settlement represents a moment of hope for healing against a grim reality in our ceaseless civil war.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

MGM Resorts agrees to pay victims of Las Vegas shooting up to $800 million

A shattered window on the 32nd floor at the Mandalay Bay

MGM Resorts International has agreed to pay up to $800 million to the victims of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shooting on the Las Vegas Strip in October 2017 that claimed the lives of 58 and injured more than 800.

Under the proposed settlement agreement, the victims of the shooting have agreed to dismiss all pending litigation against MGM Resorts, which owns the Mandalay Bay, where the killer Stephen Paddock rained down bullets from a hotel room on the 32nd floor and into the crowd of 22,000 below. MGM Resorts will pay between $735 million and $800 million depending on the number of victims who ultimately participate in the settlement.

Robert Eglet, one of the lawyers who represented the victims, said in a statement Thursday that the settlement marked a “milestone in the recovery process” for thousands of victims and their families. He said that the announcement represents “good corporate citizenship” by MGM Resorts, which took a significant public relations hit last year after taking the pre-emptive step of suing the victims in an attempt to shield itself from liability.

“We believe that the terms of this settlement represent the best outcome for our clients and will provide the greatest good for those impacted by these events,” Eglet said.

About 4,400 victims, represented by more than 60 law firms, are claimants in the litigation, Eglet said. How much of a payout they will receive remains to be seen.

The court is expected to appoint an independent claims administrator to evaluate each claim and allot settlements out of the fund — a process that likely won’t be completed until late 2020. The third-party claims administrator will determine a system for doling out the settlement funds, taking into consideration the circumstances of the victim, such as loss of a loved one, physical injury or emotional distress, Eglet said.

“While nothing will be able to bring back the lives lost or undo the horrors so many suffered on that day, this settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” he said.

The settlement also averts a protracted legal battle, which Eglet said could have dragged on for more than a decade. In reaching the settlement, MGM Resorts has admitted no liability.

Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, called the agreement a “major step” and one the company had “hoped for a long time would be possible.

"We have always believed that prolonged litigation around these matters is in no one's best interest,” Murren said in a statement. “It is our sincere hope that this agreement means that scenario will be avoided."

The settlements will be funded by MGM Resorts’ insurers with a minimum of $735 million, but the resort has up to $751 million in coverage. MGM Resorts is expected to add any additional amounts needed to fund claims up to $800 million.

The gaming company was involved in negotiations with the law firms for nearly eight months. 

Eglet, who harshly criticized MGM Resorts when the company tried to avoid liability by invoking the little-known federal law called the SAFETY Act, reversed course during a Thursday news conference. He lavished praise on MGM Resorts, the largest employer in Nevada, calling the company a “shining example of what corporations can do in America.”

Still, Eglet acknowledged he was skeptical of MGM Resorts’ insistence that it was trying to consolidate the lawsuits to avoid lengthy litigation.

“I was wrong,” he said Thursday. “They proved that to me in the first several weeks of this mediation.”

Co-counsel Kevin Boyle, who also represented victims involved in the litigation, said the outcome — a major corporation aiding victims of a mass shooting — could drive change by spurring the business world to advocate for common-sense laws that may prevent such tragedies.

“Those powerful companies can put pressure on the government to make real change in this country,” he said.

The settlement announcement comes two days after the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting and one day after nine Democratic presidential candidates participated in Las Vegas-based forum addressing gun violence.

Eglet waded into the ongoing debate, saying Congress should repeal federal legislation that grants firearm manufacturers immunity from civil liability. 

“Why do the gun manufacturers get a free ride?” he said. “If you want to do something about the gun violence in this country, repeal that statute and let American juries decide if the risk of putting these type of weapons of mass murder on the street outweighs the benefit. I have a feeling the American juries would stop the sale and cause a lot of incentive to the gun manufacturers to stop making and selling these type of weapons in this country if they were subject to liability.”

 

State taking action to confront opioid crisis, but is it making a difference?

A man and woman sitting at a desk filling orders

About five years ago, Nevada started taking high-profile steps toward tackling the opioid crisis. There were bills to curb doctor-shopping and over-prescribing in 2015 and 2017, a statewide opioid summit in 2016 and a cascade of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers from the state and local governments in the past few years.

But has the growing awareness and response made a dent in the epidemic?

Scores of law enforcement, treatment professionals, elected officials and others gathered in Las Vegas this week for a two-day conference where they assessed progress and exchanged ideas on how to better tackle opioid abuse.

Officials say there were 360 opioid deaths in Nevada in 2018, which is down from 401 in 2017 and 393 in 2016. 

Authorities say they are seeing fewer pharmaceutical drugs on the street — the number of opioid prescriptions has dropped from 74.9 per 100 Nevada residents in 2017 to 52 per 100 in 2018. 

But experts worry they are in the midst of a “third wave” in the crisis: Moving from overprescribing that began in the late 1990s, to abuse of heroin and now a phase involving the rise of exceptionally dangerous synthetic opioids such as fentanyl that are either prescribed or illegally manufactured.

Here are some takeaways from the event:

More traffic for prescription monitoring database

Gov. Steve Sisolak praised progress the state is making in curbing doctor-shopping, noting a fivefold increase in the number of queries into the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, from 121,000 in 2014 to more than 700,000 in 2018.

The system is meant to ensure people are not obtaining multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors as a way to stock up on opioids. It can be used to cross-check whether a person has already been prescribed a powerful painkiller by another physician.

“We are moving the dial on opioid addiction and it’s a difficult dial to move,” Sisolak said in a speech kicking off the summit. “This change is a huge step to ensure that prescriptions are being made available to those that need them, while keeping them out of the hands of those who may be looking to merely make a profit from these powerful drugs and capitalize on folks’ suffering.”

He also noted a 50 percent decrease in the number of people being prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine — a sedative with brand names including Xanax and Valium — in the same month. The combination is a significant driver in accidental overdose deaths. 

The increased use of the database, which has been around since 1997, follows the passage of bills in 2015 and 2017 that aim to hold doctors accountable for unnecessary prescriptions. A 2015 bill required prescribers check the database and review a patient’s prescription history before calling for more opioids.

A 2017 bill requires all providers to enroll in the Prescription Monitoring Program and makes it easier for boards to use the system to address over-prescribing.

Sisolak said the change has “dramatically increased the amount of data that the state has available to develop a focused response for Nevada communities.”

Monica Chandler creates harm reduction kits for vending machines inside Trac-B Exchange in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies

Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford highlighted an expanded lawsuit his office filed in June against 40 defendants, including big-name pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.

Defendants’ actions “created an unprecedented health crisis for their own profit, and the deaths of thousands of Nevadans is on their hands,” Ford said in a keynote address. “Their conspiracy to dupe doctors into prescribing more and more deadly and addictive pills has left countless Nevada families in this state suffering in the wake of what I believe is ultimately greed.”

Additionally, there have been lawsuits brought by a number of local jurisdictions and Ford’s former law firm, Eglet Prince.

But the response from his office has gone beyond the ongoing court battle.

Starting under the administration of then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the office has dedicated money from a $5.5 million settlement with Volkswagen over an emissions cheating scandal to opioid response. That funding has supported:

  • Hiring Terry Kerns, a retired FBI agent and nurse who coordinates the state’s opioid response, including training medical professionals how to respond to overdoses
  • Distribution of hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy naloxone, a drug that can reverse overdoses
  • Purchasing pill incinerators to safely dispose of unused prescription drugs in rural counties, preventing the drugs from ending up in the wrong hands
  • Awarding grants to the Boys & Girls Club to educate youth with the goal of preventing addiction
Boxes of needles as seen inside the storage room of Trac-B Exchange, a harm reduction center in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Improving police response to people in crisis 

Kerns, who is coordinating a statewide response to the opioid crisis, said it’s important to remember that mental health issues often go hand-in-hand with substance abuse. Some research suggests that as many as 75 percent of people abusing drugs or alcohol have a mental disorder as well.

“You really can't look at substance use disorder in a silo without also looking at mental health issues,” she said. 

A new focus has been training law enforcement on how to work with people in crisis, so they are diverted to professionals who can address the root cause of their behavior rather than to jail time and time again.

“Previously, officers weren't always given the tools to deal with these individuals, but that's beginning to change,” Kerns said.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, for example, now requires that all new recruits take a 40-hour crisis intervention training course. Officers are taught what resources are available in the community and how to de-escalate chaotic situations. 

Trainees are even given headphones and told to listen to a recording with five or six voices going at the same time, so they understand what experiencing a mental health crisis can be like.

Another strategy has been having mental health clinicians ride along with officers responding to calls. Both parties can learn from each other through the experience.

“One of the things we have to do as law enforcement is shift our mindset and focus on helping these people in order to divert them,” said Marquis Hines of Metro’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD). “Not to say that some people still don't need to go to jail. And that's where we kind of find that line between helping people and still protecting the public because we do have that obligation as well.”

He said what helped change his own mindset was seeing positive outcomes by taking actions other than arresting a person in crisis, such as referring them to a counseling center or a mental health clinic.

“I used to have two options. Now I have 10 options, I have 20 options,” he said at a panel discussion. “Just being open to new education plays a part.”

Former opioid addict Tyler Toltzman talks about his recovery during an interview Thursday, Feb. 24, 2017, at WestCare Nevada Community Triage Center, 323 N. Maryland Parkway. He has been sober for one year. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Surmounting tribal community challenges

The opioid epidemic has hit Native American populations particularly hard, and tribes may have fewer resources to address it than other communities. 

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, American Indian and Alaska Native populations had the second highest overdose rates from all opioids in 2017 among racial/ethnic groups in the U.S

Quinton Thomas, the medical director of the Washoe Tribe’s Healing Center, says that the growing prevalence of opioids within the community can be attributed to centuries of pain, ease of access to opioid treatments and lack of modern infrastructure and trust in the government.

“When you work with Indian health, it actually comes from your heart,” Thomas said. “We are walking miracles, from the experiences of genocide that we’ve gone through. As long as we have a voice, we have to speak up for those that can’t.”

Thomas, who himself is of Navajo descent, says that the isolation of living on reservations and lack of concern from tribal leadership leads to less people speaking out about the issue. Drug abuse and suicide rates amongst Native Americans are higher on reservations as well, particularly among people age 15 to 24. 

“They are living with generational trauma,” therapist Danielle Lukin said. “This pain has been getting passed on genetically for decades. It is important that people know the history of why this has been happening.”

The Healing Center plans to address this issue by hiring staff with incentives to stay on the reservations. Due to high turnover of the clinic and decades of mistrust in outsiders, those on the reservations tend not to trust the medical staff and fail to seek the treatment that they need. 

There have been training sessions on how to use anti-overdose drug naloxone, as well as five new social worker hires and more counseling to address drug and alcohol abuse. Panelists emphasized that being deeply invested in the tribal communities is the best way to gain trust and start fixing the problems.

“Showing up every day and attending their events even when you’re off the clock makes a difference in these communities,” Thomas said. “Just because they have help and resources, doesn’t mean they’ll let you in. You need to build that trust and earn it.”

Used needles as seen inside a sharps container at Trac-B Exchange, a harm reduction center in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Connecting survivors to treatment

When drug users survive an overdose, teams of people are there to help them in the aftermath. Nevada’s resources for supporting them were the theme of a panel discussion about “Integrated Opioid Treatment and Recovery Centers,” an initiative launched when Nevada won a federal grant in 2017 to improve drug treatment.

Hospitals can call in a mobile recovery outreach team, which may include a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and a “peer” —  someone who has successfully completed recovery themselves and is working to support others trying to recover.

The teams first try to assess whether the person has their basic needs met — food, shelter and clothing. The last question they ask is whether the person wants to seek treatment.

Sometimes, knowing the person is not ready to accept treatment, they don’t propose treatment at all and simply ensure the person has a supply of anti-overdose drug naloxone and clean syringes to prevent the spread of HIV, if they’re an intravenous drug user.

Lisa Lee, the program director at Foundation for Recovery in Reno, has experienced heroin addiction herself and was homeless for eight years. She emphasized the importance of helping people make their own decisions as they are struggling with drug abuse.

“That paternalistic model says, ‘Hey, this is the plan for you. This is what you're going to do. And here's how you go about it,’ and how often does that work?” she said. “And then we say, well, it failed. The patient failed treatment. No, the treatment failed that person.”

She advocates for a more “person-centered” approach — offering people a menu of options for taking control of their situation and giving them “access to their own autonomy and self determination.”

“A patient-centered approach is a participatory model. It's this, ‘Hey, what do what you need? What is your plan? What medication choice is best for you?,’” she said. “You are free to make the right decision for your life. And I guarantee you people are more likely to do something that they see is their own goal. They're more likely to follow through.”

Lee underscored the role peers can have in helping someone find hope. She described responding to a call for a patient who had cycled in and out of the hospital through the course of an addiction.

The patient was cursing at the white-coated doctors, nurses and medical students in the room who had closed in. But the patient avoided yelling at her, dressed in street clothes, and she had the chance to talk with that patient about what gives meaning to their life.

At the time, the person said they were hopeless and just wanted to die, and the entire episode was traumatic for her. But a few days later, she learned that person had entered treatment.

“Here's the part that I still cry about— this person said, ‘Now I have hope. Now I know my life has meaning,’” Lee said. “So this person went from hopeless to hope-filled. And that is the value of peers in an emergency.”

Congressional response

Rep. Susie Lee says that lawmakers on Capitol Hill on both sides of the aisle need to come together to address the proliferation of opioids as well as the pharmaceutical industries reach in politics.

“Listen, I don’t need to tell you about the power of Pharma in DC,” Lee said in a speech. “We need elected officials that will stand up to them and addiction. I’m here to be with you every step of the way. The only way to solve this public health crisis is to bring all of our resources together.”

Addressing the opioid crisis was among the first of Lee’s congressional proposals. A member of the Freshmen Working Group on Addiction started by Maryland Rep. David Trone, she co-sponsored with Trone the State Opioid Response Grant Authorization Act to authorize $1 billion in grants to address the opioid crisis.

The bill was introduced in May but so far has not been taken up for further action.

“Opioid abuse doesn’t care if you live in a red state or a blue state or a purple state, and addiction does not care about the D or R or I next to your name in the ballot box,” Lee said. “It’s immune to partisanship, race, socioeconomic status, or ZIP code.”

AG's former employer could earn up to $350 million from opioid lawsuit

Attorney General Aaron Ford’s former law firm could earn up to $350 million through a potentially lucrative contract to represent the state in a massive lawsuit against the nation’s top opioid manufacturers and producers.

Ford’s office released details of the selection process and contract with his former employer, Eglet Prince, on Monday after announcing early in April that the firm had won the contract with the state. Ford, who previously announced that he would recuse himself from selection of an outside law firm, moved in January to obtain permission from state lawmakers for his office to seek outside counsel in the lawsuit, a break from former Attorney General Adam Laxalt who filed suit against Purdue Pharma in 2018.

The contract is based on contingent fees, an arrangement wherein the state will pay nothing up front but will owe a certain percentage of any damages received if the state prevails in the suit. The percentages in the contract are based on the amount of damages recovered and whether they are paid prior to or after discovery in any court proceeding. It sets maximum recoverable amounts by the firm in the following ranges:

  • No more than $240 million if recovered damages are between $1 billion and $1.25 billion
  • No more than $300 million if recovered damages are between $1.25 billion and $1.5 billion
  • No more than $350 million if recovered damages are above $1.5 billion.

Over the past two years, Eglet Prince has entered into contracts with at least nine municipalities in the state to represent them in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, but efforts to represent the state were rebuffed by Laxalt.

The contract also gives the state the ability to terminate the agreement without cause or if the contract potentially jeopardizes federal grant funds. It also contains language regarding record-keeping, ensuring the state is not liable if a settlement is not reached and ensuring Eglet Prince is responsible for attorney’s fees if an adverse judgement is issued against the state.

Documents released by the Attorney General’s office also detail the names of the nine firms that applied for the contract, which include:

  • Campbell & Williams
  • Eglet Prince
  • Labaton Sucharow
  • Ronald Green
  • Miner, Barnhill & Galland P.C.
  • Keller Rohrback LLP
  • Motley Rice LLC
  • KMK Law
  • Wolf, Rifkin, Shaprio, Schulman & Rabkin

The released documents also include the “scores” given to each of the bids submitted by the law firms by the seven-member search committee. Under the bidding process, individual committee members assign scores out of 100 points to each firm based on aspects such as the firm’s legal strategy, professional reputation and ability to front financial resources to fight the litigation. The three top-scoring firms were invited to give a presentation, receiving scores out of 300 possible points from each search committee member.

Eglet Prince scored below (609.5 points) two other law firms in the pre-presentation phase, behind Motley Rice LLC (633.8 points) and Wolf, Rifkin, Shaprio, Schulman & Rabkin (626.3 points). But the firm made up ground in the presentation phase, earning 1,900 points out of 2,100 — in part boosted by a perfect 300 point score given by Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa. Eglet Prince also received a 125.48 point bonus for a “Nevada preference,” which was not granted to the other two firms and was available under a provision in the contract giving a 5 percent preference to businesses based in the state.

The awarding of the contract marks the end of a nearly two-year effort by Eglet Prince to represent the state in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Robert Eglet, head of the firm, met with Laxalt in June 2017 on the issues but was denied by the former attorney general, who declined to move further after determining the state was instead “best positioned” to continue participating in a multistate investigation into potential unlawful practices by opioid manufacturers.

Laxalt’s office also warned municipalities including the city of Reno that entering into a contract with an outside law firm could “unintentionally undermine” the state’s position and ability to receive damages or cash settlements from any future settlement.

For his part, Ford was instrumental in passing a last-minute amendment in the 2017 Legislature that removed a cap on fees awardable to outside law firms that contract with the state. Such contingent fee contracts have been criticized by some legal experts and former attorneys general as allowing states to outsource their litigation power to private firms.

The contract was kick-started through approval by state lawmakers during a meeting of the Interim Finance Committee in January, available through a declaration of findings signed by Ford and Gov. Steve Sisolak on Jan. 23 saying the state required additional legal resources to pursue the litigation.

Nevada’s drug overdose mortality rate was 21.6 per 100,000 residents in 2017, and in 2016 the state’s doctors on average wrote an average of 81 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 residents. The CDC counted 676 drug-overdose deaths in the state in 2017.

RFP 03AG-S553 - Evaluators Score Tally Sheet by Riley Snyder on Scribd

RFP 03AG-S553 - Contingent Fee Contract for Legal Services Re Opioid Investigation and Litigation (1) by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Attorney general’s office to contract with AG’s former employer on opioid litigation

Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office is entering into initial contract negotiations with his former employer, the law firm of Eglet Prince, to represent the state in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and producers.

The announcement Tuesday comes after Ford’s office in January had received approval from state legislators to pursue outside legal help in a lawsuit against the nation’s largest opioid companies and after a declaration signed by Ford and Gov. Steve Sisolak finding the state needed “additional legal resources” for “comprehensive and effective litigation of matters related to the opioid epidemic.” Over the past two years, Eglet Prince has entered into contracts with at least nine municipalities to represent them in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, but efforts to represent the state were rebuffed by previous Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

Ford had previously announced that he would recuse himself from the selection process for an outside firm — though a press release states there is “no present conflict of interest — and that a nine-member evaluation committee including state Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa selected the firm out of nine submitted proposals.”

“The opioid crisis has devastated our communities, and claimed the lives of too many Nevadans,” Figueroa said in a statement. “By contracting with contingent fee counsel to work in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, the State of Nevada will be a formidable force to seek justice for those who have harmed our residents and State.”

Nevada’s drug overdose mortality rate was 21.6 per 100,000 residents in 2017, and in 2016 the state’s doctors on average wrote an average of 81 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 residents. The CDC counted 676 drug-overdose deaths in the state in 2017.

In a press release, the attorney general’s office said that the final contract awarded to Eglet Prince will be posted publicly on the office’s website after it is approved, as well as any and all payments or billing records related to the litigation.

The contract will be on a contingent-fee basis, and under state law caps the amount recoverable by the firm at 25 percent of any and all damages recoverable by a judgement or settlement agreement. It also states that the contracted law firm will pay for “any and all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of any action” on behalf of the state, and that the state will not pay any expenses even if no recovery is obtained.

The request for proposal notes that the office under former Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed a lawsuit on May 15, 2018 against Purdue Pharma, but notes the state “has and is continuing to investigate other opioid manufacturers and distributors.”

“Pursuant to the investigation, it is possible that the Lawsuit may be expanded to include additional defendants and/or claims, as necessary. Nevada and the other litigating states continue to engage in ongoing settlement discussions with the allegedly culpable parties,” the document states.

The change in administration from Laxalt, a Republican, to Ford also marked a change in attitude toward hiring outside counsel for suing opioid companies. Robert Eglet, head of the firm, met with Laxalt in June 2017 to discuss representing the state against opioid manufacturers, but the former attorney general declined to move further after determining the state was instead “best positioned” to continue participating in a multistate investigation into potential unlawful practices by opioid manufacturers.

His office also warned municipalities including the city of Reno that entering into a contract with an outside law firm could “unintentionally undermine” the state’s position and ability to receive damages or cash settlements from any future settlement.

As state Senate majority leader in 2017, Ford was instrumental in passing a last-minute amendment that removed a cap on fees awardable to outside law firms that contract with the state. Such contingent fee contracts have been criticized by some legal experts and former attorneys general as allowing states to outsource their litigation power to private firms.

Ford was employed as a partner at Eglet Prince between 2015 and 2018; the firm has contracted with at least nine municipalities in the state, including the city of Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City and Clark County, as part of a wide-ranging lawsuit seeking damages from prominent opioid manufacturers including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Allergan.