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KUNR Today: COVID-19 Hospitalizations Up In Washoe Co., Masks Required In National Parks

A color-coded meter that represents Washoe County’s COVID-19 transmission level for the week. The arrow on the meter is pointing at dark red section, which is considered “very high.” The words “Stay Healthy, Stay Informed, Stay Safe” are printed under.
Courtesy of Washoe County Health District
Health officials adjusted Washoe County’s COVID-19 Risk Meter, which shows a “very high” risk of coronavirus transmission.";s:3:

Here are the local news headlines for the morning of Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021.

Health Officials Concerned As Nevada’s COVID-19 Hospitalizations Grow
By Paul Boger

Washoe County health officials say the current growth in COVID-19 hospitalizations is starting to look more like last fall’s surge.

According to a press briefing Wednesday, 89% of all staffed beds in Nevada are occupied, and that has health officials worried. University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine professor John Hess said that more hospitalizations often lead to more deaths.

“While we have gotten better at treating this illness, we by no means have a cure. And once you’re sick enough to be hospitalized, the numbers are still pretty significant as far as, ultimately, those individuals dying,” Hess said during the press call.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in August has increased. Health officials are reporting 16 deaths so far this month compared to five in the county for June and July each.

Nevada Lawmakers Approve Millions In Coronavirus Relief Funds
By Paul Boger

Lawmakers have approved hundreds of millions of dollars in spending Wednesday as part of the state’s efforts to combat the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in Nevada. That includes using $54 million to modernize the state’s unemployment insurance system and $30 million for early childhood education and emergency coronavirus relief funding for K-12 schools.

Most of the money is underwritten by federal coronavirus relief funds passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. Nevada received nearly $3 billion directly from the American Rescue Plan passed in March.

National Park Service Implementing Tougher Mask Requirements
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

As of this week, the National Park Service is implementing stricter mask requirements. The new mask mandate requires everyone, regardless of vaccine status, to wear masks in National Park facilities and in crowded outside areas. Denise Germann with Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming said that means masks are needed anywhere there’s a tight crowd.

“Maybe some of the overlooks. It just depends. But if you cannot socially distance outside, we are asking that you wear a mask,” Germann said.

So far, most visitors at her park are complying.

Maria Burks is with the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group of active and former park service employees. She’s glad the mask mandate is in place because there are so many visitors.

“They come in with differing health situations, differing vaccination status, and you know, the visitor centers are crowded, the trailheads are crowded,” Burks said.

Yellowstone National Park had already started requiring masks in late July.

Wildland Firefighters Getting Pay Bump This Week
By Maggie Mullen, Mountain West News Bureau

Back in June, the White House announced plans to improve working conditions for wildland firefighters. Part of that included a pay bump. The pay initiative means that starting this week, all federal wildland firefighters will get paid at least $15 an hour. Up until now, the pay started at $13.45.

“The leadership for the first time is recognizing publicly that this isn’t enough,” said Ben Elkind, a federal wildland firefighter.

The increase in hourly wages will include back pay to June 30. Plus, both temporary and permanent frontline firefighters will receive bonuses of various sizes. Elkind said the boost comes at a time when staff shortages are a serious problem out in the field.

“A lot of that has to do with a low pay. People just basically walk off the job or don’t come back the next season. They quit,” he said.

Elkind said he’s eager to see how the Biden administration fulfills other promises, like improving benefits and work-life balance for wildland firefighters.

St. Mary’s Terminates Deal With Prominence HealthFirst
By KUNR Staff

Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center has terminated its contract with Prominence HealthFirst. As of this week, the hospital is considered out-of-network for people who carry Health First insurance.

In a statement, hospital officials cited a refusal by the health insurance provider to authorize medically necessary care, as well as failures to pay for medically necessary services in a timely manner.

According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Saint Mary’s wanted concessions from Prominence HealthFirst that would have given it a competitive advantage over another hospital: Northern Nevada Sierra Medical Center, which is currently under construction.

Saint Mary’s also reiterated that all patients, regardless of insurance, can continue to receive emergency care without additional cost due to the termination.

One Candidate Remains In Search For New Elko Schools Superintendent
By KUNR Staff

The search for a new Elko County School District Superintendent is all but over after one of the two finalists pulled his name from consideration.

According to the Elko Daily Free Press, Kenneth Demick, a teacher at Spring Creek High School, stepped away from the search this week. That leaves M. Neil Terhune as the sole applicant for the job. Terhune is currently the superintendent of Esmeralda County Schools, which is the smallest district in the state.

If appointed, he would replace former Superintendent Michele Robinson, who resigned unexpectedly earlier this summer, barely more than a year after taking the job.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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.
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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