The year started off alright, but the mood shifted quickly in late January when news of an emerging new strain of the coronavirus started gaining steam in Las Vegas.
What was it? Was it dangerous? What should we do about it? How do we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? For answers to these and myriad other questions, reporters in Nevada and around the nation and world turned to UNLV’s experts.
For epidemiologist Brian Labus, a professor in the School of Public Health and a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team, one local media interview on this mysterious new public health threat turned into five, then 50. By the end of 2020 – and well over 500 media interviews later – Prof. Labus has become a household name in Southern Nevada and a go-to resource worldwide on the ins and outs of this evasive pandemic (he also has his own solo edition of 2020 Newsmakers).
Labus is one of the dozens of UNLV faculty, staff, and students who have worked tirelessly during a very tiring 2020 to find ways to help. From front-line health workers to scientists, social workers, teachers and mental health professionals, the people of UNLV rose to this unprecedented challenge through research and by donating – and at times creating – needed supplies for safety and testing.
They’ve spurred innovations in hospitality and design, offered inspiration through the arts, shared resources for teachers, families, and policymakers, and they’ve helped us all make sense of a pandemic that has more twists and turns than the New York-New York roller coaster.
In a year where UNLV experts contributed to well over 1,000 news stories on COVID-19, it’s impossible to include them all in one roundup. A few media highlights follow, but additional COVID-related news stories – and more than 40 in-depth interviews with UNLV experts – can be found on UNLV’s News Center.
Health and Medicine
By early March, COVID-19 had spread to 78 countries – including the U.S. – and it was well on its way to becoming a global pandemic. From the start, doctors and personnel from the School of Medicine were there to provide care; nurses, dentists, scientists, and professionals throughout the health sciences were also thrust into the spotlight and shone in ways that continue to make the university proud. The School of Public Health took center stage, offering research expertise, educational resources, and help with contact tracing efforts that contribute to mitigating the spread.
- The School of Public Health received a $3.4 million state grant to expand its student-led contact tracing program, boosting student contact tracers from 60 to 200. The program’s student and faculty leaders — including Dean Shawn Gerstenberger and Professor Brian Labus — shared the news with the Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KTNV-TV: ABC 13 (twice), and Associated Press.
- School of Medicine staff and faculty physicians have answered the call throughout the pandemic with testing (more on that below), front-line care, and by sharing their knowledge with the community.
- An early health tip as the pandemic took hold was this – stop touching your face! It’s not so easy, and psychology professor Stephen Benning spoke about it with The Conversation US, KSNV-TV: News 3, Good Magazine, and Fox 5 Vegas.
- As news worsened into the spring, The PRACTICE Mental Health Clinic at UNLV quickly transitioned to telehealth services to ensure that it would remain a resource for the Las Vegas community even if its physical facility needed to close. The shift to telemental health was covered by KSNV-TV: News 3, Las Vegas Sun, and KLAS-TV: 8 News Now.
- The UNLV School of Dental Medicine reopened its clinics in late June to existing patients. During the early days of the pandemic, dentists screened and treated more than 1,100 patients with urgent needs: KSNV-TV: News 3, Las Vegas Review-Journal, and KTNV-TV: ABC 13.
Testing and Vaccines
UNLV’s School of Medicine curbside COVID-19 testing site – one of the first in Nevada – administered more than 18,000 tests from March through July. Additionally, more than 130,000 tests have been performed to-date on the Maryland Parkway campus through a partnership with Clark County and UMC. And as the year progressed and the promise of a vaccine became a reality, faculty from the Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine offered context and are preparing to enter this crucial stage of the pandemic.
- The UNLV School of Medicine’s clinical arm began curbside testing in March, offering a critical service and giving the school’s third-year students an important teaching opportunity. Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, KNPR, KSNV-TV: News 3, KVVU-TV: Fox 5 (twice), KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, and KTNV-TV: ABC 13 (twice) reported the news.
- In May, Clark County and University Medical Center partnered with UNLV to bring coronavirus testing to UNLV’s main campus. The site shifted in late summer from the Tropicana Parking Garage to the Thomas & Mack Center, and is currently offered at the Stan Fulton Building. The testing effort launch was covered by the Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), Las Vegas Sun, El Tiempo, KNPR (twice), KVVU-TV: Fox 5, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KSNV: News 3, and KLAS-TV: 8 News Now.
- In November, finally, it was announced that effective vaccines for COVID-19 were on the horizon, and UNLV was ready for action. As the FDA finalized test trials, UNLV prepared to assist with distribution via the acquisition of a medical-grade freezer that can store up to 50,000 doses of a Pfizer vaccine at sub-zero temperatures. Meanwhile, experts across various disciplines offered insight on the impact of the inoculations on everything from the society to the economy.
- UNLV School of Medicine Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs Dr. Michael Gardner and Dean Kahn discuss the university’s distribution plans and acquisition of a sub-zero freezer with Voice of America (twice), KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KVVU-TV: FOX 5, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
- UNLV School of Medicine’s Director of Bioethics Johan Bester explains to MSN how important it is to introduce new vaccines into the market. Bester also connected on the topic with Mashable, the Manchester Evening News, and Leapsmag.
- Immunologist Jeffrey Ebersole with the School of Dental Medicine broke down the differences between the two approved vaccines – from Pfizer and Moderna – and how they both work. He spoke with the Las Vegas Sun, News 4 (Reno), KNPR, The Nevada Independent, Pissed Consumer, and KCBS Radio (Los Angeles).
- Biostatistician Richard Tillett with the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine explained why we need a vaccine for COVID-19 in the Los Angeles Times.
Research and Innovation
UNLV researchers are rising to the challenge when Nevada needs it most. They’re tackling tough questions about the science behind COVID-19 and how it’s impacting our communities; they’re exploring new approaches to diagnosis and treatment; and they’re driving innovative approaches that will support a sustainable economic recovery for Nevada.
- A team of innovators led by a UNLV engineering alumnus and student was among the winners of the Lee Prize, a $1 million competition – a collaboration of the Lee Business School and the Lee Family Foundation – to address urgent problems facing the hospitality, entertainment, and travel industries resulting from COVID-19.
- The team’s air purification system designed to kill COVID and other pollutants was covered by KNPR, The Las Vegas Sun, and KTNV-TV 13.
- The announcement was covered by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, KSNV-TV: News 3, KVVU-TV: Fox 5, Hotel Business, and Crunchbase News.
- Leith Martin, director of the Troesch Center for Entrepreneurship, talked with Travel Weekly (twice), Wall Street Journal, Corp! Magazine, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the competition and the innovations behind the $1 million Lee Prize winners.
- COVID-19 has done more than alter everyone’s way of life — amid pandemic worries and cabin fever, social distancing has catalyzed new and innovative solutions that may improve work and personal life to even greater efficiencies.
- Researchers with UNLV’s International Gaming Institute have partnered with gaming entities worldwide to explore the impacts of COVID-19 and how to work together to overcome them. Their work has been covered by CDC Gaming Reports, the Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), ADR, Fox News, ABC News, and Casino.org.
- Biostatistician Richard Tillett from the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine was part of a statewide team to identify a Nevada man infected twice by COVID-19 – the first documented occurrence in North America. He spoke about the study with National Geographic, Montana Public Radio, Wall Street Journal, and the Cambridge Independent.
- Edwin Oh, a professor and researcher with the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine, is looking to an unlikely source in the battle against COVID-19 – wastewater. He’s working with researchers in Nevada and neighboring states to screen wastewater for RNA from the virus to determine if and where different strains are cropping up in communities. The work has been covered by KOLO-TV (Reno), KSNV-TV: News 3, KNPR, KTNV-TV 13, Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Las Vegas Sun.
Cleaning and Masking, and Pandemic Fatigue
This year has taught us all a lot about a bunch of things, including how to clean correctly, how viruses work (and why masks help with them). We’ve also learned another thing – that we’re all more than ready for this pandemic to be over.
Service, Arts, and Philanthropy
When the world abruptly came to a halt this spring, UNLV faculty, staff and students stepped up to donate – and sometimes create – PPE and testing supplies. They also raised money for the university’s food pantry, offered virtual tutoring and storytime for kids unable to attend daycare or school in-person, and found a way to give students the connectivity they need to stay ahead with virtual learning.
- When schools and libraries closed, UNLV’s College of Education and the Gayle A. Zeiter Literacy Center created the ‘UNLV COVID-19 Read Aloud Project’ which provides educational resources for families to access digitally. KSNV-TV: News 3, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, and KNPR had the story.
- The College of Education teamed with MGM Resorts to offer free virtual tutoring for children of MGM employees through the school year. Casino Beats and Hospitality Net have more details.
- In late March, when we were still all figuring out what we were dealing with, the School of Public Health hosted a community panel discussion with experts from UNLV and the Southern Nevada Health District. The event was streamed live by multiple local media outlets, with additional stories on KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, Yahoo!, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and KTNV-TV 13.
- School of Life Sciences professor Helen Wing and students spoke to KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KSNV: News 3, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal on how they created a viral transport medium to help protect coronavirus test specimens as they are transported to hospitals.
- UNLV Nursing professor Jay Tan created PPE for first responders in local hospitals this spring, and he talked about it with the Nevada Current, Business Insider, and KTNV-TV 13; College of Engineering faculty and students also helped fabricate PPE, and their efforts were covered by KLAS-TV: 8 News Now and Newswise.
- To help combat accessibility and affordability obstacles, UNLV partnered with Cox Communications to offer students WiFi discounts. UNLV Executive Vice President and Provost Chris Heavey explained the benefits of the program to KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KVVU-TV: FOX 5, and KTNV-TV: ABC 13.
- The College of Fine Arts offered inspiration through the arts with a weekly YouTube program. They spoke about it on KNPR. The college also spoke with Desert Companion about creativity in quarantine, and KLAS-TV: 8 News Now captured a pop-up campus concert by the Department of Dance.
- The UNLV Cares Food Pantry received a $250,000 federal grant to help UNLV students and staff in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The award was featured in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, KNPR, and KTNV-TV 13.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reflect on many things in 2020, including our relationship with technology (and how technology affects relationships) during lockdown, how we view school and work, and the critical importance of mental health.
- Psychologist Stephen Benning spoke about the psychological impacts of tech during an uncertain period of remote living and work with U.S. News & World Report, HealthDay, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, and Newswise; Benning and fellow UNLV psychologist Christopher A. Kearney also spoke about back-to-school anxiety with KSNV-TV: News 3 and the Wall Street Journal.
- Child and Adolescent & Psychiatry and Behavioral Health fellowship director Lisa Durette weighs in on ways to maintain mental wellness: KSNV-TV: News 3 (twice), Las Vegas Weekly, and KNPR.
- Interpersonal communication expert Natalie Pennington spoke about relationships and healthy social media use during the pandemic with Newswise and Associations Now.
- Katherine Hertlein, professor of couple and family therapy, was a frequent commenter throughout 2020 as media outlets explored ways to navigate complex family dynamics during these uncertain times. Hertlein spoke with Mashable, KNPR, Philly Voice, and KCBS Radio about managing relationships in the time of coronavirus; with Yahoo! Life on how couples can avoid resentment during quarantine; and with BBC News and Cosmopolitan about intimacy amid social distancing.
- Ahead of the holidays, UNLV experts weighed in on the anticipated boom in pandemic holiday travel, the mental health impacts of choosing between public health and a traditional holiday with family, and the best ways to stay safe during the most sociable time of the year.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, every decision made about whether or not to temporarily close businesses, restrict travel, and how many people to allow (or not allow) in any given place has been met with intense scrutiny. Leaders are forced to make decisions that balance public health and the health of their economies – and all along the way UNLV’s experts have offered important context to local and national conversations.
- The spring shut down of Las Vegas Strip resorts brought with it many questions that UNLV’s economy, gaming, and history experts weighed in on:
- Stephen Miller, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research spoke with Yahoo!, Bloomberg, Fox News, San Francisco Chronicle, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), The New York Times, and KLAS-TV: 8 News Now.
- History professor Michael Green connected with the Associated Press (twice), Time, Fox Business, New York Post, Fox News, DailyMail, KVVU-TV: Fox 5, and Nevada Appeal.
- David G. Schwartz, gaming historian and associate vice provost for faculty affairs, talked with the Associated Press (twice), The Washington Post, Fox News, NBC News, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), and the Los Angeles Times.
- Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow with the International Gaming Institute, discussed the “new normal” with Fox News, NBC Phoenix, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
- Robert E. Lang, executive director of The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West, weighed in with the AP and Las Vegas Review-Journal.
- To much fanfare, Las Vegas casinos and hotels reopened their doors to Nevadans and visitors in June. Expert faculty from numerous disciplines again weighed in with local and national media.
- In October, Stephen Miller talked about the economic recovery after COVID-19 to Vegas Inc., The Simple Dollar, Bankrate, Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Casino.Org.
- During the first round of COVID-19 stimulus talks, many citizens were wondering how the payments would affect taxes, and others were wondering if they’d even get a check. UNLV Law professor Francine Lipman talked about it with the Las Vegas Sun, Yahoo!, Time, PBS Newshour, and Marketplace.
Stay up to date with the latest UNLV news by signing up to receive our daily “In the News” digest.