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Sisolak approves plan for tests, labs, contact tracing

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Monday, June 1 announced the approval of a comprehensive community-based testing, laboratory analysis and contact tracing plan to support efforts to reopen Nevada’s economy.

“This plan marks a major milestone for the state of Nevada, formalizing and expanding our existing efforts to battle COVID-19 as we embrace our new normal,” Sisolak said. “Creating this plan has been a massive undertaking jointly led by Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Emergency Management and state Public Health Laboratory, and I am pleased to begin executing the comprehensive strategy to help protect all Nevadans.”

The comprehensive effort will be funded primarily through federal support allocated to the state through the coronavirus relief fund approved through Congress, epidemiology and laboratory capacity grant funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program.

The first major component of this plan is ongoing support for community-based testing, including providing logistical support for local and tribal communities for sample collection kits, personal protective equipment and increasing resources for antibody collection. This effort, administered by the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, aims to provide ongoing support and surge capacity of these critical resources in the event of future outbreaks.

Second, this comprehensive effort continues to emphasize building and maintaining statewide laboratory capacity to analyze the samples collected through community-based testing.

Over the past few months, Nevada’s public laboratories have increased their capacities to an extraordinary degree through public and private resources and support. Nevada is also pursuing innovative partnerships with private labs, hospitals and clinics in order to increase Nevada’s overall testing capacity.

Dr. Mark Pandori, the director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, will serve as the state’s chief of testing. Pandori, an associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine, is temporarily expanding his existing responsibilities to help direct and coordinate Nevada’s immediate and long-term testing strategy.

Pandori already has found innovative and creative solutions to testing issues, including repurposing testing swabs typically used for other procedures and including the construction of swab collection kits for distribution to the entire state.

The final major component of the comprehensive effort is supporting Nevada’s statewide contact tracing effort, which involves a statewide digital contact tracing solution through Deloitte and Salesforce. This effort, supported by these national technology leaders, will modernize and streamline case investigation and contact tracing with increased staffing to quickly identify and notify individuals who might have been in close contact to a person with COVID-19.

In addition to the utilization of digital tools, Nevada is developing a staffing solution focused on addressing the immediate needs as Phase 2 moves forward, with an increase of more than 250 contact tracers through Deloitte, as well as long-term solutions to address the ongoing public health workforce needs and provide Nevadans with jobs.

Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with COVID-19 infection and each person who has tested positive for COVID-19 will be in contact with public health staff to identify those they interacted with during their infectious period. Public health staff then contact the individuals to inform them of the potential exposure. Through contact tracing, patients are provided information and resources to help them protect their health, and the health of others, and is a key part of Nevada’s COVID-19 response.

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