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Health officials urge COVID testing, tracing app downloads after holiday weekend

Posted at 3:57 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 09:56:51-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Public health officials are putting out a plea for travelers to get tested after the Thanksgiving weekend after a large number of people decided to make trips for the holiday. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to spike here in Nevada and across the country.

There were long lines at Texas Station today for COVID-19 testing. Many people following a plea from public health officials to get tested after the Thanksgiving weekend.

Dr. Deborah Birx is urging people who traveled to assume they may be infected and get tested five to ten days later. UNLV health professor Brian Labus says it's sound advice.

“We know that people have been exposed during travel and we’ve seen a lot of disease transmission around the country and so as you got together with other people as you travel, you may have been exposed to this,” he said.

RELATED STORY: COVID testing operation at UNLV opens up

The holiday wound up being a busy time for travel, despite official pleas to stay home.

The TSA reportednearly 1.2 million Americans traveled through checkpoints at airports on Sunday, the highest daily number since mid-March. That’s compared to almost three million visitors on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise to see an increase in our numbers nationwide and here in Nevada,” Labus said.

State health officials say they’re expecting the same thing and are asking people to take measures to protect themselves and others like staying home as much as possible.

“The more that we could follow the directives the governor has put out, specifically stay at home as much as possible. If you have the opportunity to telecommute, you should do that,” Julia Peek, Deputy Administrator of Division of Public and Behavioral Health with Community Health Services, said.

State health officials say it will take about two weeks to see how all the thanksgiving travel affected the overall COVID-19 numbers in Nevada.

They have continued to encourage people to download the COVID trace app. A Pew Research survey in April shows six out of ten Americans do not believe the government tracking on phones could limit the spread of COVID. Jon Callas with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit, says privacy concerns are a big reason why.

RELATED STORY: How to navigate the new COVID Trace Nevada smartphone app

“The major privacy concerns come from where the data is being stored and what the public health departments are doing,” he said.

State health officials say nearly 120,000 people have downloaded the app or about 4% of Nevada’s population. Labus says there should be no concerns with the state’s app.

“It’s designed to protect people’s privacy as we conduct an investigation, so there really shouldn’t be a concern for your privacy. Things like the COVID trace app don’t track where you’re going day-to-day. It’s only used if someone is positive and they’ve been around you,” he said.

Callas agrees with that sentiment and believes for most apps, the privacy concern is small. He says in countries like Taiwan and South Korea that have handled COVID-19 relatively well, the apps are mandated by the government with citizens willing to trade some civil liberties for safety due to past experiences with pandemics.

“People understand things that affect them personally, better than they understand things that are abstract,” Callas said.