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KUNR Today: As omicron surges, Truckee Meadows reaches highest COVID-19 risk level

A graphic of the region's COVID-19 risk meter, pointing to the highest "severe" level
COVID-19 Regional Information Center

Read or listen to the morning news headlines for Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.

Washoe County’s COVID-19 risk meter at ‘severe’ for first time
By Kaleb Roedel

The Truckee Meadows reached another grim milestone this week as the spread of omicron intensifies. The Washoe County County Health District says the COVID-19 risk meter is currently purple, or at a severe level. Kevin Dick, who heads the agency, says that’s because of surging daily cases and rising virus-related hospitalizations.

“That’s as high as the risk meter goes, and it’s the highest that we’ve had throughout the entire pandemic," Dick said. "We’ve never reached this level on the risk meter previously.”

Dick said the seven-day average of new cases has swelled to 951. That’s a 28% jump from just one week ago. Meanwhile, the seven-day average of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen to 139. Even though people with omicron are less likely to need hospital care, Dick said the sheer number of cases has led to increasing hospitalizations.

So far this year, 15 people in Washoe County have died from COVID-19, according to the district.

Washoe County Health District is seeking federal help for COVID testing
By Gustavo Sagrero, Kaleb Roedel

With high demand for COVID-19 testing at some of the county’s public parks, Washoe County Health District officer Kevin Dick said the agency is planning on expanding their testing site at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center.

“We have made a request to see if there are federal resources available that could help to bolster testing here in Washoe county as well," said Health District Officer Kevin Dick.

The district still hasn’t heard back on whether they’ll receive those funds to expand testing.

Omicron forcing Western states to activate crisis standards of care
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

While omicron COVID-19 infections may be milder overall than other variants, they’re still landing people in the hospital and taxing health care workers. Colorado activated crisis standards of care for emergency medical services earlier this month. Health officials in Idaho say their state could enter a second round of crisis standards, too, as hospitalizations increase and staff get sick.

Fewer health care workers, plus any increase in filled beds, is a bad combination. And while it may take time for an entire state to activate crisis standards, individual hospitals and ERs are having to make day-to-day decisions with quickly fluctuating staff.

Data from Johns Hopkins shows that as of last week, 89% of all Nevada ICU beds were taken. That’s the second highest rate of full ICU beds in the region, following New Mexico.

Sparks median home price rises to record $521,750
By Kaleb Roedel

Another month, another record for housing prices in Northern Nevada — this time in Sparks. The latest report from the Reno-Sparks Association of Realtors says the median home price in the Sparks-Spanish Springs market reached nearly $522,000 last month. That’s up nearly 30% from roughly a year ago.

For the greater Reno-Sparks area, the median home price rose slightly to $545,000. That’s up just 2% from the previous month; however, that number is still a year-over-year increase of 21%.

New organization helping BLM in its mission
By Bert Johnson, Mountain West News Bureau

The federal Bureau of Land Management oversees ten-percent of the nation’s territory. A new nonprofit organization launched Wednesday will help support its mission.

The Foundation for America’s Public Lands will raise money for new projects, increase public engagement and improve communication with tribal governments. BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said the bureau has been under increasing pressure from climate change-fueled drought and wildfire, but it also needs help to serve the growing number of people heading outdoors.

"The lands around us are changing before our very eyes. It's sobering, yet during the pandemic, [they have] also been an incredible refuge for millions of Americans," Stone-Manning said.

Former Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Neil Kornze – who directed the BLM under President Barack Obama – are founding board members.

While it’s a first for the BLM, many other federal agencies already have their own foundations. The National Forest Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Parks Foundation all support the work being done in their respective areas.

Nevada launches grant program to support conservation, recreation projects
By Andrew Mendez

The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched the “Conserve Nevada” grant program, which will act as a renewal of the state’s initial conservation bond program.

The programwill distribute more than $217 million over the next 10 years for projects related to protecting Nevada’s historic and cultural resources. Funds will also be used to make wildlife improvements and advancements to Nevada museums.

The state will be hosting listening sessions over the next few weeks where community members can voice their concerns and pitch projects. Over nearly two decades, there have been more than 200 projects funded throughout the state through this program.

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