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Rural Humboldt County Suffered High Coronavirus Infection Rate

The highest coronavirus infection rate in Nevada is found far away from the big cities of Las Vegas and Reno.

Rural Humboldt County, population 17,000, has more positive tests per capita than anywhere else in the state, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Richard Stone, mayor of Winnemucca, the Humboldt County seat, told State of Nevada that the bulk of the cases were tracked to a large family gathering that attracted Las Vegans who brought in the coronavirus.

“What happened to us we had a couple, social family gatherings and people from Las Vegas had come up here who were infected and started the infection in our community,” Stone said.

The county has 77 confirmed cases of the virus and Stone said 75 percent of those can be traced back to the family gathering.

He also noted that the county is doing more testing than the state average, which means there will be more cases. The area was able to secure enough tests to do community testing.

Combining the expanded community testing and the testing done by the hospital, the county was at a 6 percent positivity rate, which Stone admits is high.

“We’ve got a good handle on it. Yeah, the number is higher than we care to see but I think we’re doing a lot of the right things,” he said.

But because the community is small, Stone said people know those who are infected and the four people who died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

All of the deaths are connected to the family gathering that caused the initial outbreak, he said.

Because Winnemucca is a small community, people call Stone personally to express their opinions about the virus and lockdown. 

“It’s like anyplace else. You’ve got the people who don’t really believe it’s happening and then we’ve got the people who are just totally paranoid about it,” he said

He said there are people who believe he didn't do enough. Some wanted him to place police officers at the freeway exit ramps to stop people from coming into the community. 

Others couldn't see why gatherings had to stop and parks close. 

"It’s kind of a balance act," he said.

Stone expects to see a half dozen of the small businesses in the area to close because of the governor's decision to close non-essential businesses to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite the economic impacts, which Stone expects to be severe, he does support the governor's decisions.

“I commend Gov. Sisolak because right off the bat he jumped in there and he shut down the casinos which to me was a very brave move for him to do. He saw that we had a problem and he addressed it,” he said.

Stone would like more advance notice from the governor's office about what will be next, especially because there are large events that bring in tourists and help fill businesses' coffers during the summer.

“We have canceled everything pretty much through June," he said, "We do have a big Silver State Rodeo. It’s a high school finals that we have every year and that’s the one right now that’s on the chopping block. If things don’t turn around that may be canceled along with our Fourth of July activities.”

Richard Stone, mayor, Winnemucca

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.