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Health Team

Vegas-area schools OK testing plan, some students to return

Posted February 12, 2021 7:12 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2021 7:13 p.m. EST

— School and union officials have approved a plan for employee coronavirus testing when the youngest of students in the Las Vegas area return to campuses March 1 for partial in-person learning.

Clark County School District trustees voted 4-3 Thursday to approve an agreement with unions to reopen elementary schools for pre-kindergarten to third grade students for families who want what officials termed face-to-face hybrid instruction .

No timeline was provided for other grades. Clark County has the nation's fifth-largest public school district, with more than 300,000 students, 35,000 employees and an annual budget of about $5.2 billion. Its more than 330 campuses were closed, and lessons went online almost a year ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement allocates $3.3 million for daily symptom screenings for students and employees, and monthly COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment for employees. Workers who are considered vulnerable to the virus will not be required to return to campuses, officials said.

Jan Giles, president of the Education Support Employees Association, called the agreement “a good start to keeping the reopening of schools as safe as possible for education support professionals and students."

Two previous plans to return to some form of in-person learning stalled when coronavirus cases spiked in Clark County, the area around Las Vegas with about 72% of the state's population and 77% of the state's coronavirus cases.

The Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas reported the 3,600th death in the region on Friday and a total of 221,215 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Statewide, officials tallied 636 new cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths since Thursday, bringing the totals to 287,023 cases and 4,663 deaths.

Test positivity, or the number of confirmed cases of virus found among people who are tested, was 13.8% statewide. The figure is reported over a 14-day period with a seven-day lag. It has trended down after peaking Jan. 13 at 21.6%. The World Health Organization goal is 5%.

Other unions in the school district agreement are the Clark County Education Association and the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employees.

School Board President Linda Cavazos said she hoped the plan makes educators feel safe returning to school, “which will in turn make our students more successful as we resume face-to-face instruction.”

The district used federal emergency funds for a $2 million contract with Fulgent Genetics for virus testing and a separate $1.3 million contract with emocha Mobile Health Inc. for symptom screening.

Some employees raised concerns about how testing samples would be used, noting that Fulgent Genetics also provides genetic screening and sequencing.

In a statement on Friday, Fulgent Genetics representative Kathryn Francis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that patient records are protected under federal law, and “no genetic material, nor any patient data, is sold or otherwise used except to provide a COVID-19 diagnosis.”

No DNA is extracted, the statement said, and samples are discarded immediately after the clinical reports are issued.

In other developments:

— Officials said three Las Vegas-area strip clubs were ordered closed during Super Bowl weekend for violating a state coronavirus regulation banning nudity. Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, Minks Las Vegas and Spearmint Rhino were issued emergency suspensions Saturday night by Clark County licensing agents during inspections for COVID-19 violations, the Review-Journal reported.

— Clark County officials announced that a COVID-19 vaccination site at Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas will begin offering second doses of vaccine to eligible people on Tuesday, but by appointment only. They said a Las Vegas Convention Center vaccination center has reached pre-registration appointment capacity, and walk-in appointments are no longer being accepted there.

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