Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the first winners of the state’s VaxNevada drawings on Thursday. But the presentation was interrupted by a protester who tried to confront the governor over the COVID-19 vaccines.
Moments before he gave a North Las Vegas kindergarten teacher the first $250,000 prize, a man carrying a bullhorn and a selfie stick walked past the crowd at the College of Southern Nevada. The unidentified man called the vaccine lottery a “sham” before security personnel ushered him away.
“Gov. Steve Sisolak is a war criminal. He has ruined this state,” the man said as he was confronted just feet away from the governor. “These vaccines are killing and harming people.”
The governor, who paused as the demonstrator approached, said the man did not understand the vaccines were safe.
There’s always going to be haters, but no state is more resilient than the state of Nevada,” Sisolak said. “And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we vaccinate every person that wants the vaccine.”
To aid in that effort, the state followed others in giving away large cash prizes to people who have received vaccines. The state is using $5 million from the allocation it received through the American Rescue Plan to give away hundreds of cash prizes for adults and funding for post-secondary education accounts for kids ages 12 to 17.
Winners will be announced weekly through Aug. 26, with one winner claiming the top prize of $1 million.
The push to get more people vaccinated in Nevada is on because the state has quickly become one of the country’s hot spots for the Delta variant. That’s a coronavirus strain that health officials say is far more communicable than the original COVID-19 strain.
Candice McDaniel, a member of Nevada’s vaccination response team, told reporters during a virtual press conference Thursday that the state has seen the number of people hospitalized jump by 134 percent from May 31 to this past Wednesday.
Clark County, home to Las Vegas and more than two-thirds of the state’s population, is where most of the cases have originated, she added. The spike in cases also corresponds with Nevada and other parts of the country fully reopening, which has led to a tourism boom for the gaming resort mecca.
Not only are more people coming to the densely populated area, but the summer heat is also keeping more people indoors. That’s likely leading to the jump in cases. Nevada’s 14-day average positivity rate now stands at 8.2 percent, and the state averages nearly 370 new cases each day.
Additionally, increases will likely continue to persist due to recent holidays and stagnation of vaccination rates, with only 44% of eligible Clark County residents who are 12 and over older being fully vaccinated,” McDaniel said.
Even with the rise in cases and hospitalizations, she pointed out the state has yet to see a similar jump in the number of COVID-19 deaths. She said that nationally, 99 percent of the people who died from COVID-19 last month were not vaccinated.
Entering Thursday, Nevada has administered nearly 2.6 million doses of vaccines, and 53.8 percent of the population age 12 and older have received at least one shot. However, 45.6 percent of eligible residents are considered fully vaccinated, which means there’s a large contingent of Nevadans who have yet to get a shot.
Across the country, the average fully vaccinated rate by state is 48.2 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.
Nevada’s highest rates for vaccinations are in Washoe County, home to Reno, and Carson City, the state capital. Both of those communities have 61 percent of their eligible populations receive at least one dose.
Sisolak earlier this month called on the Biden Administration in Washington to help the state get more people vaccinated, especially in the Las Vegas area. At the VaxNevada announcement, he said that the first wave of FEMA officials will be in the Las Vegas area starting next week to help set up 60 pop-up vaccination sites in the area.
Neither the governor nor others have hinted at possibly bringing back restrictions in wake of the jump in cases, focusing instead on driving up the vaccination rate. Nevada, which saw its casinos close for nearly three months last year and saw a steep drop in visitors throughout 2020, was one of the states hit hardest economically by the pandemic.