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Health Team

Nevada expands vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older

Posted February 17, 2021 8:35 p.m. EST
Updated February 17, 2021 8:36 p.m. EST

— In an effort to administer doses more quickly, Nevada has made residents 65 and older eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine beginning next week, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Wednesday.

People in that age group can make appointments to receive doses at local pharmacies participating in a federal vaccination partnership starting on Monday.

Since January, residents 70 and older have been eligible to receive the vaccine through their local health districts. Counties have moved through priority groups at varying speeds.

“Some of our small counties have already been able to offer vaccines to those 65 and older," Sisolak said. “While we welcome the news that the federal pharmacy program has been allocated an increase in doses from the federal government ... we know it will not be enough to cover the range of Nevadans in this age group.”

Governors in some other states have worried about parts of their vaccine allocation being commandeered for federally managed programs. Sisolak, however, applauded President Joe Biden for working to increase the number of doses sent to states.

In addition to the pharmacy partnership, he said he hoped local health districts in Nevada would have enough supply to administer shots to residents 65 and older starting March 1.

In Clark County, home to Las Vegas and most of the state’s population, health officials said Wednesday they did not know when they would be prepared to expand eligibility to residents 65 and over.

Administering vaccines is a central piece of Sisolak's plan to gradually lift restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus and allow businesses to return to normal. Officials reported 363 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 41 deaths, reflecting a continued downward trend.

The state’s two-week positivity rate has been trending down since mid-January and dipped below 12% for the first time since Nov. 10. On Wednesday, the positivity rate was 11.8%. Since the pandemic began, Nevada has seen a total of 289,392 known cases of the coronavirus and 4,774 deaths.

Winter storms blanketing much of the U.S. delayed Nevada's shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and forced the Southern Nevada Health District to reschedule appointments for second doses. About 4,000 people are being contacted to reschedule their appointments, said Greg Cassell, who is leading the district's Incident Management Team. First-dose appointments scheduled for this week were not affected.

Nevada began lifting restrictions on business capacity and private gatherings on Monday and plans to gradually increase the number of people allowed in venues like churches, restaurants, gyms and casinos until May 1, when it will cede a majority of decision-making power to local government officials.

Sisolak, who has repeatedly said that returning students to classrooms for in-person learning is among his priorities, also announced on Wednesday plans to resume youth contact sports, and to offer leniency to school districts working to reopen.

School districts that have returned for in-person learning will be allowed to increase capacity limits to 75% of what fire codes allow in confined spaces like classrooms, and school buses will be allowed to fill up to two-thirds of their full capacity.

Students will be allowed to resume contact sports once the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association devises a safety plan that includes testing protocols.

K-12 schools in 16 of Nevada's 17 counties returned to classrooms for in-person instruction last fall, but the roughly 320,000 students in the Clark County School District continue to log into class remotely. The district plans to resume in-person instruction two days a week for a limited number of preschool through third grade students starting March 1.

The Biden administration has pushed for teachers to be vaccinated quickly, but officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci and U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky have said that vaccinations for teachers should not be a pre-requisite to reopen schools.

All Clark County School District employees are eligible to make vaccine appointments depending on their availability. Sisolak said he hoped vaccines would be administered quickly to allow schools to return to in-person instruction.

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AP writer Michelle L. Price contributed reporting from Las Vegas. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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