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Coronavirus in Nevada is matter of when, not if, health official says

CARSON CITY — As cases of the coronavirus reported in the U.S. continue to rise, Nevada’s top medical official said Monday that the possibility of the disease spreading to the state is “not a question of if. It’s when.”

Ihsan Azzam, chief medical officer for the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, briefed members of the governor’s Patient Protection Commission during a meeting Monday morning on the latest numbers of those affected by the virus and what’s being done in Nevada to prepare for it as the number of cases in the U.S. continues to increase.

Azzam said that there still has been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Nevada, but noted the recent spike in the number of cases in neighboring and nearby states, including Washington, which by Monday had reported six deaths related to the virus.

“It’s a question of time when we know that it’s already community spread in our neighboring states,” Azzam said. “We are going to do our best to ensure the safety of our community and we wish that everybody would be prepared. It’s not a question of if. It’s when.”

There have been roughly 90,000 confirmed cases of the virus across 67 countries, and the global death toll has pushed beyond 3,000.

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In the U.S., 91 cases have been reported as of Monday morning, including dozens of coronavirus patients in California, most of which were repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Two of those California cases, however, were considered community spread, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Health officials say that there are 14 confirmed cases in Washington state and three in Oregon. As of Monday morning, six people had died from the disease in Washington state, the Seattle Times reported.

Azzam said that with the disease being “community spread” in neighboring and nearby states, Nevada needs to be prepared for the disease’s reach to widen.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and other local officials held a press conference on Friday to reassure the public that the state is taking the proper steps to safeguard the state against the spread of the virus.

“We’re going to prepare, not panic,” Sisolak said. The governor also emphasized that state and local agencies are coordinating their planning and response efforts, but kept quiet on the details.

Sisolak also urged the public to take commonsense steps to guard against the disease, including frequently washing their hands.

“Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly is still the single most effective way to prevent the spread of all communicable diseases,” Sisolak said.

In terms of preparation, Azzam said that the state is ready to be able to quickly identify cases and has the capacity to test for several hundred cases currently.

Azzam said that he’s confident that the state can use non-pharmaceutical tools — things such as public outreach by health agencies and medical professionals, early detection and evaluation of possible infections and quarantine in some cases. He said these are the only tools to help contain the virus at this point, since no vaccine or cure has been developed.

“We will be able to delay and slow the spread of the virus even if it starts to get community spread,” Azzam said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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