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Becerra to visit Las Vegas to discuss COVID response

Updated July 21, 2021 - 4:25 pm

WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will visit Las Vegas Thursday to meet with public health officials and discuss the state’s rise in COVID-19 infections.

Becerra is also expected to meet with Gov. Steve Sisolak during the visit, as well as tour a Clark County Fire Department training facility and learn about a coronavirus surge response team.

The secretary’s visit comes against the backdrop of rising cases and travel warnings from neighboring California, where he served as attorney general before joining the Biden administration.

Becerra also is expected to discuss Nevada’s dismal ranking — the worst of any other state — for vaccination rates among the most vulnerable population, nursing home residents.

The state’s two senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, urged Becerra earlier this week to focus federal funds approved in the American Rescue Plan to educate, inform and make available the shots to protect the elderly residents.

A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services studies ranked Nevada last among states for vaccinations of nursing home residents, at 63 percent. That is compared to Vermont, which has vaccinated 95 percent of those in nursing home care.

Another analysis from the American Association of Retired Persons found similar rates for vaccinations of nursing home residents and staff, which were lower than the national average and other states.

Meanwhile, Nevada lags in vaccination among other age groups and demographics, with a recent spike in infections and deaths with the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

President Joe Biden has called on federal agencies to send surge teams into states experiencing “hot spots,” which includes Las Vegas, to help state officials increase vaccination efforts.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the federal effort would enhance state and local community outreach using clergy, civic leaders and grassroots groups to reach groups that have yet to get vaccinations due to hesitancy or access.

Cortez Masto and Rosen, in their letter to Becerra, urged his department to inform Nevada nursing homes about services available. The senators called the situation with nursing homes “urgent” and unacceptable.

Becerra will address the problem with nursing homes during his trip to Nevada, a congressional aide said.

Becerra also will meet with federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as state and local officials participating in the surge effort.

Sisolak will join Becerra for his fire department facility tour and on a visit to the Sherman Gardens Vaccination Clinic in Las Vegas.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Glenn Puit contributed to this report.

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