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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

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COVID-19 Update: CDC and the State of Nevada Change Their Masking Guidelines

Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to spread, and our numbers continue to look rough. After weeks of worries about the Delta variant and growing hospitalization and death counts, the CDC has once again changed its guidance on indoor masking. Hours later, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced that Nevada will adopt the CDC’s new guidance as an official public health safety rule beginning this Friday. 

Let’s unpack what got them here, what they actually announced today, and what this does and does not mean.

5:30 PM UPDATE: The mask mandate returns for 12 of Nevada’s 17 counties, including Clark and Washoe, beginning Friday.

Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates and new daily caseloads remain very high, and hospitalizations continue to surge higher. Delta accounts for over half of Nevada’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 53% of Nevadans have at least initiated the vaccination process. Clark County’s outbreak remains alarmingly severe, but the Reno-Tahoe region and the rest of Nevada are suddenly looking quite rough as well.
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has slipped a little to 1.15, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 115 new infections. Only Lyon (0.84), Churchill (0.94), and Elko (0.95) Counties have infection rates under 1.00, while Lander and Pershing Counties are at 1.00 exactly, and Humboldt (1.01), Nye (1.10),  Clark (1.14), Carson City (1.15), Douglas (1.18), White Pine (1.26!), Lincoln (1.32!), and Washoe (1.34!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 29.1 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Humboldt (0.8), White Pine (1.5), Lander (2.6), Eureka (7.0), Churchill (7.5), and Lyon (9.7) Counties are reporting under ten new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Douglas (11.7), Carson City (12.3), Washoe (12.5), Esmeralda (16.4), Elko (16.8), Nye (24.3!), Mineral (28.5!), Lincoln (30.3!), and Clark (35.1!) Counties are all suffering higher caseloads.

According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 data tracker, Nevada’s 14-day test positivity average based on “new positives as a percentage of new test encounters” has inched even higher to 13.7%. According to the Mayo Clinic, our statewide seven-day test positivity average has rebounded all the way to 20.04% – the highest we’ve seen in months. According to the Scripps Institute’s Outbreak.info, the Delta variant (B.1617.2) has spread quite rapidly here in Nevada since May: Delta accounts for 93% of our new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, 85% of new cases in the last 30 days, 76% of new cases in the last 60 days, and 56% of Nevada’s cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases. And in the past 14 days, the other 7% of Nevada’s new COVID-19 cases have been identified as AY.3 – a newer sub-lineage of Delta. 

This week, our COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 1,026 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 117 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 1,143 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients – the highest since February. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,854 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and we’re now averaging 13-14 deaths per day – also the highest we’ve experienced since February.

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of 12:30 PM today), 3,250,070 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 2,935,705 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,632,190 patients have received at least one vaccine dose, meaning an estimated 53% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 64.9% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 1,356,716 of these patients are now fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 44% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 54.6% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I posted a special “This Week in Corona Scams” on COVID-19 vaccine disinformation last week.) 

We told you so: The CDC finally changed its masking guidance to reflect the severity of the “Delta summer surge”.

Last Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky declined to change her tune on indoor masking despite the ongoing surge of COVID-19 infections and early reporting that the Biden administration had begun to rethink their rush to drop recommendations for universal indoor masking. Last Thursday, Walensky insisted, “The CDC recommendations haven’t changed. Fully vaccinated people are protected from severe illness. And we’ve always said that communities and individuals need to make the decisions that are right for them based on what’s going on in their local areas.”

But as we’ve been warning since May, the CDC’s previous guidance was based on three faulty assumptions: 1) the expectation of a larger population of fully vaccinated Americans boosting our overall herd immunity threshold past 80%; 2) the assumption that the vast majority of unvaccinated Americans would abide by the “honor system” and mask up despite the lack of enforcement, including some kind of “vaccine passport” to verify vaccination status; and 3) not factoring in the rise of new variants like Delta that have greater potential to cause breakthrough infections.

As we explained last week, then again yesterday, lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading infections to more people does not mean absolutely zero risk. The CDC finally seemed to acknowledge this in their new mask guidance they revealed today – guidance that grudgingly accepted the more cautious recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health experts that vaccinated and unvaccinated people should continue to mask indoors in order to guarantee stronger protection against new infections. 

“In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” 
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, at a July 27 press conference to announce new guidance on masks

More specifically, the CDC’s new guidance recommends that people in counties with “high” or “substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission (this includes the vast majority of Nevada, including Clark and Washoe, where transmission is “high”) resume or continue to wear masks in public indoor spaces. In addition, the CDC now recommends that all vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff in schools wear masks indoors. The Clark County School District (CCSD) is already making this a rule for the upcoming school year, and Governor Steve Sisolak announced later today that the state will officially apply the CDC’s guidance as enforceable policy for any and all counties that the CDC identifies as suffering “substantial” or “high” transmission, which are the two higher tiers of COVID-19 outbreaks. Keep in mind that Sisolak issued Emergency Directive 45 on May 3 that automatically aligns Nevada mask rules with the CDC’s current guidance. 

During a press conference to announce the new guidance, Dr. Walensky admitted, “In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” More specifically, Walensky acknowledged that even among some vaccinated people, the Delta variant can still “colonize the nose and mouth”, which means greater potential to spread the virus to other people.

Let’s clarify what this means, and what this does not mean. The CDC is not imposing new “lockdowns”, and the CDC is not even recommending school and/or business closures with this new guidance. And though Walensky said that new data point to vaccinated infected patients carrying similar viral loads to those of unvaccinated infected patients – a marked change from earlier studies suggesting otherwise – there’s still ample evidence proving that the COVID-19 vaccines work in reducing risk of infection and greatly reducing risk of severe disease. 

So what’s the takeaway from the CDC’s big announcement today?
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Before we go, let’s make it extra clear what all of this means. Vaccination is still incredibly important, as these vaccines provide significant protection. But as long as we have a significant share of unvaccinated Americans, and as long as COVID-19 continues to spread at these elevated levels, it makes sense to continue to mask up. That’s all it is: Mask up so that we don’t have to lock down again, and vax up so we can tamp down this pandemic sooner.

If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability in your area, check Nevada Health Response for testing in your area, and check Nevada 211 for more health care resources. If you’re in need of additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square. And for goodness sake, please maintain best practices to help stop the spread.

The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me. This story was updated at 5:35 PM and 6:00 PM to note Sisolak’s decision to adopt the CDC guidance as an official Nevada state public health safety rule. 

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