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KUNR Today: Sisolak, Newsom Call For Federal Firefighting Help, Nevada Schools Requiring Masks

An image of Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak standing with California Governor Gavin Newsom
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (left) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom toured a neighborhood in Gardnerville, Nev. that lost several homes to the Tamarack Fire, on July 28, 2021.

Here are your local news headlines for the morning of Thursday, July 29, 2021.

Nevada, California Governors Call For Federal Assistance In Battling Wildfires
By Lucia Starbuck

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak joined with California Governor Gavin Newsom in urging for more federal aid in helping to fight wildfires, as the two toured areas burned by the Tamarack Fire Wednesday.

Standing among the destruction, Sisolak called for more federal assistance.

“We’ve got a house, right behind where you folks are standing, that went right to the ground. I mean, all that’s left is rubble. There’s nothing left standing. We need help. We need help on the federal side, we need more people coming in, we need more resources,” Sisolak said.

The Tamarack Fire began when lightning struck a tree earlier this month. Due to limited resources, the U.S. Forest Service monitored it, but let it burn to focus on higher priority incidents. Sisolak said federal funding will ensure that forest officials won’t have to make those kinds of decisions in the future.

Officials say 11 structures were destroyed in Nevada, most of which were primary residences, along with 17 structures lost in California.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Key Official Blames Nevada's Return To Masks On Unvaccinated
By The Associated Press

Northern Nevada’s top health officer says the return to an indoor mask mandate in most of the state is an unwelcome but necessary move amid a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Washoe County Health Officer Kevin Dick blames the 43% of eligible Nevada residents who have not gotten vaccinated. New coronavirus cases continued to climb in Nevada on Wednesday to their highest level since February. Dick told reporters in Reno that he’s especially frustrated by those who argue the decision on whether to get vaccinated is a personal choice “because it only affects them.” He says that's not true and it affects everyone in the community.

Nevada Universities And K-12 Schools Requiring Masks
By Paul Boger and Jayden Perez

K-12 public schools, as well as colleges and universities in Nevada, will soon require all students and staff to wear face masks, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

College and university officials made the decision Wednesday after Governor Steve Sisolak announced the state will adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest recommendations.

University of Nevada, Reno president Brian Sandoval says the health of the campus is of the utmost importance.

"We've done some surveys and we believe that over 70% of the students will be vaccinated, or are vaccinated, and our faculty is close to 80%," Sandoval said, "but we're very respectful and understanding of the situation that's going on, and we will comply with all the requirements that are put forth by the governor."

The Washoe County School Board voted Tuesday to require face masks indoors with some exceptions. School leaders in Carson City recently voted unanimously against mask requirements; however, the city remains under the governor’s general mask mandate for counties with elevated levels of COVID-19 transmission.

Low Vaccination Rate Among Nevada Prison Staff Draws Criticism
By KUNR Staff

Governor Steve Sisolak has voiced criticism over the Nevada Department of Corrections’ low vaccination rates among staff. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, roughly 42% of prison staff are fully vaccinated. That’s lower than the vaccination rate among the state’s inmate population.

Sisolak said the rate was "atrocious" and "not acceptable" during a state Board of Prison Commissioners meeting Tuesday. Department officials cited vaccine hesitancy as a major reason behind the low rates.

There have been more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 among prison staff since the beginning of the pandemic.

Study: Heat Waves Hurting High-Elevation Forests
By Maggie Mullen, Mountain West News Bureau

Another heat wave is gripping much of the country this week, including areas in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Research shows that’s bad news for trees in high-elevation forests.

More trees in Colorado’s subalpine forests are dying because of extreme heat. That’s according to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Ecology.

Lead author Robbie Andrus did the research while at CU Boulder. He said warmer temperatures draw more moisture out of trees and soil.

"Their physiological functions often decline or fail, and they can die as a result of that," he said.

The study also found that it’s the older and larger trees that are dying more rapidly, and Andrus said, those trees store the most carbon.

"Eventually, subalpine forests may function less as a carbon sink than they currently do," Andrus said.

Along with higher tree mortality, the study found that hotter and drier conditions are making it difficult for new trees to grow in high-elevation forests in Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

Spaghetti Bowl Changes Beginning Next Week
By Jayden Perez

Drivers can expect to see some changes to the Spaghetti Bowl starting next Monday. According to the Nevada Department of Transportation, crews will combine the Second Street and Mill Street on and off ramps for I-580 South.

Public safety officials say the goal is to increase traffic safety and reduce weaving. Crash rates on the stretch of road between Second and Mill Streets are roughly 200 percent above the statewide average.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
Maggie Mullen is a fifth generation Wyomingite, born and raised in Casper. She is currently a Masters candidate in American Studies and will defend her thesis on female body hair in contemporary American culture this May. Before graduate school, she earned her BA in English and French from the University of Wyoming. Maggie enjoys writing, cooking, her bicycle, swimming in rivers and lakes, and most any dog.
Jayden Perez is a former web producer and student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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