The Hitchcock Project

Truckee Meadows Fire and Rescue Truck
Scott King

This story was originally published to the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science's website on August 22, 2020.

California is blazing with three of the largest wildfires in the state’s history, with much of the state facing smoke-filled skies and evacuation orders. In just seven days, the fires have charred nearly a million acres, according to Cal Fire, which is more than triple the area burned during a typical fire season (a little over 300,000 acres). In the Tahoe region and the Great Basin, firefighters are already exhausted as they gear up for more potential fires during a dry fall.

Aerial shot of a desert mountain.
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

The landscape appears arid. Yet, water flows at the heart of the controversy about a federal plan to build a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in southwestern Nevada. A new scientific paper concludes water is moving through the mountain much faster than researchers previously had suspected. This may increase the possibility that groundwater in the region could become contaminated with radioactive elements.

Law enforcement standing by on Virginia Street. Rioters running in different directions as tear gas fills the street.
Ty O'Neil / This Is Reno

As a warning, this story includes graphic images and videos containing violence that may be disturbing, along with inappropriate language.

Organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday afternoon in Reno have denounced the violence that took place later that evening after the peaceful protest had ended. 

Lucia Starbuck was on the scene reporting for This Is Reno, and witnessed the events that unfolded at City Hall. She recounted what she saw with KUNR’s Anh Gray.

Two men wearing hard hats are lifting a rectangular panel onto a roof outside.
Tessa Hartman / Simple Power Solar

After more than a decade of growth, Nevada’s fast-growing renewable energy sector faces storm clouds. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has cost the sector thousands of jobs, is delaying projects large and small, and in many areas is killing sales. But Nevada enjoys the sunniest skies in the nation, the momentum of a decade-long boom in projects and a state government pushing for more. Officials said Nevada will weather the current turbulence and meet its new standard to source half its electricity from renewables by 2030. And already, some local solar panel installers report a rebound in activity.

Soldiers of the Nevada National Guard don personal protective equipment to help with drive-through COVID-19 testing.
Nevada National Guard

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

The deployment of the Nevada National Guard is being extended until mid-August to help with COVID-19 relief efforts. 

A woman standing behind a podium that reads NV Energy. Behind her is a green EV charging station with two cords and reads Terrible's.
Courtesy NV Energy

While sales of electric vehicles globally are expected to decline this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the installation of charging stations in Nevada is expected to continue growing, pushed by $15 million in utility incentives and support from the state.

A quote by Lori Smetanka explaining how "The stories we're hearing directly from residents and families keeps me up at night. The fear among them about how to protect themselves."
KUNR

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Arbors Memory Care in Sparks is a long-term care facility for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It was the site of Washoe County’s recent COVID-19 outbreak. Thirty-eight people have been confirmed and three residents have died. 

Fourteen large wind turbines spin at the Spring Valley Wind facility near Ely, Nevada.
Jeff Moser / Creative Commons

Nevada is a big player in renewable energy. But while it ranks among the top five states for both solar and geothermal energy production, it lags well behind in wind energy production, where it falls 33rd. This fact surprised KUNR's Benjamin Payne, who last year moved to Reno from his native Illinois. Whereas that state boasts more than 50 wind farms, Nevada has only one. He decided to look into this gap, and figure out why wind makes up such a small sliver of Nevada’s energy mix.

There's a sign near a sidewalk that says, 'Lakeside,' and there's grass and trees in the background.
Screenshot / Google Maps

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected those living in long-term care facilities nationwide. In most states, at least a third of deaths are in those hotspots. And in Washoe County, the deaths associated at these centers account for more than half of the 48 total deaths so far.

KUNR’s Anh Gray reports that the pandemic exposes some particular vulnerabilities for older adults.

Dozens of large, yellow lithium-ion batteries are bolted together. They are being charged by solar power.
Yo-Co-Man / Creative Commons

Despite all the favorable conditions and high demand for solar power in Nevada, there are challenges.

There's the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to stall or even cancel some solar projects that are under development, according to federal energy projections. There's a more fundamental problem as well, though: the sun doesn't always shine. That's why more battery storage is needed to capture and store solar when the sun is up, so utilities have enough to deliver when the sun is down.

But one Nevada solar plant has found another solution. KUNR's Benjamin Payne has the story.

A photo collage of UNR Med School graduating students wearing their academic regalia.
Lauren Siri / UNR Med

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

A hooding ceremony is a celebratory event steeped in tradition. For medical students, it’s the culmination of years of hard work. As a result of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine held a virtual hooding for the 63 members of the 2020 graduating class. The pride, hope and joy conferred on graduates were still on full display on the screen.

Rio Lacanlale

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

“Everyone’s a health reporter now: covering COVID-19 on other beats.” That was the headline of a March article written by David Maas for the International Journalists’ Network website. In the piece, he explains how the novel coronavirus pandemic has shifted the work of journalists nationwide.

There's a sign near a sidewalk that says, 'Lakeside,' and there's grass and trees in the background.
Screenshot / Google Maps

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Editor's Note: On the morning of May 7, KUNR aired the following story and reported that there have been 86 confirmed COVID-19 cases at Lakeside Health and Wellness as of May 6. The data came from a Nevada Department of Health and Human Services database. After the story aired, the number on the database was updated on May 7 to 81 confirmed cases at Lakeside Health and Wellness.

KUNR reached out to the state health department for clarification and received the following email response: "Thank you for your email and question on the Lakeside Health and Wellness case information. The total of 81 is the confirmed case count. There was a reporting error that has been caught and corrected."

Thirty-seven people in Washoe County have died from COVID-19. More than half of those deaths are linked to one facility.  KUNR’s Anh Gray and Lucia Starbuck discuss what they’ve learned so far about the novel coronavirus outbreak in Washoe County.

A scientist wearing white protective gear holds up an anesthetized fruit bat.
Courtesy of the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal

Online movie rentals of “Contagion” and fictional outbreak dramas have climbed up in recent weeks. Apparently many people trapped in their homes want to see fictionalized — and sometimes realistic —  outbreaks while they wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

CDC

Coverage of the novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Public health officials are using contact tracing to track and isolate people infected with COVID-19 or those who might have been exposed. This is a routine public health surveillance tool that can be effective for infectious disease control, but the workforce needs to ramp up in order to respond to the coronavirus. In this report, KUNR's Anh Gray and Lucia Starbuck team up to explore the challenges with contact tracing and how the Nevada National Guard will be stepping in to fill some gaps. 

Man smiling on a crowded street
Courtesy of Ish Bermudez

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

In early March, Nevadan make-up artist Ish Bermudez was touring with the show Chippendales Las Vegas across the country as a wardrobe manager. He began not feeling well while he was still on the road traveling in New York, Ohio and Indiana. He sought care at an urgent care facility, where he was given some pain medication, but a COVID-19 test wasn’t available.

Female scientist producing viral transport media.
Dana Reed/ UNR Med

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

According to health officials, increasing COVID-19 testing capacity is one benchmark needed to gradually reopen Nevada. Early on in the pandemic, shortages of testing kits were an issue for Dr. Mark Pandori who runs the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. That’s why he reached out to other scientists in the community to help fill the gaps. 

KUNR’s Anh Gray talked to one of them to learn if it’s possible to continue to ramp up production of testing materials.

A son and his parents wearing face masks while embracing
Courtesy of Aaron Foster

It’s hard enough to keep a fledgling new restaurant up and running in normal times. Imagine running one during a pandemic. That’s the reality for one Reno resident, whose business opened just as the coronavirus began spreading across the country. This entrepreneur is trying to make the best of bad times, with the help of some unexpected business partners.

Health care workers at a Washoe County Health District drive-through testing site.
Bree Zender

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Editor's Note: This story aired before Washoe County Regional Information Center held a virtual press conference on April 24th. Washoe County Health District Kevin Dick provided new information about testing in the community. He says the state has requested the county to target 1,000 COVID-19 tests per day beginning Monday, April 27th. Dick says the county does not have the capacity to reach that target yet since there is currently still a shortage of testing supplies and equipment to process that amount. The district is currently working with the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory and other agencies to increase capacity, and will provide more information on the process next week. 

When will the state’s shutdown be lifted is on the minds of many Nevadans. Governor Steve Sisolak held a press conference earlier this week to update residents.

“Due to the criteria that was developed by the state team and in accordance with White House guidance,” Sisolak said, “as of right now, I can not give you a firm date as to whether we will meet all of this criteria to begin phase one reopening plans.”

As KUNR’s Anh Gray reports, those criteria include meeting health benchmarks, which will require more testing.

Two first responders standing in front of a REMSA ambulance.
Courtesy of REMSA

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

There are surges of COVID-19 patients at hospitals in some hotspots around the country, but overall, emergency room visits are actually down nationwide. However, some local medical providers are concerned that people are avoiding care due to fears of catching COVID-19.

Pages