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KUNR Today: Wildfire Smoke Related To Rise In COVID-19 Cases, Nevada Names Permanent Water Official

An image of a wildfire burning with large plumes of smoke
Oregon Department of Forestry

Here are your local news headlines for the morning of Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Carson City May Close Certain Rec Facilities Due To Wildfire Smoke
By KUNR Staff

With sustained poor air quality due to wildfire smoke, Carson City officials say they may close certain recreation facilities for the safety of city employees and the public. The two sites that will be most impacted by these possible closures are the outdoor pool at the Carson Aquatic Facility and the Carson City Rifle and Pistol Range.

Each day that smoke is a concern, city staff will evaluate the air quality index to determine if the sites can open. If the AQI is at 150 or higher, those facilities will be closed, though other facilities will remain open as scheduled. You can find closure notices at www.carson.org/airalerts.

Study: Wildfire Smoke May Add To COVID-19 Risk
By The Associated Press

A new study by the Desert Research Institute suggests a correlation between exposure the particulate matter in wildfire smoke and risk of contracting the coronavirus. Scientists found that test positivity rates increased last year in Washoe County when the region was blanketed with wildfire smoke from fires in neighboring California. Desert Research Institute Assistant Research Scientist Daniel Kiser said the study was observational and noted that the uptick could be attributed to other factors, like last year's second surge, but said momentary upticks during periods of high pollution suggested a connection between smoke and the spread of the virus.

Study: Communities Of Color Disproportionately Affected By Heat Waves
By Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

The study’srelease comes during a season of heat waves across the American West. Study lead Susanne Benz said she saw a strong correlation nationwide between higher heat and lower income, but when she removed wealth from the equation, the disparity persisted.

"Even when controlling for income, we find significant racial and ethnic differences in the heat we experience," Benz said.

In other words, communities of color live in hotter areas than white residents independent of their income. That was true for roughly three-quarters of the counties Benz studied.

She said reducing these systemic inequalities in our region means, among other things, planting vegetation. Parks and trees are no longer a special feature of a nice neighborhood, but rather essential to human health.

Amodei Won't Decide On Bid For Nevada Governor Until October
By The Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei plans to decide whether to run for governor of Nevada no sooner than October. The Nevada Republican said on Tuesday that he felt no need to make a decision with the primary election 11 months away. A crowded field of Republican primary hopefuls have already entered the race, including Sheriff Joe Lombardo, former North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert. But Amodei noted that no frontrunner had emerged at this point and said Republicans needed a strong gubernatorial candidate on top of their ticket in the 2022 midterm elections.

Energy Jobs Down In Mountain West
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

The annual U.S. energy jobs reportcame out Tuesday, and overall, jobs in our region didn't do well during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, job numbers in the energy sector were growing twice as fast as the economy, but there was about a 10% decrease in energy employment in 2020.

Since most of us didn’t travel much, there’s no surprise that demand for oil and gasoline tanked. So, the good-paying jobs associated with fuels didn’t do so well. That’s especially true in energy-heavy states like Colorado and Wyoming.

At the same time, because many of us worked from home, demands for electricity actually increased last year. Charles Mason is an energy economist at the University of Wyoming.

“Evidently electricity demand in an office setting is a little more efficient than on the home front,” Mason said.

One area the Mountain West saw some increase was in transmission, distribution and storage jobs. Mason said that was partially to make sure infrastructure that delivers that electricity kept operating.

Mason expects energy job numbers to keep rebounding this year. But, he said there will be shifts down the road towards electric vehicles and automation - and away from fossil fuels like coal.

Nevada Water Rights Official's Acting Role Becomes Permanent
By The Associated Press

Nevada's acting state administrator of water resources and policy now has the position permanently. Adam Sullivan was named Tuesday as state engineer in the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Sullivan became acting state engineer when Tim Wilson retired last November. Gov. Steve Sisolak noted the state water chief plays a pivotal role in an arid and fast-growing state. Wilson's predecessor, Jason King, retired in January 2019 after 28 years as a state employee, including legal fights over issues including an abandoned proposal to pump water to Las Vegas from a vast rural area near the Nevada-Utah state line.

Nevada Lags Behind In COVID-19 Vaccinations For Nursing Home Residents
By Michelle Billman

Nevada’s senators have co-written a letter to express their concerns about low COVID-19 vaccination rates for nursing home residents. The letter has been sent to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said that as of last week, Nevada had the lowest rate of vaccination for those living in nursing homes with only 61% of that population having received their shots. They also noted that since the start of the pandemic, more than half of nursing home residents and staff across the state have tested positive for the virus, which has resulted in more than 500 deaths statewide.

The letter asks why this lag exists in Nevada, along with what the department is doing to improve outreach and education for this vulnerable demographic.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
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