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KUNR Today: COVID-19 metrics improving in Nevada, Drought could intensify algal blooms

An image of algae building up on top of a lake
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
An image of an algae bloom at Utah Lake State Park, taken September 10, 2020

Here are the local news headlines for the morning of Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.

COVID-19 trends continuing to improve across Nevada
By The Associated Press

September was the third deadliest COVID-19 month in Washoe County since the pandemic began. But health officials said Wednesday coronavirus trends are continuing to improve in Reno-Sparks, Las Vegas and across most of the state after a summer surge in cases and hospitalizations began to plateau late last month. The 14-day average for new daily cases statewide fell to 620 on Wednesday, the lowest it’s been since mid-July. The 14-day average for the positivity rate statewide dropped to 8.5% on Tuesday. It was nearly double that much of August and hovered above 10% most of September. It is 6.7% in Clark County and 13.5% in Washoe County.

California hopes to ease transfers to UC and Cal State
By The Associated Press

California hopes to make it easier for students in community colleges to transfer into the state’s public universities with a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The legislation streamlines a process students have described as a maze. By smoothing the path to the University of California’s campuses and California State University, the state hopes to increase the numbers of transfer students to four-year colleges and close equity gaps. The new law simplifies a program that guarantees priority admission to Cal State schools for students with associate degrees. It also requires the UC and Cal State systems to agree on a common set of courses that community college students need to take to transfer.

DOJ offering training and resources to educators facing violent threats
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

The U.S. Justice Department plans to offer training and other resources to educators and school boards as they face violent threats.

Employees at the Caldwell School District in southwest Idaho have faced plenty of angry messages during the pandemic, even some threatening social media posts. Police are now posted at school board meetings.

“So, they’ll either be present or they’ll be on patrol outside of the building,” said Superintendent Shalene French.

French said educators are facing other stressors, too, like political pressures. Debates continue to rage over critical race theory and masks region-wide, and there’s understaffing as stressed teachers leave and are hard to replace.

If there’s no substitute, and someone is out sick, teachers have to help each other and stretch resources even more.

“We needed 30 subs and we might have been able to fill 10,” French said.

As service industry jobs pay more than ever, many teaching jobs in the Mountain West still have stagnant starting salaries, and even lower pay for paraprofessionals and support staff.

3 Sierra passes to close Thursday ahead of winter storm
By The Associated Press

California highway officials say they will close three mountain passes near the Nevada line between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park on Thursday as a precaution ahead of an early winter storm that’s expected to bring rain and snow to the Sierra. Temperatures were plunging Wednesday in Reno ahead of the cold front. Highs were forecast to "drop 10 to 15 degrees below normal Thursday through Saturday with weekend lows near and below freezing to Friday,” the service said. Several inches of snow are possible at the higher elevations. An even older air mass is expected to drop into the region Monday and Tuesday.

Algal blooms could get worse, but not as bad as previously thought
By Bert Johnson, Mountain West News Bureau

Scientists have been expecting algal blooms to get more intense as pollution gets worse and climate change accelerates, but according to a new study, that’s not necessarily true.

Algal blooms happen when fertilizer gets washed into lakes, clouding the water with pond scum. They can also release toxins, but a survey of more than 300 lakes shows that waterways where algal blooms are getting worse are in the minority.

"Surprisingly to us, 16% of lakes actually had algal blooms that were getting better," said Grace Wilkinson with the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who worked on the survey.

She thinks restoration efforts have reduced the amount of downstream pollution, but Wilkinson also said extreme drought driven by climate change could make things worse in Western states.

"When there’s less intense precipitation, the water has a chance to stabilize and warm up. Algae really like that warmth and so in that particular year, you might see a more intense algal bloom happening," she said.

Wilkinson said more research is needed to predict how large scale environmental changes will affect any given body of water.

Truckee outlines response to July cybersecurity attack
By The Associated Press

Truckee officials say they’ve taken steps to recover from and guard against a cybersecurity attack like the one that shut down its computer system in July in the town near Lake Tahoe. The Sierra Sun reports Town Manager Jennifer Callaway presented the latest update to the town council last week about the July 22 attack. There’s been no information released about a possible source of the attack but Callaway said one particular exchange server “was infected with a very malicious piece of malware.” The attack breached Truckee’s computer system, causing phones, internet, access to data and everything that exists behind the town’s firewall to be shut down.

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.
Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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