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US surgeon general checks out UMC’s COVID-19 response

Updated September 13, 2020 - 7:03 pm

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Sunday praised Southern Nevada for progress it has made against COVID-19, while stressing the community will need to remain vigilant to reopen safely and return to greater normalcy.

In Las Vegas as part of a series of visits to COVID-19 “hot spots,” Adams said he was encouraged by the state’s declining positivity rate, with about 8 percent of tests for the coronavirus coming back positive over the past seven days compared with a high of 19 percent.

The goal is to get to a “green zone” of below 5 percent, which will make it “a whole lot easier for everything to open,” said Adams, who answered questions from reporters outside of University Medical Center after a tour of the hospital and a discussion with community leaders.

“Proceed with caution, not with reckless abandon, and we can get to green,” Adams said, who clarified there is no federal requirement that a state be below 5 percent positivity before further reopening.

The region can continue to improve by practicing what he called the “three W’s”: wearing a mask, washing hands and “watching your distance,” which means staying 6 feet apart and avoiding crowded indoor spaces.

A more normal spring

Another key step is to get a flu shot this season.

“It’s going to be our most important flu season of my life,” Adams said. “Why? Because we can’t afford to have a bad flu season superimposed on top of a bad COVID season.”

Adams, who said his visit to Las Vegas this weekend was unrelated to the President Donald Trump’s concurrent campaign stop, reiterated the administration stance that a vaccine against COVID-19 could be ready later this year or early next year.

“And when we get a COVID vaccine, everyone needs to know it will be following the FDA approval process, it will actually be the most scrutinized vaccine ever produced,” he said. “And I will be in line to get it, and my family will get it, because I have confidence in the process.

“Even if you are worried about the politics — and it’s hard not to have politics enmeshed as we approach the presidential election — even if you don’t like the particular people who are out there talking about these things, I want you to have trust in the process,” he continued.

He predicted that if preventive measures are followed, there could be greater normalcy across the country by spring.

“I feel like by early next year — you know, the spring — we should start to get back to something normal again if we can get people vaccinated for the flu and vaccinated for COVID,” he said.

Partnerships praised

Adams was escorted by local politicians and UMC officials on a hospital tour that included a lab built to process coronavirus tests. It has processed 320,000 tests since the onset of the pandemic, about one-third of all tests in the state.

“One of the things we said on the coronavirus task force over and over and over again is that we are here to support you from a federal perspective, but a lot of the capacity lies within your community,” he said. “ And nowhere is that epitomized, more so than in the testing center at UMC,” he said praising the high volume of testing being done and also the rapid turnaround of tests, averaging about 12 hours.

He also praised efforts by hospital, community and faith leaders to reach out to members of minority communities, which are being more severely affected by COVID-19.

“Nevada, and particularly Southern Nevada, is a giant melting pot. And that makes it challenging when you have a message you want to get out like the three W’s, but you’ve got to get it out in 20 different languages, and you got to realize that one community may not trust messenger A, and the other community may not trust messenger B,” he said.

Adams said was impressed by the local business community and encouraged it “to recognize that the more we support everyone in our community — particularly the low-paid workers, the hourly workers, the front-line workers, those who may not have insurance — the more we will stop the spread of COVID and the more quickly we will be able to reopen.”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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