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John L. Smith On Nevada's Roll Out Of The Coronavirus Vaccine

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Neal Browning receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

The week began with a sense of hope with the arrival of the first COVID vaccine in the nation. 

More than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, but some are starting to feel the spirit of the eventual end of a nightmare. 

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak in a Sunday update and news conference was cautiously optimistic but reminded everyone to continue to practice social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand washing.

State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith monitored the governor's announcement.

“Ideally, if everyone stayed home, this terrible pandemic might pass over, but realistically because of the way Nevada’s economy is structured, if everyone stayed home – first of all, there is a problem with that, a lot of folks can’t stay home. They have to work outside the home, but secondly, the lion’s share of the Nevada economy comes from tourism and gaming,” Smith said.

Smiths said the unemployment numbers in Nevada are staggering, and the impact on families has been "heartbreaking."

In addition, the state's coffers are losing $50 million a month in gaming taxes. He calls it a "double whammy" for everyone. 

And at this point, he feels it is silly to have to repeat the same message.

 “It seems little enough to wear a mask and to practice social distancing and to do a handful of things that, at the very least, will keep Nevada from the very worst of the worst when it comes to COVID positivity rates, which frankly, that’s where we’re at right now,” he said.

Recent surveys show that 75 percent of Nevadans are wearing masks, but that means 25 percent aren't.

Smith said he has heard that if there was full mask compliance, or at least 95 percent, 100,000 lives could be saved over the next few months.

“It’s fascinating to see the difference that just going with the program might make,” he said.

Already more than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

“That’s tragic at all the levels that you can think of; however, wearing the mask more often and more consistently, and I have seen it, unfortunately, in stores and a couple of places that I pick up a cup of coffee,” he said.

Smith said he doesn't go out much, but when he has, he has seen most people wearing masks and some people not.

“It’s a head scratch why people are so stubborn about something so simple,” he said.

History, he pointed out, shows the usefulness of masks during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

The mask mandate is likely to continue for the next several months even as the state rolls out the vaccine.

Right now, getting the vaccine into the arms of as many people as possible is a priority.

Smith said the governor and his virus task force has been working closely with the National Guard on setting up testing sites. Now, they'll work on getting the vaccine out to people.

“The rollout has been practiced now, according to the governor in his public statement," Smith said, "They’ve been practicing it. They’re basically having run-throughs in anticipation of having to move a lot of vaccine, which will be highly refrigerated, very quickly, essentially to start with, get it in the arms of those frontline workers and first responders.”

Nevada does face challenges when it comes to getting the vaccine out to people. One problem is the state's geography. The state is one of the largest and getting to the rural areas will be a challenge at some point in the process.

Another problem, Smith noted, will be overcoming the anti-vaccine and conspiracy theories that have been swirling around.

Besides the vaccine, Smith said the governor, in his news conference, also took his strongest stand yet against the federal government for its lack of leadership in response to the pandemic, and its inability to get a new aid package passed.

“On Sunday, the governor was far clearer in his frustration with the federal government,” he said. 

The state's rainy day fund is depleted and many people's unemployment has run out. 

“You’ve got a lot of things really stressing out people that could be remedied to a degree with the federal funding that has been stuck in Congress now for months,” Smith said.

Smith believes Gov. Sisolak speaking out against the federal government was the right thing to do because Nevada needs help and the only help it can really get is from the federal government.

At some point, he said the Senate needs to start "grinding the gears, not putting on the brakes."

Opponents of Gov. Sisolak have tried to use the pandemic as a wedge issue to get the governor recalled. That effort has failed.

Smith said if you watch the governor's speech on YouTube you will see the rolling comments, and they are often filled with vitriol. However, that vitriol did not translate into signatures on the recall petition.

Smith believes that when it comes to signing a petition people become a little more "level-headed."

“They realize that this is kind of an impossible deal," he said, "It’s not impossible to fight it. It’s impossible to fix overnight.”

Smith said people could argue about how Sisolak has managed the casino industry and the religious gathering issue, but it is difficult to argue with Nevada's effort.

“You have so many people trying so hard to keep a handle on this pandemic and do the right things and still keep the economy open,” he said.

John L. Smith, contributor

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.