Community-Based Testing in Elko County May Lead to Phase Two Reopening

Photo: Visitor7 - CC BY-SA 3.0

With the launch of a community-based testing program this weekend, Elko County Commissioners are optimistic Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak will soon initiate Phase Two of the Nevada Roadmap to Recovery

Today during the regular Elko Board of Commissioners meeting, Dr. Bryce Putnam, Elko County Health Officer, announced the launch of the community-based testing program that will be held Wednesday through Saturday next week at the Elko Convention Center. The testing program aims to complete 2,500-3,000 nasal-swab tests during that time.

“All of the tests that we’re going to conduct are going to give us a snapshot out of 3000 people, how many that are being tested that could still pass it along to members of our community,” Putnam said. “Even if they are feeling well.”

In order to get tested, participants will have to reserve an hour-block appointment in advance on a first-come, first-served basis. The County hopes to administer 60-100 tests per hour and will receive support from the National Guard, medical students from the University of Nevada, the Nevada Gold Mines rescue team and other volunteers. 

“We only have a certain amount of tests, so after that we won’t have any test kits,” Putnam said. “But as long as [participants] are on the schedule to be there at a certain time, including family members, anybody who is worried about whether they could be exposed, or anybody who just wants to be tested can be. So there are no limitations on [who qualifies to be tested].”

Logistics are currently being looked at to make the community-based testing available to seniors and those who are unable to drive to the convention center by providing a “walk-up” testing lane.

“We will have and are working on the logistics for people who cannot drive, who may want to walk-up or get someone to give them a ride,” Annette Kerr, Elko County Emergency Management Officer, said. “We’re trying to put in a lane for seniors who may or may not want to [drive], or can’t drive themselves.”

A nasal-swab will be taken from participants and put in a viral transport before being sent to a state lab for analysis. The nasal-swab test determines a participant’s Covid-19 status at the time of the test, but is not able to determine past exposure to the virus. Results from the tests will be received in 3-5 days time and have proven to have a 99 percent accuracy rate, according to Dr. Putnam.

Additional testing has also been made available at a local Wal-Mart, where drive-up Covid-19 testing has been offered on a daily basis from 7:00 – 9:00 a.m. 

The community-based testing initiative comes as part of the state government’s directive to test as many people as possible to identify potential Covid-19 carriers. A contact tracing program was also implemented at the start of last week, working to identify anyone that may have come into contact with the eight new cases of Covid-19 in Elko County announced this week. 

“[The contact tracers] have done an excellent job so far,” Putnam said. “From about a little over a week we have eight new positive cases. So they’re looking into those and researching and calling people and taking the appropriate measures.”

A Public Service Announcement will be released in the near future once logistics for the community-based testing program are in place. Elko County Commissioners are confident that the testing program this week will help facilitate the launch of Phase Two of Gov. Sisolak’s Covid-19 reopening response, otherwise referred to as the “Silver State Stabilization” phase.

At its peak, the state of Nevada recorded a 12.9 percent Covid-19 infection rate. As of today, the infection rate now stands at 9 percent, with Friday marking what would potentially be the 14th straight day of declining infection rates in the state. If the launch of Phase Two is announced by Gov. Sisolak on Friday, a broader opening of the economy will begin to take place.

Phase One of the Silver State Stabilization plan called for the assurance that hospitals and ICUs have the capacity to receive patients that have tested positive for Covid-19, alongside increasing testing capacity and implementing measures to flatten the curve of positive cases in the state.

Phase Two will see the continued re-opening of commerce and retail stores, while maintaining the social distancing, hygiene and occupancy guidelines already in place. 

“Phase Two will also include continuing that downward trend so that the hospitals have the capability of handling any surge,” Kerr said. “So our next process, after we continue the community-based testing, will then be to move testing into the nursing homes and facilities that have vulnerable populations.”

This announcement comes at a time when many small business owners are anxious to re-open and get back to work. One such small business owner is Michele Herzog, of Hot Bodiez Tanning Salon, in Elko County. Herzog shared a letter with the Board of Commissioners requesting that they support her petition to Gov. Sisolak that tanning salons be allowed to re-open. Her letter included the two pages’ worth of sanitation guidelines Herzog stated she would implement upon re-opening her business.

Herzog’s letter received a particularly positive reaction from Commissioner Rex Steninger, who suggested that she re-open her business in spite of Gov. Sisolak’s directives.

“I really think we should [support] that because it’s just another example of how arbitrary these rules are,” Steninger said. “Put thousands of people in Walmart but you can’t put one person into a tanning room. It’s just crazy, I would encourage her to open up in spite of the governor.”

Steninger’s motion to support Herzog’s letter to the governor was subsequently passed.

From an economic recovery standpoint, Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi and County Manager Rob Stokes have been hosting Facebook Live events showcasing local businesses in the Elko County area. They were joined by Dr. Putnam, Mayor Reece Keener and a representative from Nevada Gold Mines to encourage followers to go out and shop at local businesses. Businesses in other cities will be featured as well, with plans to visit Spring Creek, West Andover and Carlin, among others. 

“We just want to feature some of the businesses and really get the message out about shopping local,” Andreozzie said. “It’s really more or less being a cheerleader for our local businesses and supporting them.”

Andreozzie noted that while they were out, concern about Covid-19 varied among pedestrians and store patrons. Some wore masks or other face coverings, while others did not. 

“I haven’t seen any [hesitation to go out in public],” Andreozzie said. “Every place we went to, the people serving us were wearing masks, but we didn’t see any people shying away [from going out]. It was the middle afternoon by the time we got to the retail store and there were people out and about.”

As of this writing, Elko County has 22 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 1 death. According to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, seven of the confirmed cases are active.


Scott King is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, pursuing his Master’s degree in Media Innovation. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Scott recently returned from Grenada, where he served for two years as a literacy teacher with the Peace Corps. Support his work in the Ally.