Las Vegas-based PlayStudios deal with Murren-led company follows slot machine industry growth pattern

Arriving late to the party oftentimes has benefits.

Just ask Jim Murren.

PlayStudios CEO Andrew Pascal was well into the process last fall of taking the Las Vegas-based social gaming provider public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). PlayStudios’ financial advisors, J.P. Morgan and LionTree Advisors, had identified several candidates. SPACs, which are also known as blank-check companies, are publicly traded shell vehicles used to take another company public.

Murren, the former CEO of MGM Resorts International, considered PlayStudios a potential candidate for Acies Acquisition Corp., a SPAC he created with two former Morgan Stanley executives.

Social gaming is one of three gaming industry niche sectors, along with live entertainment and online gaming/sports betting, where he believes there is exceptional growth potential.

“We got ourselves inserted into a very competitive process,” Murren said. “[Social gaming] is so much larger than the casino gaming market. It’s a global market with far less friction in terms of the ability to acquire customers.”

Murren and his team may have landed late, but his personal and professional relationship with Pascal and his first-hand knowledge of PlayStudios changed the course. The company has long held the exclusive social gaming and mobile platform rights to casino properties operated by MGM Resorts.

“We had a great collection of interested parties and we were very far down in the process when Jim expressed interest, “Pascal said. “They had a lot of work to do to catch up and be considered. But we felt they were the right partner and the best outcome.”

Murren, 59, and Pascal, 54, share a similar vision: growing PlayStudios into a larger presence in the social gaming sector. By becoming a public company, PlayStudios will have the funds to acquire other game developers or license new products that would be added to the company’s expanding game library.

Screen shot of myVegas Strip home page for customers of MGM Grand Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy PlayStudios)

It’s a similar approach followed by Nevada’s slot machine industry, which Pascal noted was a “fair observation.”

He founded Silicon Games in the late 1990s and developed slot machines that made their way onto casino floors in Nevada and other states. He sold the company to IGT in 2001.

“We see a lot of opportunities to partner up with really great game makers that have great products that might be under-resourced,” Pascal said of potential mergers and acquisitions activity. “Even existing companies that are chasing scale and are looking to really invigorate their products, we are looking to bring our whole model there and partner up with them.”

Prior to creating PlayStudios in 2011, Pascal served as president of Wynn Resorts’ two Las Vegas properties, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. His aunt is Elaine Wynn, the largest stockholder in Wynn Resorts. 

The company has moved to the social gaming forefront, offering the platform’s more than 4.2 million users “real world rewards” that are earned for points and game play.

“We have a proven model, platform and tool and now we’re ready to scale it,” Pascal said.

According to PlayStudios’ investor presentation, customers spend an average of 56 minutes a day playing games on the platform, often paying nominal fees for virtual tokens or other game enhancements. In addition to casino games through the myVegas platform, PlayStudios offers a large library of casual video games in the brain and puzzle, adventure, arcade, simulator and role-playing categories.

The rewards are provided by more than 80 partners and 275 entertainment, retail, travel, leisure and gaming brands. To date, PlayStudios users have collected in-app loyalty points to purchase more than 10 million rewards with a retail value of nearly $500 million.

In addition to its Las Vegas headquarters in Summerlin, PlayStudios has offices and design studios in Burlingame, California; Austin, Texas; Hong Kong; and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Gaming analyst Adam Krejcik, a partner in the advisory firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, said PlayStudios has some “unique and differentiating attributes,” but cautions that social gaming is an extremely competitive business.

“Everyone seems to have the same playbook strategy; raise money to pursue strategic (mergers and acquisitions), and do so even after going public,” Krejcik said. “I think executing on (mergers and acquisitions) is going to be very difficult, not just for PlayStudios, but everyone in the industry.”

The deal

Growing and expanding PlayStudios was at the center of the Feb. 1 announcement that several institutional investors – including MGM Resorts – are providing private investment of $250 million. Acies is contributing 89.1 million shares of the SPAC’s stock and up to $150 million in cash.

PlayStudios will emerge as a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq by the end of the second quarter.

The transaction valued PlayStudios at $1.1 billion based on two-and-a-half-times the company’s projected 2022 revenue of $435 million. The company said its expected revenues in 2020 will exceed $270 million.

PlayStudios shareholders will own 64 percent of the company and the institutional investors will own a combined 18 percent. Murren and the Acies sponsors will own 3 percent, and 15 percent of the company will be available on the open market.

Murren said he will become an “active shareholder” in PlayStudios, providing Pascal and his team “everything I can to ensure success.”

Murren, who led MGM Resorts casino expansion on the Strip and throughout the U.S. during his tenure as CEO that began in 2008, credited company founder Kirk Kerkorian with one of the reasons he was drawn to PlayStudios and Pascal.

“Mr. Kerkorian taught me to bet on people and I made a big bet on Andrew and his management team,” Murren said. “I love the space and it was exciting that Andrew was willing to engage and put us in the mix.”

He and Pascal have been acquainted personally and professionally for more than two decades. Both men are involved in helping Nevada deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Murren heads the state’s COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force that secured personal protective equipment, medical supplies and testing kits for the state. 

Pascal and members of his PlayStudios team collaborated in the development of COVID Trace, a digital contact tracing app designed to slow the spread of coronavirus. COVID Trace is positioned to become the most effective exposure notification solution in the U.S. and a model for other states working to control the spread of the virus.

SPACs and the gaming industry

Sports betting operator DraftKings went public in April through a merger with Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp. in one of the gaming industry’s more high-profile SPAC deals. The company’s stock price soared 10 percent above the initial projections in its first day of trading.

Since then, Golden Nugget online gaming, Rush Street Interactive and Genius Sports signed on to SPAC deals. Previously, slot machine developer Inspired Gaming and Illinois video gaming terminal provider Acel Entertainment went public through SPACs.

“I'd expect an increasing number of companies, including those with exposure to the U.S. online gambling opportunity, to seriously examine taking the SPAC route to public markets,” said Chris Grove, an analyst for Eilers and Krejcik Gaming.

The same day the PlayStudios deal was announced, Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta announced a $6.6 billion SPAC transaction with Fast Acquisition Corp., to put his Landry’s restaurant chain and five Golden Nugget casinos – including the Golden Nuggets in downtown and Laughlin – into the public market.

Competition in the social gaming space

The worldwide social gaming space is crowded with traditional gambling companies and non-casino providers such as Zynga. DoubleU Games, which was sold by IGT, offers free non-monetary versions of real money gambling through DoubleDown Casino.

Australia-based Aristocrat and its Las Vegas-based subsidiary Aristocrat Technologies operate a social games division through the wholly owned Big Fish Games.

In 2019, slot machine developer Scientific Games spun off its social games division into SciPlay, a separate public company traded on the Nasdaq. The Las Vegas-based gaming equipment provider maintained a 17 percent ownership stake in the new company.

Israel-based Playtika, a developer of mobile games including social casino titles such as Slotomania and WSOP, was acquired by Caesars Entertainment in 2011. It operated as an independent division under Caesars Interactive until it was sold for $4.4 billion in 2016 to a group of Chinese investors, that included a private equity firm founded by Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma.

In January, the owners took Playtika public on the Nasdaq in an $11 billion deal.

Upping its presence

During the COVID-19 pandemic when stay at home orders were issued, PlayStudios launched an advertising campaign in Las Vegas and Denver dubbed In Is The New Out, which followed a young couple practicing social distancing at home and includes them playing the myVegas slot games for entertainment.

Pascal said at the time the MGM partnership allowed the company’s customers to play slot and table games in a virtual Las Vegas setting. With casinos closed, the games on myVegas, including myVegas Blackjack, offered MGM Resorts a way to maintain its presence with customers.

PlayStudios struck a partnership with Konami Gaming for KonamiSlots. In 2016, PlayStudios acquired Tel Aviv-based game studio Scene53 and launched its Pop! Slots mobile app.

Howard Stutz is a freelance gaming reporter for The Nevada Independent and the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He has been a Nevada journalist for 30 years. He can be reached at howardmstutz@gmail.com. On Twitter: @howardstutz

Gov. Steve Sisolak reports more than $2.4 million in 2020 fundraising ahead of looming re-election bid

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has reported raising upwards of $2.4 million for his re-election bid next year, an amount that roughly doubled the size of his campaign war chest to more than $4.53 million.

Sisolak’s 2020 haul, reported to the secretary of state Wednesday, is roughly 50 percent more than the $1.6 million he raised through 2019, though it remains a far cry from the more-than $11.3 million he raised during his contentious bid to win the seat in 2018. 

Sisolak’s fundraising report comes amid national unrest related to the 2020 election and follows several failed recall efforts attempting to oust the governor that came after a number of restrictions were put in place in the earliest days of the pandemic. The report also arrives as the 2021 legislative session approaches and with it, a budget crisis stemming from economic damage caused by coronavirus shutdowns

Though many of the individual contributions made to the governor’s campaign came in small dollar amounts, the vast majority of Sisolak’s 2020 fundraising — $2,356,277 — came in the form of contributions greater than $100, with 124 contributors giving the governor the $10,000 maximum donation. Taken together, those largest contributions total more than half of all the money Sisolak raised last year at more than $1.2 million. 

When accounting for other donations, including those totaling $5,000 (143 total), and $2,500 (52 total), the amount raised through top-dollar contributions alone increases to roughly $2.05 million. 

Of the largest contributions of $10,000, nearly a quarter-million came solely from gaming companies, manufacturers or trade groups, including: 

  • $70,000 from companies or properties owned or operated by Station Casinos
  • $50,000 from MGM Resorts International properties
  • $50,000 from Marnell Gaming companies, properties or individuals (owner of the Nugget in Sparks)
  • $30,000 from Las Vegas Sands properties or companies 
  • $20,000 from Meruelo Group companies or properties (owner of the Sahara in Las Vegas and Grand Sierra Resort in Reno)
  • $20,000 from companies linked to sportsbook William Hill
  • $10,000 from Golden Entertainment (owner of the Strat in Las Vegas)
  • $10,000 from the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers

Together, the gaming industry formed the single largest industry bloc of the governor’s donors. However, these totals likely only represent part of the overall contributions made by gaming companies or individuals related to the industry, as it does not include contributions made by industry executives or related LLCs. That includes a number of esoterically named holding companies or development companies, which often contribute in smaller amounts.  

Business-related donors otherwise formed the second largest share of Sisolak’s biggest contributors, contributing at least 26 maximum donations for a total of $260,000, while real estate and development related donors formed the third-largest bloc with 18 contributions totaling $180,000. 

Notably absent from Sisolak’s 2020 filing are the state’s largest mining companies, which will likely find themselves at the center of a legislative fight to raise the state’s tax revenue in 2021 — a fight that comes after mining taxes first came back to the fore during a special legislative session last summer. 

Their absence, however, is likely little more than a coincidence of campaign contribution timing. State law limits maximum contributions by campaign cycle, not by year, and several major mining companies — including Newmont and Barrick Gold — maxed out their contributions to Sisolak in 2019

Other notable names for those who contributed the maximum of $10,000 include Marc Badain, chairman of the Raiders; Key and Rory Reid, sons of former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid; Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, whom Sisolak appointed; and an LLC tied to Elaine Wynn, a businesswoman and philanthropist.

Sisolak also saw major contributions from seven companies linked to Las Vegas Golden Knights owner and Fidelity chairman Bill Foley, as well as a maximum contribution from Foley himself, for a total of $80,000. 

With no campaign to mount through the 2020 cycle, Sisolak reported comparatively little in campaign spending, about $229,900.  

Nevada Independent intern Sean Golonka contributed to this report.

Update, 1/13/21 at 5:35 p.m. - This story was updated to include more details about contributions made to Gov. Sisolak in his 2020 annual filing.

Coalition: All of Nevada’s K-12 online students are connected following months of state and county efforts

Five months after it launched, a public-private partnership focused on filling technology gaps confirmed that every K-12 public school student in Nevada who is participating in digital learning has a computer and internet connection. 

Connecting Kids announced Tuesday that it has verified that the nearly half a million students in the state’s 17 counties, whether they are engaged in full- or part-time online learning, have the resources they need. 

The group used surveys, phone calls to families by school administrators and staff and community outreach efforts to make the determination, Nevada Department of Education Chief Strategy Officer Jessica Todtman said in a statement. Educators also monitored student participation to identify whose attendance might indicate obstacles to connecting to school and conducted outreach accordingly. 

Earlier in the school year, a few thousand students did not have internet connection or devices, such as a laptop or Chromebook. Some would sit outside of restaurants, libraries or Wi-Fi-equipped school buses to participate in online school, the group said. Many also had been sharing family-owned devices or relying on cellular data plans. 

The coalition was formed under the governor’s COVID-19 Task Force in early August when schools were unable to confirm connectivity for more than 120,000 students, the release said. The group was led by Elaine Wynn, former president of the Nevada State Board of Education, and Jim Murren, chairman of the COVID-19 Task Force.

The milestone was also a result of state and county efforts including the creation of a virtual Family Support Center, where call agents connected families to Cox Communication’s Connect2Compete program, at no cost to the family through June 30, 2021, and with the help of dozens of community groups, unions and faith-based organizations that spread the word. 

In addition, Clark County staff members knocked on doors to track down hard-to-reach students and Attorney General Aaron Ford negotiated with T-Mobile to secure approximately 18,000 portable Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the state through its national “Project 10Million” program.   

Families with multiple students participating in online learning and that were struggling with sufficient bandwidth were issued additional hotspots, and new devices were ordered by schools and districts to meet needs and replace those that were past their useful life, Todtman said.

But Nevada Board of Education member Felicia Ortiz says she still receives calls from constituents who do not have internet access. 

“We have to remember that every day there are families in our community that are falling deeper into financial despair. If the family took this survey 3 months ago they may be in a totally different position today and not be able to afford internet,” she tweeted Tuesday after the announcement.  

The Connecting Kids initiative has wrapped up after meeting its connectivity goal, but Clark County School District will continue to operate the Family Support Center for students whose circumstances have changed and may need an internet connection.

This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2021, to include comment from Felicia Ortiz and methods used to determine connectivity.

Elaine Wynn departing from State Board of Education at year's end

The back end of a Clark County School bus

Elaine Wynn, a longtime force in Nevada’s K-12 education world, is leaving the State Board of Education at the end of this year.

Wynn, the board’s current president, was appointed to the governing body in 2012 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval. Her appointment coincided with a major composition shift to the State Board of Education, which now includes both appointed and elected members.

Gov. Steve Sisolak also announced Friday that he has appointed former state board member Mark Newburn, who this year lost a re-election bid to Rene Cantu, to succeed Wynn. Newburn previously represented District 4 as an elected member.

“President Wynn’s legacy of service to the children of our great State is indelible,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Generations of children will be the beneficiaries of her life-long passion to improve education and support healthy communities throughout Nevada. I cannot thank President Wynn enough for her dedication to the Board and I know she will continue to contribute to the betterment of the Silver State.”

During her eight-year tenure on the board, Wynn — a businesswoman and philanthropist — emphasized better serving students of color as well as students living in poverty. That passion can be traced to her efforts since the pandemic disrupted learning in the spring. Wynn played a key role in establishing a public-private partnership known as Connecting Kids that has drastically reduced the number of children statewide without access to a device or internet for distance learning.

Three state superintendents — Jhone Ebert, Steve Canavero and Dale Erquiaga — were hired during her tenure. She also has a namesake building, the Elaine Wynn Elementary School, in Las Vegas.

Per Nevada law, appointed voting members of the State Board of Education serve two-year terms, with the caveat that they will continue serving until a successor has been appointed. When Newburn's term as an elected member expires in January, he will begin his appointed term.

For families with multiple children, sluggish internet amplifies remote learning frustrations

If there is one thing Kennet Guerra has learned this year, it’s patience.

The tenth-grader who attends Valley High School has been battling chronic internet problems amid remote learning. Freezing screens. Long upload times. Sudden program shutdowns.

“Sometimes I get in late,” he said, referring to virtual class sessions held on Google Meet. “Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it lags in the middle of class.”

The problems were especially acute just a few weeks ago when his family relied solely on the low-cost home internet provided by Cox Communications through its Connect2Compete program. Guerra’s family has purchased internet through that program, which costs $9.95 per month, for two years and, up until the coronavirus plunged schools into distance-education mode, it worked fine. But Guerra and his four brothers — who are in pre-kindergarten, second, fifth and sixth grade — suddenly needed the internet at the same time and not just for simple web surfing.

Remote learning requires participation in classes conducted over video-conferencing platforms, frequent use of an online learning management system and a smorgasbord of other online educational tools that teachers are using in a bid to make virtual education more effective and fun. But all those web-based activities have put a crunch on the internet highway.

The result was a daily headache for the entire family. His mother, Angeles Guerra, said her children’s schools were marking them absent because of the connectivity problems.

“It’s been very difficult for me,” she said while speaking Spanish. “First of all, I don’t speak English. Second, I struggle to understand how to use the computer. I try to find help from other places, but it has been difficult.”

The family’s journey highlights another wrinkle in the digital divide amplified by the ongoing pandemic. While school districts raced to outfit every student with internet and a Chromebook, laptop or other device, a new challenge emerged — internet connections that cannot support online learning.

Adrian Guerra, a pre-kindergarten student at Will Beckley Elementary School, attends school remotely from his family's Las Vegas home on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Photo courtesy the Guerra family)

The Parent Leadership Team — which focuses on issues affecting Hispanic families and is powered by Opportunity 180, a nonprofit education organization — surveyed more than 100 families in September and October and found that inadequate internet was a chief concern among many, particularly those with multiple school-age children. 

Likewise, a recent report from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization, echoed the internet challenge. Principals from high-poverty schools across the nation — who were surveyed in early October — reported that, on average, only 80 percent of their students had adequate internet at home.

The report went on to suggest that the government, both at the state and federal level, should be augmenting funding and resources, particularly to schools serving larger shares of low-income and minority students, during remote learning.

“All of these issues are interconnected,” said Laura Stelitano, an associate policy researcher at RAND. “Simply getting internet access is only one part of the solution.”

Southern Nevada families told the Parent Leadership Team that they had even received truancy notices from their children’s schools because of spotty attendance in virtual classes, said Selene Lozada, an Opportunity 180 coordinator. Household finances compound the problem because for many families, she said, it’s not as simple as upgrading their internet plan.

“This is really a big issue because they are not able to pay more,” she said. “Some of them (don’t) have a job.”

Nevada has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation, with 12.6 percent of its workforce out of a job. And a disproportionate share of the economic burden is falling on communities of color, according to a Guinn Center report released earlier this year, which shows the state’s African American, Latino, Asian and American Indian populations will have a more difficult time recovering and rebuilding from the pandemic-triggered crisis.

Officials from Connecting Kids, the public-private partnership that launched to shore up technology gaps, said they’re aware of the problem. Cox’s Connect2Compete program — which the Clark County School District subsidizes with CARES Act funding for eligible low-income families — provides internet with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second.

“It’s not a skimpy product,” said Punam Mathur, executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation, which has been heavily involved in the Connecting Kids coalition.

A spokesperson for Cox Communications said in an email that its Connect2Compete program “does support multiple children in a household,” although the company has been advising families to follow tips such as not activating their video cameras.

“Sometimes bandwidth issues are not related to Cox service but other devices at home,” the company said in a statement. “For example, other people at home while the kids are learning should not connect their mobile phones or other devices to the Wi-Fi.”

Even so, Connecting Kids has been offering additional Wi-Fi hotspots to families with more than three school-age children if they’re experiencing sluggish internet that is affecting remote learning, said Mathur, who encouraged those in need to call the Family Support Center.

“Every day we encounter families who don’t think to call to express it as a frustration,” she said. “They just sort of absorb the frustration.”

But the internet help comes with a caveat: Families receiving subsidized internet should refrain from doing their own remote work using the same Wi-Fi signal during their children’s school hours.

“We just need to make sure the kids’ educational access goes first and then the other household needs goes second,” she said.

The Guerra family, which couldn’t afford upgrading to a pricier plan, received a hotspot several weeks ago to boost the household’s internet capacity. Angeles Guerra called the hotspot a “big, big, big help,” noting that since its arrival, her children have only experienced one instance of being disconnected from their virtual classes.

Lozada, the Opportunity 180 coordinator, said it’s imperative more families receive similar help because the technology gap is only exacerbating academic achievement gaps in the long run. And with no end to remote learning in sight, the need for a quality internet connection isn’t going away. The Clark County School District has committed to distance learning through the end of the first semester and even if it resumes in-person learning sometime in January, it will be through a hybrid model, meaning students would attend school in person two days a week and work remotely the other three days.

The gravity of the situation isn’t lost on educators either. Dillon Booker, an English resource teacher at Cheyenne High School, has been religiously uploading class notes, PowerPoint presentations and other materials to the Canvas learning system because he knows students are combating internet glitches and missing chunks of virtual classes.

Navigating technology hiccups, he said, has become par for the course during distance education. He generally believes students when they blame an absence or tardiness on an internet struggle.

“They may be sitting in class and sometimes their computer will freeze up and they will drop out of class as a result of the bandwidth being so bad,” he said. “Obviously, this is a distraction to learning.”

For Kennet Guerra, dealing with internet slowdowns became second nature earlier this year. The family’s new hotspot, however, has reduced those wait times and distractions.

But the technological assist hasn’t convinced his mother that schools should remain operating virtually for the foreseeable future. She sees a double standard in the community’s response to COVID-19.

“I don’t go out much, but I see people at the parks and at the stores,” she said. “And we’re worried about the schools, but we don’t worry about being out in public.”

Since mid-March, her family’s home has been the school — with or without reliable internet.

As remote learning continues, so do efforts to find inactive students and bridge the digital divide

When Yunuen Rojas and Jake Lewis pulled up to the one-story home in the shadows of Interstate 15, they encountered a chain-link fence blocking the driveway.

It was another barrier on their quest to make contact with Clark County School District students who have been missing in action. These are children or teens whose families never filled out a technology survey over the summer and who haven’t been consistently logging into virtual classes, if at all. Another unknown: whether the students even have a Chromebook or internet.

As field agents with Connecting Kids, a public-private partnership born out of the pandemic, it’s Rojas and Lewis’ job to find out. Standing outside the house, Lewis dialed a parent phone number on record for this student’s parents.

“Still no answer,” he said.

The pair stuffed an informational paper and postcard into the fence. Then they consulted their spreadsheet full of addresses before moving on to the next stop.

The door-knocking represents the final stage of the coalition’s mission. In early August, when Connecting Kids hastily formed, the school district didn’t know the technology needs of 107,332 students, which is slightly more than a third of its population. Those students’ families had not returned a survey assessing computer and internet needs. With remote learning set to kick off just two weeks later, the six-figure number raised more than a few eyebrows.

Punam Mathur, executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation — which has been heavily involved in the partnership — put it more bluntly, calling it a “monster problem.”

More than two months into the school year, the digital divide has been greatly reduced and so has the number of students who are essentially inactive in distance education. But the problem hasn’t been completely eradicated. 

As of Friday morning, 309 Clark County students remained on the Connecting Kids roll call, which means they haven’t checked in three or more times during a school week and they have been unreachable by phone. The coalition also estimates 3,781 students need internet connectivity and 1,823 need a device, such as a laptop or Chromebook.

And that’s only the first half of the battle. The second is student engagement once they have connectivity and a device. 

Jake Lewis leaves informational brochures at a student's home in North Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. He was working under the umbrella of Connecting Kids, a public-private partnership, that's trying to overcome the digital divide and ensure students are attending school remotely. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

***

Whether in school board meetings, legislative hearings or business luncheons, there’s a common refrain uttered: Community partnerships are the key to improving the beleaguered Las Vegas-area school district. And while examples exist here or there, the Connecting Kids coalition arguably represents the largest endeavor to date. 

“Honestly, I’ve never seen a partnership like this,” said Tami Hance-Lehr, chief executive officer of Communities In Schools, before rattling off the names of other organizations involved. Among them: The Public Education Foundation, Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force, Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation, The Harbor, the cities of North Las Vegas and Las Vegas and the Clark County School District.

Jim Murren, who chairs the COVID-19 Task Force, and Elaine Wynn, who also serves as president of the Nevada State Board of Education, announced the statewide coalition in mid-August after a warp-speed creation period. While the coalition’s mission extended across Nevada, the bulk of the work existed in Clark County.

“When the task force engaged, they operate with a very different set of operating practices, right?” Mathur said. “They are lightning fast. They are agile. They are not about ‘no.’ They're only about ‘How do we get to yes?’ And so that changed a lot.”

The coalition quickly stood up a virtual Family Support Center — run by Communities In Schools — that served as a third-party entity capable of signing up eligible families for subsidized internet through Cox Communications. As of Friday, the Family Support Center had processed 37,324 calls, connected 19,327 Clark County students with internet and referred 6,592 students for a device.

The coalition ran into some obstacles along the way, such as discovering a small mobile home park in North Las Vegas that was a complete connectivity desert, Mathur said. In the end, the coalition found a way for a local company to provide internet to that area through its microwave technology.

Local municipalities, buoyed by lessons learned in the spring, jumped on board as well. North Las Vegas, for instance, used $30,000 worth of CARES Act funding to hire contract workers — like Rojas and Lewis — who would help find children essentially missing in action. While North Las Vegas only accounts for roughly 10 percent of the county’s population, more than a third of students (36 percent) who didn’t participate during distance education in the spring lived there, city officials said.

“This is not acceptable to us, and I’m always the type of person who needs to know the why,” North Las Vegas Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown said. “I think this is an awesome way to reach our residents and find out, you know, what their need is. Is it internet? Is it a device? Do they not have access to technology, period?”

Making contact with the remaining students on the roll call list was not an easy proposition, though. Rojas and Lewis knocked on many doors with no answers. One father, however, came into his driveway and said his children had been feeling ill the past week. 

Rojas and Lewis confirmed the children had devices and internet and then gently reminded the father that his children should resume school as soon as they’re feeling better. If not, they’ll remain on the roll call list.

Then the two checked a spreadsheet to find their next destination. 

Hance-Lehr said the coalition’s multi-faceted approach has been the key to whittling the roll call list and, ultimately, ensuring more kids are learning remotely. The coalition plans to wind down some operations as early as this coming Friday.

“It’s like a freeway,” she said. “We’re all in the same lane together trying to find these kids.”

***

Once students log on their computers, though, the trick is keeping them engaged. As weeks of distance learning have turned into months, some Clark County educators said that has become increasingly difficult.

Silvina Jover, a bilingual social studies teacher at Desert Pines High School, described student engagement as “definitely low” in recent weeks, but she attributes the dip to multiple factors. For starters, students may be logging in but not actually participating on the other side of the screen, Jover said. She knows some students are juggling jobs or the responsibility of watching younger siblings during school hours.

Plus, even if students have the internet, their connections aren’t always fast or strong enough to support various online learning tools that teachers have been using in a bid to make remote learning more fun and effective. 

Given all the variables for why a student may or may not be participating, it has left Jover questioning her craft during pandemic-era teaching.

“From an educator’s perspective, it’s a little bit demoralizing,” she said. “It’s like, am I being an effective teacher?”

Monica Lang, principal of West Preparatory Academy, said the activation of breakout rooms in Google Meet sessions has helped boost participation. In breakout rooms, small groups of students can have two-way discussions about learning material or simply spend a few minutes catching up — which is a boon for their mental health.

Still, Lang acknowledged it can be an uphill battle each day, especially with stressful home situations amid high unemployment numbers.

“Students can choose at any time to close that laptop and walk away and have it on their phone and just leave it open,” she said. “They’re not necessarily there.”

The Clark County School Board of Trustees on Thursday will discuss and possibly vote on a transitional plan to some form of in-person instruction, although the details or timeline for doing so have not been revealed. At the same time, Nevada is experiencing — along with the rest of the nation — a surge in coronavirus cases.

The many uncertainties, combined with distance education fatigue and pandemic anxiety, make it that much more important for educators to prioritize building relationships with students, said Darlin Delgado, principal of Rancho High School.

“The most important thing I can say is ensure that everyone is safe and healthy,” she said. “At the end of the day, the kids are not going to remember every single assignment or standard that you taught, but they’re going to remember the support you gave them, how empathetic you were and how you treat them.”

Election results: Primary narrows pool of candidates seeking a hand in the future of Nevada schools

The June 9 primary thinned the field of candidates for a range of posts overseeing education in Nevada, clearing some challengers for incumbents but also dimming the hopes of some former elected officials hoping to make political comebacks.

Below are highlights of races for urban school boards, the Board of Regents overseeing higher education and the state school board. Check back for updates as additional results come in.

Regent race shows frontrunners pulling ahead, competitive races for second slot for general

regents meeting
Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents quarterly meeting at UNLV on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Clear frontrunners have emerged in each of the three primaries for a seat on the Board of Regents, but it's a tight race to fill the second spot on the ballot in November, according to preliminary results released Wednesday. 

The top two candidates from each district will head to the general election, but the complete ballot won't be settled until official results are finalized June 19. That’s when all ballots from delayed in-person voting in Clark County and mailed-in ballots are counted. 

Of the five candidates for District 10 in Northern Nevada, it appears Kevin Melcher will be facing off against either Joseph Arrascada or Vince Lombardi in the general election. 

A former regent for District 8 from 2010 to 2016, Melcher has 28.7 percent of the vote. 

"I'm very pleased obviously to be where I'm at in the primary election, and I look forward to moving on in the general," Melcher said Wednesday. "I have four good opponents to run against, and they all ran a good campaign, and I'm happy to be where I'm at."

He said he will keep his campaign focused on his leadership experience and follow the same grassroots campaign strategy he used for the primary.

Arrascada, who has been outspoken about wheelchair accessibility in Mackay stadium at UNR, and Lombardi, a faculty member at the UNR medical school, are neck and neck for second place with 21.9 percent of the vote and 20.6 percent respectively.

Andrew Diss, an executive at Grand Sierra Resort who had endorsements from the Culinary Union and the Nevada State Education Association and led the money race, has 17.2 percent of the vote. John McKendricks, the executive director of the Reno campus of a private Christian school, has 11.7 percent.

District 5 in Southern Nevada originally included incumbent Sam Lieberman, who was running for his second term, but his death in early April leaves the seat between Patrick Boylan, a former member on the Nevada State Board of Education, Kevin Child, a former Clark County School District trustee, and Nick "Doc" Spirtos, the medical director at Women’s Cancer Center in Las Vegas. Spirtos ran against Lieberman in 2014.

Boylan leads with 37.6 percent of the vote as of Friday, but Spirtos, who has 33 percent, and Child, who has 29.3 percent, are close behind. 

The candidates have done limited campaigning prior to the primary. None reported any fundraising or spending in the first quarter. Only Child reported having any available cash, ending the period with $1,046 in cash on hand. 

In Southern Nevada’s District 3, Byron Brooks, a veteran and managing partner at Brooks Brothers Bail Bonds, is leading with 31.8 percent of the vote. He is followed by Swadeep Nigam with 23.6 percent, Lachelle Fisher with 23.3 percent and Stephen Silberkraus with 21.3 percent.

Both Brooks and Silberkraus lost their most recent races for the Legislature in 2018. Nigam has also lost races for two different Assembly Districts in 2012 and 2016. 

This is Fisher's first race. She has been running her campaign primarily on her Facebook page and doesn't have a campaign website.

Only Silberkraus, a Republican former assemblyman who represented District 29 from 2014 to 2016, did any campaign fundraising in the first quarter. He raised over $4,500 and spent almost double that on advertising and office and volunteer expenses.  

Silberkraus has endorsements from the Clark County Education Association and the Clark County Black Caucus. Nigam, the former commissioner of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, has the support of the Culinary Union and NSEA.

With the third candidate withdrawn in District 2, Bret Whipple and Lois Tarkanian will go straight to the general election. 

Whipple held the seat in the mid-2000s and at one point chaired the board but lost his re-election bid in 2008 to a political novice after doing little campaigning and expecting to win

Tarkanian, the widow of celebrated UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and mother of frequent GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian, termed out last year as the Ward 1 representative on the Las Vegas City Council. 

Only Tarkanian reported any fundraising in the first quarter. 

— Savanna Strott

Two candidates are on track to skip the general election in the nonpartisan State Board of Education race, while two districts remain too close to call

Students use Chromebooks during a tour of Roger D. Gehring Academy of Science and Technology in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada State Board of Education races appear to be all but settled for unopposed candidate Katie Coombs in District 2 and incumbent Felicia Ortiz in District 3. But in Districts 1 and 4, the contests are still too close to call.

The state board, chaired by Elaine Wynn, works in tandem with the Nevada Department of Education to implement administrative regulations, determine course standards, and set graduation requirements.

There are four elected seats on the board, and all four are up for election this year. As they are non-partisan positions, the two highest performing candidates in the primary will go on to face off in the general election in November.

In District 1, which includes portions of the Las Vegas Valley, five candidates competed for those two spots.

Candidates Tim Hughes and Angelo Casino are currently in the lead after initial results have been released. Hughes, the vice president of TNTP, a teacher training program, has 37.8 percent of the vote while Casino sits at 23.8 percent.

Hughes felt good about his standing after Wednesday morning’s results were released.

“I’m feeling, obviously, optimistic. I know there’s still many more of those to be counted as they trickle in from sort of the postmark date,” he said. “I spent a lot of time engaging with families and community members and educators, you know, who are all very concerned about making sure we have a high quality of education, and that’s really been my top priority in this campaign, so it really will continue to be the focus in the general election.”

Candidates Michael Robison and Aaron Mason sit at 15.1 and 14.2 percent of the vote, respectively. The final candidate, Steve Esh, has 9.2 percent.

In Northern Nevada’s Katie Coombs has effectively won the District 2 seat. Coombs was the only candidate on the ballot and has been endorsed by the Culinary Union as well as the Nevada State Education Association.

In District 3 in Southern Nevada, incumbent Felicia Ortiz took on two competitors and has a strong lead.

Ortiz received 63 percent of the vote, with James-Newman coming in second at 24.3 percent. 

Ortiz said she was up late on Tuesday waiting for results and woke up several times in the night to check as well. In an interview on Wednesday morning, she said she was feeling very good about where she stood.

“I’m super excited with the results. I was praying for getting over that 50 percent because we have so much work to do that I just want to be able to focus on the work and not have to think about the election,” Ortiz said. “That’s awesome. I hope that sticks.”

If Ortiz can stay above 51 percent, she will automatically win the seat and won’t need to compete in November’s general election.

“I’m going to focus on helping some of the other education candidates to win and keep their seats,” she said. “It’s going to be a really, really hard year. It’s already been a hard year.”

Central Nevada and northern Clark County’s District 4 also saw an incumbent defending his seat. Board Vice President Mark Newburn’s self-funded campaign has put him in what appears to be a close race with challenger Rene Cantu, the executive director of Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (JAG Nevada).

Newburn has 35.6 percent of the vote after election night while Cantu took a narrow lead Tuesday at 35.8 percent. Elementary school teacher and instructor at the College of Southern Nevada Vincent Richardson trails behind in the District 4 race with 28.6 percent of the vote.

— Kristyn Leonard

Frontrunners emerge in Washoe County School Board race, including first openly LGBT member  

Huffaker Elementary School in Reno as seen on Friday, March 6, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

A few sleepy candidates who waited long hours for election results on Tuesday night celebrated the long-awaited news of their leads on Wednesday morning. 

Kurt Thigpen is the presumptive winner for the seat on the board for District D with 52.5 percent of the vote and Diane Nicolet is advancing with a significant lead in the race for the At-Large District G, with 43.5 percent of the vote. District A incumbent Scott Kelley also leads the race for his re-election with 33.5 percent of the vote, followed by Jeff Church at 23.3 percent and Lisa Genasci at 21.9 percent. 

“I’m really surprised,” Thigpen said in a phone call with The Nevada Independent Wednesday morning. “I’m very grateful for all the support and all the volunteers that we’ve had that helped us reach people, especially during the pandemic. So I’m feeling really good.” 

Although Thigpen has over 50 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan race, marking him the outright seat-holder, he said he won’t declare victory until all the votes are in by June 19, making time for mail-in ballots to arrive at the voter registrar’s office. 

With Thigpen’s presumptive win comes a notable achievement and milestone for the school board — the first LGBTQ board member. 

“It gives me great pride,” he said. “I think having a school board that is very diverse in perspective and life experiences and ideas is going to be crucial. I hope to be a voice, certainly for all students, but to speak to the experiences of LGBT students ... and create a more inclusive school district.” 

Nicolet is also processing the news of her lead in the race for the at-large District G seat that spans the western region of the county. 

“I’m thrilled and I’m honored and a little scared,” she said in a phone call with The Nevada Independent Wednesday morning. 

This is Nicolet’s second time running for a seat on the board after losing in 2012 in the race for District E. However, she was appointed to the board for a few months in 2016. 

Kelley feels confident in his first place spot and looks forward to knowing who his opponent will be for the general election in November. 

“I’m feeling good,” Kelley wrote in a text message to The Nevada Independent. “I know there are still many ballots to be counted but I’m confident my lead will hold and perhaps even improve.” 

Meanwhile, Church is in the lead to become Kelley’s opponent.

Church said he felt “good and bad” knowing he could become the second name on the ballot for the seat. 

“I really, really would support anybody except the incumbent… I would much rather go up against the 19-year-old kid,” he said, referring to candidate Jack Heinemann, who garnered 11.4 percent of the vote.

Church cited Kelly’s support for previous Washoe County School District Superintendent Traci Davis and budgets approved by Kelley during his eight years on the board as reasons. 

Kelley refutes the allegation he supported Davis by recalling instances in which he voted against the proposed 2018-2020 contract for the then-superintendent and in 2017 when he was one of two trustees who voted against classifying Davis’ job performance as “accomplished.”

If he moves forward in the election, Church plans to do a “full court press” in campaigning and reaching voters. His ideas for change range from pay raises for teachers, shifting the funds allocated for building new schools from the 2016 ballot measure WC-1 to hiring more teachers, and even a “living academy” for “at-risk kids” where homeless students or students whose parents work the night shift could stay, instead of “running amok.” 

“I’m for change, I am the best candidate to get her done,” he said.

Genasci feels energized by the results and said she hopes the pandemic can serve as a catalyst for unity and transparency among the school board trustees. 

“We have to prioritize transparency and eliminate conspiracies and speculation,” she said in a phone call with The Nevada Independent Wednesday afternoon. “We’re in a time where there’s not time for that. We have to be raw, fact-based and we have to move forward with tangible and sustainable goals. And I think that sometimes we got lost in this ‘he said, she said’ — there’s just no time for that.” 

Genasci also believes that the best way for the school district to move forward amid pandemic decisions regarding distance learning is to listen to teachers. 

“We are moving into uncharted territory,” she said, “with reduced budgets and the need for collective approaches to learning. This is an area that no school board member has been on. And many of our teachers who have really been beta testing this for the past few months with kids have the expert solutions and they will consider every single child’s needs.” 

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez 

Updated at 5:51 p.m. 5/10/2020 to include comments from Lisa Genasci and clarify Scott Kelley's position on allegations from Jeff Church. Updated at 11:02 a.m. 5/11/2020 to reflect updated numbers.

Clark County School Board

  • In District A, Lisa Guzman leads with 26.1 percent of the vote, followed by Liberty Leavitt with 18.9 percent. The seat is open because current officeholder Deanna Wright is term-limited.
  • In District B, Katie Williams — a candidate who garnered attention as an outspoken conservative — leads with 23.9 percent of the vote. Union business manager Jeff Proffitt is in second place with 18.9 percent. The seat is open because current officeholder Chris Garvey is termed out.
  • In District C, Tameka Henry is ahead with 20.8 percent of the vote, with Evelyn Garcia Morales in a close second with about 20.3 percent of the vote. The seat is open because current officeholder Linda Young is termed out.
  • In District E, incumbent Lola Brooks has a modest lead with 21.6 percent of the vote, ahead of her next closest competitor, Alexis Salt, who has about 17.5 percent.

Election Preview: State board candidates compete to have a hand in determining the future of education in Nevada

Nevada’s schools have had an unconventional year, faced with sudden closures and a shift to digital learning and the future is uncertain as administrators and elected officials determine what education will look like in the age of the coronavirus.

Just as schools let out for the summer, voters will have the opportunity to choose between the candidates who will sit on the state board that helps make these decisions.

The Nevada State Board of Education works in tandem with the state Department of Education, voting and adopting administrative regulations about allocations of funding, setting standards for areas of study and determining graduation requirements for Nevada’s high schoolers.

There are 11 seats on the board, chaired by Elaine Wynn, a director of Wynn Resorts; four of those are elected positions. Of the seven remaining seats, three are voting members nominated by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly while the remaining four are nominated to represent the interests of various education-focused organizations.

The elected seats on the board represent each of Nevada’s four congressional districts, and all four are up for election this year, with two seats empty and two incumbents hoping to be re-elected.

Map of Nevada's Congressional Districts.

For these nonpartisan primary races, the field will be narrowed to two candidates who will go on to compete in the general election in November. If elected, candidates will serve four year terms on the board.

Though District 2 has only one candidate on the ballot, District 1’s crowded race has five candidates competing in the primary, including Tim Hughes, determined to win after losing the seat in 2016.

In District 3, candidate Justin “Steeve Strange” Mickanen is taking on Bruce James-Newman and incumbent Felicia Ortiz by touting his “Ban Schools” platform, and in District 4, board Vice President Mark Newburn hopes to successfully defend his seat against two competitors.

District 1

The Las Vegas Valley will see the most crowded race for the board this year, as Southern Nevada’s District 1 has five candidates vying for the seat.

Tim Hughes received the Culinary Union’s endorsement for the position as well as an endorsement from the AFL-CIO and the Clark County Education Association. 

Hughes’ campaign has reported $3,500 in contributions since January including a $1,000 donation from Leadership for Educational Equity, a non-profit organization focused on supporting diversity in educational leadership. As of April 15, the candidate had $2,265 cash on hand.

Hughes is the vice president for the western region of TNTP, a teacher training program, and formerly worked for Teach for America. Hughes also ran for the seat in 2016, losing to Robert Blakely.

Incumbent Blakely is not seeking re-election.

Newcomer Aaron Mason is also campaigning for the seat but hasn’t reported any contributions to his campaign this year. Mason is portraying himself as an outsider to a “broken system.” The Las Vegas resident is the director of ticket operations and analytics for the Las Vegas Lights FC soccer team and says he is running not as a politician or an educator but as a concerned father.

Mason is up against multiple career educators, including Michael Robison, a retired teacher, principal and associate professor. Robison has represented both the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Phoenix at Board of Education meetings in the past.

Angelo Casino has been an educator for five years and currently teaches at a charter school. Career and technical education is a major issue for the candidate, who is advocating for increased vocational training as well as an increase in funding for magnet programs in schools.

Neither Casino nor Robison reported any campaign contributions.

The fifth candidate in the race is Steve Esh, a former electronics engineer who is self-funding his campaign with a $200 contribution made in his own name.

District 2

For Northern Nevada’s District 2 seat, Katie Coombs is the only candidate.  The Reno resident has worked in the financial industry and has written multiple parenting and lifestyle columns, including one in the Reno Gazette-Journal, in addition to hosting a radio show.

Incumbent Kevin Melcher is leaving the Board of Education to run for a position on the Nevada Board of Regents. Melcher was appointed to the board in September 2019 to finish the term of David Carter, who had resigned earlier that year.

Coombs has been endorsed by multiple organizations, including the Culinary Union and the Nevada State Education Association. Despite running unopposed, the candidate has spent $3,858 this year campaigning, leaving her with $634 cash on hand. 

District 3

In Southern Nevada's District 3, incumbent Felicia Ortiz faces two opponents in her push for a second term on the board.

Ortiz was first appointed to the board in 2016 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval before running for and being elected to the District 3 seat later that year. Ortiz has received $9,265 in donations since January, including a $5,000 donation from the Clark County Education Association.

Ortiz’s competitors, Bruce James-Newman and Justin “Steeve Strange” Mickanen, have not reported any contributions made to their campaigns. 

Mickanen, an outspoken Trump supporter and founder of The Scoop, an online news platform, is campaigning on a “Ban Schools” platform, claiming that the public education system is about “indoctrination” rather than education.

James-Newman ran for Assembly as a Libertarian in 2018, losing the election for the District 29 seat which is currently held by Democrat Lesley Cohen.

District 4

District 4 includes the northern segment of Clark County and portions of Central Nevada. This district will also see an incumbent competing against two challengers. Mark Newburn, the vice president of the board, was first elected to the seat in 2012.

Newburn has received endorsements from the Nevada State Education Association and the Culinary Union. His campaign has been entirely self-funded, and he has spent over $2,700 this year on advertising expenses.

The candidate sits on multiple education boards and is the chair of the UNLV Computer Science Department Industry Advisory Board. Prior to his work in the public sector, he worked in the technology industry for 40 years.

Neither of Newburn’s competitors have reported any spending by their campaigns so far this year. 

Candidate Vincent Richardson has been endorsed by the Clark County Black Caucus. Richardson is an elementary school teacher and an instructor at the College of Southern Nevada where he previously worked as diversity coordinator. 

Rene Cantu, the executive director of Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (JAG Nevada), has 29 years of education experience and previously served as the District E trustee for the Clark County School District. 

10:42 a.m.: This story was updated to reflect that Mark Newburn was elected in 2012, not 2016.

5:52 p.m.: This story was updated to correct the geographic descriptions of Districts 3 and 4.

Coronavirus Live Blog: COVID-19 cases increase to 5,473; five more deaths reported

Steve Sisolak stands away from podium

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 (3/9-3/15), our week two live blog here (3/16-3/22), our week three live blog here (3/23-3/29), our week four live blog here (3/30-4/5), week five's live blog here (4/6-4/12), week six's live blog here (4/13-4/19) and last week's live blog here (4/20-4/26). You can also see our live blog tracking economic developments from the first week here.

Resources:

Sunday state and county update: Coronavirus cases increase to 5,473; five more deaths reported

State health authorities reported five more COVID-19 deaths on Sunday, pushing the statewide fatality toll to 262. Counties, meanwhile, reported that coronavirus cases had risen to 5,473, up 79 from Saturday.

Humboldt County health officials announced the county’s third COVID-19-related death on Sunday evening. The patient, a man in his 60s, was hospitalized at the time of his death, officials said.

The death resulted in the county’s health officer, Dr. Charles Stringham, imploring community members to heed social distancing, wear a face mask, wash hands frequently and not visit family or friends who are sick or in respiratory isolation.

“I ask that every single person in our community join with me in our aggressive fight against this virus,” Stringham said in a statement. “If you are not yet engaged in doing the right things, all of us desperately need your help!”

County officials also announced one additional case in a man in his 20s who is a close contact of a previously identified case. He is self-isolating at home.

The Southern Nevada Health District reported 49 more coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the county’s total to 4,274. The county also reported three more deaths, which means 218 people in Clark County have died from the virus. Another 2,946 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Washoe County officials reported 28 additional cases Sunday, increasing the county’s total to 977. Nineteen other people have recovered, bringing Washoe’s recovery count to 382.

Health authorities in the Quad-County region that includes Carson City, Douglas County, Lyon County and Storey County reported one additional case Sunday. The newly diagnosed person is a Lyon County resident in her 30s. That brings the region’s case total to 103.Health authorities reported four more recoveries in the region as well. In all, 57 people have recovered in that area.

A dashboard maintained by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services also showed that 45,182 people have been tested for the virus statewide, up 795 from Saturday.

— Last updated 5/4/2020 at 10:24 a.m.

Saturday state and county update: Coronavirus cases increase to 5,394, deaths rise to 257 

State and county health officials reported 5,394 coronavirus cases Saturday, an increase of 146 from Friday. State health officials also reported three more deaths, raising the statewide death toll to 257.

Health officials in Clark County reported 4,225 cases Saturday morning, an increase of 107 from Friday. The county also reported 9 more deaths, raising the countywide death toll to 215. 

According to health district officials, 999 individuals have been hospitalized over the course of the outbreak, up 21 from Friday. Officials also reported that 2,854 people have recovered from the virus, or about 67.5 percent of reported cases. 

Washoe County health officials reported an additional 28 cases and no new deaths Saturday, raising the countywide total of cases to 949 and leaving the countywide death toll at 33. 

Officials also reported 20 more recoveries, raising the total recoveries to 363, or about 38 percent of all cases. Of coronavirus cases in Washoe County, 553 remain active, with 48 of those cases currently hospitalized.  

The four-county region including Carson City, Lyon County, Douglas County and Storey County reported six new cases, raising the region-wide total to 102. Officials also reported 3 additional recoveries, raising the total recoveries to 53 and leaving 48 active cases. 

Among the new reported cases, four were in Lyon County, one was in Carson City and another in Douglas County. Three of those cases include people in their 20s, while the other three include two people in their 50s and a woman in her 80s.

Humboldt County health authorities reported five more cases on Saturday, pushing the county’s total to 49. All five new patients had contact with someone previously diagnosed.

The five new patients include a woman in her 40s, a woman in her 30s, a man in his 40s, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 20s. Health officials said they’re all self-isolating at home.

A dashboard maintained by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services also showed that 44,387 people have been tested for the virus statewide, an increase of 792 from Friday.

— Last updated 5/3/20 at 12:32 p.m.

Friday state and county update: Coronavirus cases increase to 5,248; deaths rise to 254

County health officials reported 5,248 coronavirus cases on Friday, up 191 cases from Thursday. The statewide death toll rose to 254.

Southern Nevada Health District officials reported 139 additional COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the countywide total to 4,116. They also reported four more deaths, bringing the county death toll to 206.

According to health district officials, 978 people have been hospitalized during the course of their illness, up 12 from Thursday. Officials also reported that 2,756 people have recovered after contracting the virus, or about 66.9 percent.

Washoe County health authorities on Friday reported 48 additional COVID-19 cases, which is the highest one-day jump in new cases, as well as three more deaths.

Two women — one in her 60s and another in her 40s — died from complications related to the virus, Washoe County officials said. They both had underlying medical conditions.

Washoe health officials additionally reported on Friday afternoon that another person has died of COVID-19 related causes in the county. The deceased was a male in his 70s with underlying health conditions. The county has reported 33 deaths related to COVID-19

Washoe County has reported 921 total COVID-19 cases and, of those, 546 remain active. It’s the most active cases at any point, officials said. But the county also reported 11 more recoveries, bringing that total up to 343. 

Health authorities in the four-county region that includes Carson City, Douglas County, Lyon County and Storey County reported four more COVID-19 cases Friday, pushing the area’s total to 96. Four other people have recovered.

The newly diagnosed include two Carson City residents — a man in his 60s and a woman in her 20s — as well as a Douglas County man in his 20s and a Lyon County woman in her 20s.

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation on Friday reported 14 coronavirus cases and one recovery, said Dawna Brown, director of the tribal health clinic. There have been no deaths. 

Brown and Anthony Sampson, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, urged residents to heed social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Our numbers have gone up really quickly in a short amount of time, which means that the virus is moving,” Brown said. “We’ve really gotta take control of that somehow.”

A dashboard maintained by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services also showed that 43,595 people have been tested for the virus statewide, an increase of 1,609 since Thursday.

— Last updated 5/1/20 at 6:51 p.m.

Elko County declaration warns of 'grassroots rebellion' if businesses can't reopen

A strongly worded declaration from the Elko County Board of Commissioners puts the northeastern Nevada county on the path toward reopening, moving into a “Phase 1” plan faster than what Gov. Steve Sisolak has outlined.

Commissioners voted on the declaration Wednesday, a day before Sisolak debuted his multi-phase plan for fully reopening the state’s largely shuttered economy. The declaration, which the county made public Friday, illustrates Elko County’s desire to fast-track that process.

The declaration notes the closures have had a “major harmful fiscal impact” upon county businesses, including permanent closures. It also says the county has flattened the curve of COVID-19 cases and has adequate hospital capacity and testing capabilities needed to reopen.

Commissioners, therefore, declare the county in compliance with federal and state “Phase 1” reopening guidelines. The document’s last line paints a dire portrait of what might happen if the county cannot move forward: “The state must reopen Elko County businesses or face a grassroots rebellion.”

The governor’s plan for reopening Nevada did give counties some leeway in making their own decisions.

— Jackie Valley on 5/1/20 at 5:17 p.m.

Station Casinos plans layoffs, will reopen properties in phases

Station Casinos plans to lay off a portion of its workforce and reopen its Las Vegas-area casinos in phases amid expected lower business levels because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to employees signed by casino Chairman and CEO Frank Fertitta III and obtained by The Nevada Independent, the casino said it plans to open only a portion of its Las Vegas area properties once allowed to do so by the state, starting with Red Rock, Green Valley Ranch, Santa Fe Station, Boulder Station, Palace Station and Sunset Station properties.

The company’s other four properties — the Palms, Fiesta Henderson, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station — will remain closed even after casinos are allowed to open, in order for the company to “assess how our business is performing in a post-COVID-19 world.”

Fertitta wrote that the phased opening and expected social distancing regulations meant the company would need to make “meaningful staffing level reductions” at both properties initially opening up and those remaining closed, as well as at the company’s corporate office.

“Please know these are not decisions we took lightly,” the letter states. “This has been the most challenging and painful situation in our company’s history. We are hopeful though that Las Vegas will rebound swiftly and allow us to rehire many of our valued team members when we emerge on the other side of this crisis.”

The letter states that full-time employees who are laid off will be paid through May 16 and will be extended medical, dental and vision benefits through the end of September, with the company paying full premium costs. Any employees not laid off will continue to receive regular pay and benefits through the end of May.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said during a press conference on Thursday that casino companies would not be allowed to reopen at the start of the state’s “Phase 1” reopening process, tentatively scheduled for May 15. The governor said any reopening plans would need to be approved by the state’s Gaming Control Board.

Both the Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts have announced plans to continue paying employees during the shutdown through at least mid-May.

— Riley Snyder, 5/1/20 at 1:01 p.m.

Thursday state and county update: Coronavirus cases increase to 5,057; deaths up to 243

State and county health officials reported 5,057 coronavirus cases on Thursday, up 120 cases from Wednesday. The statewide death toll increased Thursday afternoon to 243.

The Southern Nevada Health District reported 88 new positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the countywide total to 3,979. The health district also announced six additional deaths associated with the virus, bringing the county's death toll to 202.

There have been a total of 966 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county during the course of their illness, up 16 from the day before. Health district officials report that 2,617 people have recovered from the illness or, 65.8 percent.

Washoe County Health District officials announced Thursday afternoon 25 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the countywide total to 873. The county death toll remains unchanged at 30.

Health officials also announced that 11 additional people have recovered from the virus, for a total of 332 recoveries. Forty-three people are hospitalized, while 66 people have been discharged from the hospital.

Humboldt County reported four additional COVID-19 cases, bringing the county’s total to 44 confirmed cases. They include a woman in her 20s, a woman in her 50s, a man in his 50s and a woman in her 30s. All are self-isolating at home.

The Quad-County Emergency Operations Center reported one additional COVID-19 case in Carson City and another case in Lyon County. The Carson City resident is a woman in her 70s and the Lyon County resident is a woman in her 20s.

The Quad-County region, which also includes Douglas County and Storey County, has reported a total of 92 cases in the area, 45 cases in Carson City and 28 cases in Lyon County.

On Thursday night, Nye County health officials reported one new positive COVID-19 case in Pahrump. The county has 37 reported cases of the coronavirus, and 18 recoveries.

A dashboard maintained by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services also showed that 41,986 people have been tested for the virus statewide, an increase of 958 since Wednesday.

— Last updated 5/1/20 at 9:12 a.m.

Delivering with Dignity to begin serving households in Reno and Sparks

Delivering with Dignity, a program serving low-income, high-risk households, is expanding to Northern Nevada, beginning operations in Reno and Sparks on Monday.

The program, which has marked five weeks in operation and more than 21,000 meals served, is operated in the south by the Moonridge Foundation, the Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation and United Way of Southern Nevada along with 22 other local nonprofits. Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall will head the program in the north, working with United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra to facilitate funding.

“We thought, you know what, this is something that, now that it’s been invented, it’s doing a lot of good, and let’s share it, because every community in the country is going to need something like this,” said Punam Mathur, executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation. “To get it lifted up, you’ve got to have leaders on the ground who are really committed to it.”

In order to be served by Delivering with Dignity, households are identified by local non-profits as matching its guidelines, housing at least one individual who is considered a “vulnerable population” at higher risk of severe symptoms and qualifying for government assistance. Each household recommended by a non-profit is then delivered three days worth of meals prepared through the four partnering restaurants.

Not only does the program allow vulnerable populations to receive food, but it also helps local businesses stay in operation. Participating restaurants receive $6 for every individual meal and $22 for every family meal they contribute.

“They’re not getting rich,” said Mathur. “But what they can do is have predictable, foundational revenue that allows them to keep their workforce intact.”

Delivering with Dignity does not have plans to expand to rural communities in Nevada, but Mathur, who also serves on the board of the Moonridge Foundation, says if a city expressed interest and had the necessary mass of clients, volunteers, and restaurants, the organization would be willing to assist in implementation.

— Kristyn Leonard, 4/30/20 at 11:13 a.m.

Wednesday state and county update: Coronavirus cases increase to 4,937; Statewide deaths increase to 237

State and county health officials reported 4,937 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, up 116 cases from Tuesday. The state’s death total also increased by 12 to 237.

The Southern Nevada Health District reported 98 new positive COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, and ten additional deaths in the county, bringing Clark County’s totals to 196 deaths and 3,891 cases. The county also reported an additional 93 people have recovered from the disease, or about 64 percent of reported cases.

Washoe County health officials announced 14 additional cases of COVID-19 and one death on Wednesday morning, bringing the county’s number of cases to 848 and the number of deaths to 30.

The county also reported 24 additional recoveries from the disease — up to 321 individuals — lowering the number of active cases to 497, down 11 from Tuesday.

 Humboldt County reported three additional COVID-19 cases, bringing the county's total to 40 confirmed cases. They include a woman in her 50s who is self-isolating at home, a man in his 20s who is a close contact of a previously reported case and is hospitalized and a woman in her 30s who is self-isolating at home.

Nye County reported one additional case in the town of Pahrump. Officials have confirmed 30 cases in Pahrump and 36 cases in the county. 

The COVID-19 dashboard maintained by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services also showed that 41,208 people have been tested for the virus statewide, an increase of 909 since Tuesday.

— Last updated 4/30/20 at 8:54 a.m.

Southern Nevada health officials target ‘hotspots,’ look ahead to increased testing in May

Southern Nevada Health District officials say they are focusing their testing efforts on areas that have become “hotspots” for COVID-19 in Clark County, including in North Las Vegas.

Michael Johnson, director of the health district’s community health division, told reporters during a press call on Wednesday that the agency has put together “strike teams” to conduct targeted testing in at-risk communities. That includes targeting ZIP codes that have shown a high prevalence of COVID-19 cases, including a few in North Las Vegas, as well as targeting based on demographics, such as age or race.

Johnson said the health district is also conducting outreach to skilled nursing facilities to conduct targeted testing among their vulnerable patients.

But the health district, he said, is still limited in its capacity to test: The Southern Nevada Public Health Laboratory can run 300 tests a day, with hopes to increase capacity to 400 tests a day. However, he noted that additional lab capacity coming online, such as the 10,000 tests a day University Medical Center plans to be running by June, will greatly increase the availability of tests in the region.

“Collectively there will be a lot of increase and a lot of community testing certainly happening this month of May,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said that the health district has 54 trained disease investigators focused on contact tracing, a number which it hopes to double. On top of that, he said that the health district is coordinating with a Wynn Resorts call center to conduct contact tracing; Wynn announced earlier in the day that it was devoting 70 of its call center staffers to the effort.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” Johnson said, of the contact tracing effort.

Johnson added that the health district lab will be able to start processing antibody tests as well in the next week or so, as soon as it finishes conducting validation studies on two different kinds of antibody tests.

Looking at COVID-19 trends in Southern Nevada, Johnson said that case numbers appear to be “plateauing.” And health district officials said that, unlike in other states, Nevada does not appear at this point to be missing significant numbers of COVID-19 deaths in its reporting.

“When we look at the trends of deaths at this time of year compared to the same time last year, we aren't seeing a large spike prior to this outbreak, as they're seeing in other parts of the country,” said Dr. Vit Kraushaar, a medical investigator with the health district. “So even though we are probably missing some cases, I think our death records are fairly accurate at this time.”

Health district officials have continued to urge Southern Nevada residents the importance of social distancing, noting that cases could still surge again in the future.

“We are concerned that there could be, you know, another — particularly if we have a bad flu season if we don't keep these social distancing measures in place and do this gradually — that we could have not only a rebound of COVID-19 but we could be handling a lot of increased influenza cases at the same time,” Johnson said. “There's a lot of reasons, good reasons, based on our data and lessons learned here and around the world that this should be a gradual phased in process as has been proposed.”

— Megan Messerly, 4/29/20 at 2:22 p.m.

Washoe County likely past peak COVID-19 cases, working to expand testing capacity

Washoe County health officials says the county is continuing to ramp up COVID-19 testing efforts as the state prepares to begin a limited reopening of businesses later this week, even as the peak of COVID-19 cases in the county has likely already passed.

During a call with reporters, Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said that a seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases indicated that Washoe County likely experienced a peak in cases around April 15, but that passing the top of the curve did not mean the county was out of danger yet.

“I think that the top of that curve is really the 50 yard line for us, as we're working to try to get back down on the other side,” he said. 

Dick said the county was still working to significantly ramp up testing capacity, including developing plans to work up to 1,800 tests a day through drive-up testing procedures — a significant increase from the roughly 280 tests conducted daily.

The county will also begin to expand testing to individuals in long term care facilities, other health care facilities, first responders and other vulnerable populations regardless of whether they show symptoms of the coronavirus

“We don't yet have a plan for the testing of everybody in the community,” Dick said. “But we do have the plan to move forward with the testing capability that we're developing, and the tests that we've secured from the commercial lab to be able to do that broader testing for those particular vulnerable populations.”

Dick added that the county was still awaiting federal funding for more contract tracing of positive COVID-19 cases, and that the county had observed outbreaks at a variety of workplaces — including landscaping, warehouses and construction companies — but also among unemployed or retired individuals.

— Riley Snyder, 4/29/20 at 1:26 p.m.

Group representing cities, municipalities says it’s excluded from Sisolak’s reopening plan

The Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities says despite repeated requests, it has not been “invited to engage” in Gov. Steve Sisolak’s planning process to reopen the state’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The association’s executive director, Wesley Harper, said in an email obtained by The Nevada Independent that it had sent several formal requests to the governor’s office since last week for an audience with the governor to “confirm his recognition of member municipalities’ authority to reopen nonessential business in conformity” with federal guidelines.

The letter states that the group will continue to make informal requests to join “ongoing discussions,” and will send a formal letter requesting involvement if it does not hear back from the governor’s office by the end of the day on Friday.

— Riley Snyder, 4/29/20 at 11:26 a.m.

Assembly Republicans, in letter, argue businesses might permanently close if economy not reopened soon

Assembly Republicans are calling on Gov. Steve Sisolak to begin taking steps to reopen Nevada’s economy, a little more than a week after they first laid out a series of recommendations for doing so.

In a letter to Sisolak on Wednesday, members of the Assembly Republican Caucus argued that the state can find a way to protect the health and safety of residents while reopening the economy in a “substantial way.” Republican lawmakers warned that “many” businesses will permanently shutter if “clearly communicated steps are not taken to safely and systematically re-open all businesses.”

“In this truly unprecedented time, there is much uncertainty, however, our mission is one in the same: to come together and lead Nevada out of this crisis in a safe and responsible manner,” caucus members wrote.

They additionally requested in the letter that Sisolak take additional steps:

  • Hire additional call center staff “to answer both general and specific questions about Nevada’s unemployment laws and policies.” Transfer state employees or alter their job functions to allow them to assist with unemployment claims. Allow more Nevadans to qualify for unemployment and create policies to allow businesses to hire and retain more employees.
  • Reorganize the state’s COVID-19 task force to include a bipartisan group of legislators, health care officials and business leaders.
  • Work with county commissioners and local government leaders to “optimize county resources.”

Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus, in a statement, also raised concerns that private medical practices might be forced to shut down as non-emergency medical procedures have been delayed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Titus, who is a doctor by trade and Lyon County’s health officer, said that closure of medical practices would create a “second health care crisis” and further strain “our already vulnerable healthcare system and patient access to care.”

On Tuesday, Sisolak announced that the Nevada Hospital Association is preparing to resume some “medically necessary” elective procedures.

In a statement accompanying the letter, the caucus said Nevadans are “growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of definitive timelines or an overall direction for the plans for our state” and that Republicans, who make up a super-minority in the Assembly and a minority in the Senate, “have had very little input into the governor’s directives.”

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Republican Assembly Caucus has attempted to collaborate and communicate with your office during this pandemic with little or no response,” caucus members wrote in the letter. “Although your early efforts to keep Nevadans safe has been appreciated, we have had many constituents come forth with their fears and frustrations over this continued shutdown.”

Sisolak plans to announce his “roadmap to recovery” plan on Thursday.

— Megan Messerly, 4/29/20 at 10:07 a.m.

Wynn Resorts partners with UMC for employee testing, is dedicating call center staff centers to aid contact tracing efforts

Wynn Resorts employees will soon be able to get tested for COVID-19 through University Medical Center, the Clark County-run hospital, at no cost as part of the company’s plan to reopen its properties.

Starting the week of May 4, Wynn employees will be able to visit certain UMC-designated locations to be tested for the novel coronavirus. When Wynn properties reopen, the company says that it will set up on-site testing in coordination with UMC for its employees.

The company, in a statement, said that the move will ensure that its employees who want to be tested “have access to reliable and accurate COVID-19 testing well in advance and leading up to the opening of the resort.”

UMC, in partnership with an Abu Dhabi-based technology company, is in the process of ramping up its lab capacity with the goal of testing 4,000 samples a day by May and 10,000 samples a day by June.

"A vibrant tourism destination relies on our expert healthcare system to care for all who live in and visit Las Vegas, and we look forward to working alongside Wynn Resorts to bring us all back together again,” UMC CEO Mason VanHouweling said in a statement.

Wynn Resorts also announced that 70 employees from its Wynn Teleservices Call Center will assist the Clark County Commission in ramping up contact tracing for COVID-19 cases. 

"This enhanced testing capability and expanded contact tracing, combined with newly available tracking of benchmarks, are exactly the tools we need to keep our employees safe, our community secure, and eventually welcome tourists back to Las Vegas,” Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said.

— Megan Messerly, 4/29/20 at 9:23 a.m.

Sisolak: Stay at home order to be extended, some restrictions eased on outdoor activities, curbside pickup regulations

Gov. Steve Sisolak says he plans to extend the state’s stay-at-home order but will begin easing restrictions on retail curbside pickup and outdoor activities after the state’s COVID-19 caseload and deaths plateau.

In an interview on Good Morning America set to air later Wednesday, Sisolak told anchor Amy Robach several details of the state’s yet-to-be-published “United Road Map to Recovery,” but that a stay-at-home order set to expire on Friday would have to be extended “a little bit.”

“We just have not reached exactly where we want to get in the downward trajectory,” he said, according to a transcript published by KTNV-13. “Our statistics have plateaued. We’ve got almost 5,000 cases now in the state of Nevada and 225 fatalities so those numbers have kind of stabilized and hospitalizations and intensive care hospitalizations have begun to decline. And so we are looking forward to continue to bring our economy back to life a little bit.”

The governor previously said he’d be unveiling a more fleshed-out plan on Thursday detailing the state’s steps to slowly re-opening its economy, and announced Tuesday that hospitals were resuming “medically necessary” elective procedures deferred amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

— Riley Snyder, 4/29/20 at 9:04 a.m.

Tuesday state and county update: Coronavirus cases increase to 4,821; Statewide deaths increase to 225

County health officials reported 4,821 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, up 97 cases from what the counties had announced Monday. State officials also reported the number of people who have died increased by six to 225.

Southern Nevada Health District officials reported 12 more deaths Tuesday, bringing the Clark County total to 186. The number of coronavirus cases also jumped to 3,793, an increase of 76 from the prior day. County health officials announced that 2,414 people had recovered, or about 64 percent of confirmed cases.

Health officials in Washoe County reported 14 new cases Tuesday, raising the county’s total cases to 834, and one death, raising the countywide death toll to 29. The county also reported 19 additional recoveries, raising the number of recoveries to 297 and dropping the number of active cases to 509. Of those active cases, 37 remain currently hospitalized. 

Officials also reported 56 percent of hospital beds remain occupied as of Monday, while 45 percent of intensive care beds and 20 percent of ventilators remain in use.

Elko County reported no new cases and four recoveries Tuesday. It leaves the county’s total reported cases at 15, including four active cases and 10 recoveries.

Officials in the four-county region including Carson City, Lyon County, Storey County and Douglas County announced six new coronavirus cases Tuesday evening, as well as three additional recoveries. It brings the region-wide total to 90, including 55 active cases, 34 recoveries and one death. 

Five of the new cases were reported in Carson City, including a woman in her 60s, a man in his 40s, a woman in her 30s and two women under age 18. The sixth reported case was a Lyon county woman in her 70s.

Lander County, which includes Battle Mountain, announced an additional case on Tuesday, bringing its total to seven. Mineral County, which includes Hawthorne and announced two more cases late last week, has a total of four.

The COVID-19 dashboard maintained by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services also showed that 40,119 people have been tested for the virus statewide, an increase of 1,306 since Monday.

— Last updated 4/28/20 at 6:49 p.m.

Gov. Sisolak says some necessary medical, dental procedures may go forward

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced late Tuesday that the Nevada Hospital Association was preparing to resume some “medically necessary” elective procedures in the coming days — the first sign that some restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 may be eased in the coming weeks. 

Unlike many other industries that were temporarily closed by emergency order, Sisolak never issued an order legally curtailing such procedures. State hospitals had instead sought to postpone unnecessary hospital visits on their own, especially as they geared up for an influx of coronavirus infections during March. 

In a statement, Sisolak said hospitals would determine which procedures could be defined as medically necessary under set metrics, including clinical judgment, existing guidelines and the availability of personal protective equipment. 

Sisolak also said a memorandum outlining steps for a phased-in resumption of necessary dental services will soon be issued by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The governor also stressed that medical appointments “will appear different” than they once did, including the addition of screening questions, temperature checks and requests to wash hands or rinse mouths before examinations. 

Jacob Solis, 4/28/20 at 6:05 p.m.

Sisolak to unveil a 'roadmap to recovery' plan on Thursday

Gov. Steve Sisolak said he will be unveiling a plan Thursday detailing Nevada’s recovery, a step that’s been anticipated as other states begin reopening their economies.

The governor made the announcement via Twitter, saying his staff is finalizing a plan dubbed “Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery.” While not divulging details, Sisolak said there will be “many more” announcements between now and then.

“I am able to make announcements this week because so many of you have stayed home for Nevada and helped flatten the curve against #COVID19,” he tweeted. “I am so proud and grateful to all those who have helped prepare our state for this Roadmap to Recovery.”

His directive closing all schools and nonessential businesses runs through Friday. Sisolak announced Monday that Nevada had joined a Western States compact that will involve the sharing of ideas and best practices as the states gradually reopen after the coronavirus closures.

— Jackie Valley on 4/28/20 at 3:26 p.m.

Nevada Bankers Association weighs in on Payroll Protection Program

The Nevada Bankers Association says bankers worked “through the night on Monday” trying to secure money for businesses through the Payroll Protection Program when a new batch of funding became available.

But their efforts didn’t net widespread success.

“Most association members I’ve spoken with reported significant delays and issues with the application process,” NBA President and CEO Phyllis Gurgevich said in a statement. “The (Small Business Administration) boasted 100,000 loans by more than 4,000 lenders for this latest round starting Monday. However, that’s 25 loans on average, and there are more than 5,300 approved lenders. So, their own claim shows that about 20% of the lenders haven’t been able to process a single loan. The question is what has happened to those remaining lenders in processing the loans?”

The association’s statement went on to say bankers had difficulty accessing the system and entering applications — at points receiving error messages or intermittently being booted off the system.

To that end, the association asked the SBA to “invest the required resources” to create a system that allows lenders to fairly access the federal assistance.

— Jackie Valley on 4/28/20 at 2:26 p.m.

IRS data show nearly 900,000 Nevadans received $1.5 billion in stimulus checks through mid-April

After a slow rollout of coronavirus stimulus in the first days of April, state-by-state data released Tuesday by the Internal Revenue Service show more than $160 billion in “economic impact payments” was distributed to nearly 89.5 million Americans through April 17.

That figure includes 892,000 Nevadans, who collectively received more than $1.5 billion over the last three weeks. Those totals place Nevada 32nd in the number of payments issued and 34th in the total amount — ranks to be expected considering the state’s 32nd-in-the-nation population size of nearly 3.1 million. 

The numbers are also roughly comparable to other states with similar populations, including Utah, where 818,000 people received $1.6 billion, and Iowa, where 901,000 people received $1.7 billion.  

Still, the 29 percent of Nevadans who have so-far received their stimulus checks form a fraction of the estimated 80 percent of residents eligible for federal relief under the CARES Act, which provided the funds for the $1,200 economic impact payments. 

The IRS said most direct deposits were completed by April 14, and those Americans still eligible for federal relief would be mailed paper checks beginning April 24. 

The logistical process of printing and mailing millions of paper checks has extended the timeline through the summer, and a leaked IRS memo from early April predicted the last of the money may take up to five months to be distributed. 

The new data comes as Congress looks to negotiate another stimulus package as concerns mount that money from the CARES Act will fall far short of stopping the unprecedented economic pain caused by the nationwide coronavirus shutdowns.  

Jacob Solis, 4/28/20 at 1:44 p.m.

Competition with $1 million worth of investment awards is seeking ideas to keep tourism, hospitality sectors safe

Got an idea for how to make the hospitality, tourism and entertainment industry safer in light of the pandemic?

Then UNLV’s Lee Business School and the Lee Family Foundation want to hear from you. The two entities have partnered to award investments totaling $1 million to entrepreneurs with safety-minded innovations.

“These technologies and solutions must ultimately make the industry safer for both guests and employees of the hospitality or travel sectors, which boasts roughly 330M jobs and an economic impact of $8.9 trillion dollars worldwide,” officials wrote in a press release.

The project has been dubbed the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Entries worldwide from individuals or companies will be accepted until July 5. A committee made up of industry experts and deans of several UNLV schools will judge the submissions and select prize recipients, who will then develop their concepts and bring them to a “Shark Tank”-like investor marketplace. The resulting products and solutions must be brought to the market within 12 months.

A website dedicated to the competition suggests a variety of pandemic-related challenges the industries may need to overcome. For instance, will guest pillows need to be disposable? And how do you fill a stadium while maintaining social distancing, or rapidly clean gaming chips?

“Our world has been given a great challenge,” Eureka Casinos’ Chief Operating Officer, Andre Carrier, said in a statement. “It's time for innovators, industry, and entrepreneurs to respond urgently, answer the bell, and deliver the ‘eureka’ moments that will invariably lay the bedrock for the new path forward.”

— Jackie Valley, 4/28/20 at 1:10 p.m.

Urban school district leaders ask for coronavirus relief funding

Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara has joined leaders from other urban school districts in signing a letter that requests Congress include funding for public schools in the next coronavirus relief bill.

The 62 big-city superintendents who signed the letter asked for  $175 billion Education Stabilization Funds; $13 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; $12 billion in additional Title I funding; $2 billion for the E-Rate program, which provides discounts to help schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access; and emergency infrastructure funds.

“The down payment you made in our public education system by allocating some $13.5 billion in the CARES Act for our schools was a critical lifeline for public education in this country,” the district leaders wrote in the letter. “But we now urge you to provide a second, substantially larger installment for public school systems as you work on the fourth supplemental appropriations bill.”

The superintendents, who are part of the Council of the Great City Schools, say the funding would help offset unexpected costs of providing meals to students and transforming to a distance-learning model. Local school systems are also facing significant revenue shortfalls moving forward.

The Council for Great City Schools estimates that a 20 percent loss in combined state and local revenues could lead to 275,000-some teachers being laid off in large, urban districts alone.

“There has never been a more critical time to ensure that all our students have access to the right technology,” Jara said in a statement. “While we have made some progress in our district, the current closure and the need to provide equitable learning at home opportunities has amplified the technology challenges we face. We must make sure that our students are top of mind at the national level so that CCSD students have access to every possible opportunity available.”

Jara said the district is keeping track of expenses incurred related to the coronavirus closure but hasn’t calculated the entire cost. While food service costs have gone up, the district has been saving money on electric bills by having no activity within the schools.

“Some of those savings may go into some of the other costs somewhere else,” he said.

But looking at potential state budget cuts and significant revenue shortfalls across Nevada, Jara said public schools could endure a “greater loss” than what was seen during the Great Recession a decade ago. The superintendent said he expects to have a better grasp of budget numbers the first week of May. Gov Steve Sisolak previously directed state agencies to begin preparing budget cuts between 6 percent and 14 percent for fiscal year 2021.

Many large school systems, including the Clark County School District, have canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the academic year. It’s unclear what the learning environment will look like for the 2020-2021 academic year, although district leaders have suggested it could include staggered in-person days and blended learning.

— Jackie Valley, 4/28/20 at 1:31 p.m.

Monday state and county update: Coronavirus cases rise to 4,717, deaths rise to 219

Health officials reported 4,717 COVID-19 cases across Nevada on Monday morning, an increase of 77 from the number health officials reported Sunday. The death toll statewide rose to 219 reported deaths on Monday afternoon.

Clark County health officials reported 3,717 coronavirus cases Monday morning, up 52 cases from Sunday. The death toll reported by the Southern Nevada Health District remained at 174, the same as Saturday and Sunday.

A total of 2,351 residents, about 63 percent, have recovered from the virus in Clark County. As of Monday, there have been 915 COVID-10 hospitalizations countywide, up two from Sunday. The health district does not report current hospitalization numbers.

Washoe County on Monday announced another fatality — a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions. The death toll in the county has reached 28.

The county also reported 16 new positive cases and 13 recoveries. There are 38 COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized in Washoe County, which is down two from Sunday.

Officials in Nye County also reported four additional cases in Pahrump, bringing the county's total to 35 confirmed cases. Officials have reported a total of 29 cases in Pahrump.

Elko County officials reported three more COVID-19 cases, pushing the county’s total to 15. No other information was provided about the people newly diagnosed. Of Elko’s 15 cases, six people have recovered and one has died.

On Monday evening, the Quad-County Emergency Operations Center reported two new COVID-19 cases among Carson City residents — a man in his 60s and a woman in her 40s. That means the region, which includes Carson City, Storey County, Lyon County and Douglas County, now has 84 cases, of which 52 remain active. Thirty-one people have recovered, and three patients are currently hospitalized. 

And Humboldt County officials reported one more case — a woman in her 50s who's a close contact of a previously identified case — on Monday evening. That brings the county total to 37, of which five have recovered, two remain hospitalized, 28 are self-isolating and two people have died.

A dashboard maintained by the state Department of Health and Human Services reported 38,813 people have been tested for the virus statewide, an increase of 629 from Sunday. 

— Last updated 4/27/20 at 8:36 p.m.

ACLU calls for more details about testing in prisons, which haven’t moved for pandemic-related early releases

The ACLU of Nevada is calling on police and corrections officials to give more specifics on how they are responding to concerns about coronavirus among inmates as state leaders have yet to take major steps to release prisoners early.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said Friday that he was waiting on the Nevada Sentencing Commission to give more specific recommendations on coronavirus responses, possibly after its meeting Wednesday. But the ACLU argued in a statement Monday that the Nevada Sentencing Commission already voted two weeks ago to ask Gov. Steve Sisolak to convene the pardons board — which has authority to commute sentences — to discuss early inmate releases. 

“We’ve heard from dozens of Nevadans with concerns about the health and safety of incarcerated loved ones, and state leaders cannot keep brushing them off,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada and a member of the 23-person Sentencing Commission.

So far, the Nevada Department of Corrections said that eight staff but no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency has touted its increased cleaning regimens and precautionary measures such as suspending visitation and says its medical staff is equipped to handle coronavirus cases.

ACLU officials, who support reducing prison and jail populations so inmates can socially distance, want the commission to review specific details about testing capabilities and how many tests have been administered. The prisons agency initially said no inmates had been tested for COVID-19, and more recently says it is not releasing numbers on tests administered because the number is in constant flux.

The group also raised questions about apparent delays in Las Vegas police reporting positive tests among inmates and about compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act when minors are held in adult prisons.

“Mass incarceration has always been a public health issue, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the potential for problems — in facilities that struggle to provide medical care under average circumstances as well as in Nevada’s overburdened community health care centers,” the organization said.

— Michelle Rindels, 4/27/20 at 6:00 p.m.

Northern Nevada Veterans Home staffer tests positive, residents all test negative

A non-clinical staff member at the Northern Nevada State Veterans Home in Sparks tested positive for coronavirus, but all 75 residents tested negative, according to a press release from the Nevada Department of Veteran Services.

The department is still awaiting test results for a portion of its 164 staff members. Seven staffers have yet to be tested and 19 test kits remain at the lab. Testing began on Friday. The staff member who tested positive was asymptomatic, according to the press release, and did not have direct contact with patients at the facility. The staff member is self-isolating for at least two weeks. 

Kat Miller, the department’s director, said the agency is “committed to doing everything in our power to protect our residents and team members from the spread of this virus and will remain vigilant in our efforts to do so.” In addition to testing and implementing screening protocols at the veterans home, the department is limiting entrance at the facility to health care workers.

Seven residents and nine staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Southern Nevada Veterans Home, according to the state dashboard. One resident died of COVID-19. 

— Daniel Rothberg, 4/27/20 at 11:31 a.m.

Nevada joins alliance of Western states to coordinate stay-at-home orders

Nevada and Colorado are the latest states to join a regional coalition coordinating responses to the coronavirus and plans to gradually reopen their economies, according to a press release. 

California, Oregon and Washington were the original members of the Western States Pact.

To consider lifting coronavirus-related restrictions, including stay-at-home orders and business closures, the Western States Pact has emphasized the need for testing and monitoring. 

Other goals of the pact, according to the press release, include focusing on outbreaks within at-risk populations, maintaining hospital capacity for sick patients and addressing indirect COVID-19 health issues, especially in disadvantaged communities.

Sisolak said in the press release on Monday that “the sharing of critical information and best practices on how to mitigate the spread, protect the health and safety of our residents, and reopen responsibly will be invaluable as we chart our paths forward.”

In the past, the governor has stressed that Nevada is uniquely situated, even when compared with other regional states, because of an economy that is largely reliant on tourism. Last week, the Assembly Republican Caucus included joining the pact in its “Framework to Reopen Nevada.”

— Daniel Rothberg, 4/27/20 at 10:33 a.m.

Service providers adjust programs, partnering with restaurants and taking over empty buses to get food to seniors in need

With frozen meals, fresh fruit, and fresh milk in tow, drivers with the Meals on Wheels program make weekly visits to the 2,200 seniors enrolled in the program, providing them with food, clearing old food out of their fridges and freezers and performing a wellness check.

For many of the homebound seniors who are a part of Catholic Charities’ program, their visit from the driver dropping off food is the only human contact they have that week. However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing procedures it’s spurred — especially for seniors, who tend to suffer more serious effects of the virus — all of that has had to change.

“We've pivoted that program,” said Deacon Tom Roberts, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. “The meals are still taken by a driver… and they're now taken to the doorstep, and the driver either knocks on the door or calls the client and leaves them on the doorstep. But he or she makes sure that the client has picked the food up to take it home.”

According to Roberts, the driver and office case manager are a “lifeline” for their clients, providing both the comfort of human contact and “critical” connections to the resources they need. While seniors are still getting their meals through the program, that aspect of the service is now gone.

Even before the pandemic, about 15 percent of Nevadans ages 65 and older were considered food insecure, meaning they lived in households with limited or uncertain access to food. Guidance that seniors, who are especially susceptible to the novel coronavirus, stay at home has raised further concerns about how they will keep their pantries full.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a financial strain on households throughout the state, including for retirees living off dividends and interest from investments that have suffered big drops in the stock market. Even those relying on a fixed Social Security income may be facing additional unexpected costs such as medical bills and delivery fees.

Organizations have stepped up with creative programs to get food to those in need, even utilizing empty buses and company vehicles for deliveries.

There is also federal help on the way. The state’s Aging and Disability Services Division (ADSD) currently funds 45 meals sites and 30 home delivery programs to help vulnerable seniors access nutritional meals. The agency has been accepting applications from non-profits hoping to secure new funding from the over $2 million grant provided to the state by the federal government. 

The funding is a part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which grants $250 million nationally from the Administration for Community Living to facilitate senior meal programs. The division intends for the funding to assist organizations in converting from meal sites to home-delivery.

Catholic Charities

While the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada emergency men’s shelter was forced to temporarily close late last month when a client tested positive for COVID-19, all of the organization's other programs remained operational, including their “Food for Life” services, which include a daily community meal, a food pantry and the senior-focused Meals on Wheels program.

According to Deacon Roberts, these programs have adapted their services to comply with social distancing and ensure the safety of both volunteers and clients.

The St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility is the host of Catholic Charities’ daily community meal, a free meal served between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. every day. As of March 17, the meal site has transitioned to giving out to-go bags rather than providing a sit down meal. The pantry has seen a similar change.

“Our pantry is a little unique because, before this all started with coronavirus issues, clients would come into the pantry and shop. And they weren't just given food, they were shopping,” said Roberts. “Under these conditions, we've suspended this self shopping.”

Instead, volunteers prepare grab-and-go boxes and bags of food in back-of-house areas with no client contact, which are then transported to the front for clients to take.

At both sites, seniors are given priority access to food and moved ahead in lines so that they are not forced to wait.

Those efforts are in addition to Catholic Charities’ Meals on Wheels program for homebound seniors. Aside from reducing person-to-person contact, clients are still being served on their normal schedule, receiving seven days’ worth of meals once a week. 

Roberts says he has been discussing an expansion of the program to include more seniors who are now considered “homebound” because of a risk of exposure to the virus. That will hinge on funding, though — even with current eligibility requirements, the program has a waiting list. 

Catholic Charities is not the only organization to note an increased need. Lisa Segler, the Director of Strategic Initiatives of Three Square Food Bank said there has been an “enormous jump” in senior programming in the last two weeks.

According to Roberts, federal funding typically accounts for 30 cents of every dollar spent by the organization. State funding covers an additional 30 cents, leaving the organization to raise the remaining 40 cents through private donations.

However, as of March 24, Roberts said Catholic Charities had seen general donations drop by 40 percent. 

“It's certainly understandable when you look at what's going on in the financial world,” said Roberts. “But the outcome of that is that our demand for services is increasing, and our revenue is decreasing, so we're becoming even more urgent. And that starts to challenge our sustainability.”

Three Square

Three Square, which is also partially funded by the state, has had to similarly alter its services to better suit current needs. 

Previously, Three Square operated 33 pantry locations as a part of its Golden Groceries program, which serves, as Segler describes, those “60 and better.”

“Most of the Golden Groceries locations, because they're at senior centers or a small pantry in a church or something like that, are no longer operating during this time,” said Segler. “They chose to close them down and understandably so in some situations.”

Now, Three Square has reallocated resources to operating 43 emergency food distribution sites, including drive-thru and walk-up locations. Three Square has seen a dramatic increase in need, with reports of lines of cars up to four miles long at some sites.

Some of the Golden Groceries pantries, such as those operated by Helping Hands of Henderson and Salvation Army of Pahrump, are included among those 43 sites, but many of the old locations have been forced to close to allow the organization to refocus on the emergency locations.

To serve the population now unable to access these sites, and those who are unable or unwilling to leave their homes, Three Square has also created a new delivery program operated in partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission and other agencies. The program had made nearly 800 deliveries as of April 2. 

“Our biggest partnership that's come out of this at the last minute has been with RTC,” said Segler. “The ridership obviously is down, and so their drivers kind of needed something to do and really wanted to give back. And so they have an amazing system set up already with dispatch and GPS and routing systems.”

Drivers from their other partner agencies were in similar situations and have greatly contributed to the program that Segler describes as a “team effort.”

Three Square also operates a helpline for seniors, intended to match them with the resource best suited for their needs. Seniors can call in at (702) 765-4030.

Delivering with Dignity

Three Square is not the only Nevada organization to design an entirely new delivery program in response to COVID-19. United Way of Southern Nevada began operating Delivering with Dignity on March 23. 

The program, organized through Clark County and operated by United Way in association with the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation and the Moonridge Foundation, has received support from local restaurants affected by the business shut down. Chefs from Honey Salt in Las Vegas prepared 800 meals to be delivered during the program’s first day of operation.

“This is a program for people who are one, designated and vulnerable by the CDC guidelines. So these are people who should not be out trying to get food,” said Kyle Rahn, president and CEO of the organization. “Two, this is for people who meet federal guidelines of lower income where they can't afford to order food to be delivered to their door.”

Rahn emphasized that the program is aimed at those who cannot afford other forms of food delivery, such as Uber Eats or Grub Hub. 

“This isn't for convenience,” she said. “This is people that the CDC guidelines say are vulnerable who cannot afford to or who shouldn't be out and can't afford to order in.”

She also pointed out that not all of the 4,000 meals the program delivered in its first week of operations were delivered to seniors. 

“It's for the most vulnerable who otherwise could not afford to eat and should not be out trying to get food,” she said.

According to Rahn, each meal in the program costs $22 and is prepared to serve a family of four. The program is funded as a part of the organization’s Emergency Assistance and Community Needs Fund. 

While this fund provides UWSN’s 13 non-profit partners with resources through private and corporate donations, many of these meal services and others in Nevada still heavily depend on state and federal funding in order to operate. But even as they wait for grant money to be distributed, they are trying to distribute as much food into the community as possible.

“We're continuing to try to find creative ways to do our work,” said Roberts. “We're just, you know, pivoting the programs and operating them in creative ways, given the circumstances that we are all facing.”