State finds no anthrax in 54 samples

None of 54 samples from suspicious packages tested by the State Public Health Laboratory turned up positive for anthrax, according to Washoe District Health Officer Barbara Hunt.

Hunt said Wednesday every test was negative.

Gov. Kenny Guinn's office is awaiting test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a pornographic picture in a letter at a Microsoft Licensing Inc. office in Reno that field tests showed positive for anthrax.

The announcement on the results of those tests will be released by the governor's office.

"The fact that 100 percent of the test results so far are negative is very reassuring," Hunt said. "I want to urge the community to use common sense and remain calm in the face of the intense national publicity regarding anthrax. Unnecessary requests for testing may overburden the public health system, diverting public health resources from ongoing community needs."

Security is tighter in Nevada's state government buildings following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and anthrax incidents around the country.

But though security has been increased, none of the buildings in the executive, judicial and legislative branches have been closed by the anthrax scares that stretch from the East Coast to Reno.

Greg Bortolin, Gov. Kenny Guinn's press secretary, said police guarding the Nevada Capitol "obviously are being more vigilant and watchful."

But Bortolin said the "heightened state of security" is considered adequate and there are no plans to restrict public access to the building, which houses offices of the governor, secretary of state, controller and state treasurer.

Concern over anthrax forced a temporary shutdown of an annex of the secretary of state's office, across the street from the Capitol, on Tuesday. But Secretary of State Dean Heller said tests showed no evidence of anthrax and the office reopened.

"The operation is open for business and is serving the needs of Nevada residents," said Heller.

The white substance forced evacuation of the annex office, displacing about 50 workers, while hazmat teams responded. Heller said Tuesday night he was informed the substance contained no anthrax bacteria.

His Administrative Service officer Bill Reinhard said the lab was testing now to determine exactly what the substance was and whether anyone deliberately put it in an envelope.

Heller said his staff, which handles upwards of 1,000 letters a day from corporations, lawyers and others, had already been briefed on how to handle suspicious letters. He said they have masks, latex gloves and plastic bags to isolate any suspicious items.

He said the staff handled the situation calmly and professionally.

"The communication of emergency procedures to employees in the days before this incident proved invaluable," Heller said.

In addition to increased vigilance by police at the Capitol, Bortolin said a memo was sent Monday to state agencies warning employees to take extra precautions in handling mail.

Those precautions include latex gloves for workers who want them and plastic bags for any suspicious items.

Also the Nevada Supreme Court announced it was closing a drop box at its Las Vegas office used by southern Nevada lawyers to deliver files that are shipped to Carson City. The high court said lawyers must use regular mail delivery or private shipping firms.

Lorne Malkiewich, head of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, said Wednesday that new mail-handling precautions are in place at the Legislative Building, and police in the building are being "more vigilant, more suspicious of events."

But Malkiewich said he's not recommending any change in public access to the building, where lawmakers won't meet in regular session until 2003. Numerous study subcommittees hold meetings in the building between sessions.

"We believe we have a good system and that the building is relatively secure," he said. "We don't want to change the nature of the building as a public meeting place."


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