COVID-19 is still spreading, and we now have a new variant to worry about. Though our vaccination numbers continue to tick higher, are we vaccinating fast and wide enough to fend off this new variant?
Here’s the latest on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, across America and here at home.
Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates remain high, caseloads tick higher, hospitalizations are creeping up again, and over 40% of Nevadans are now fully vaccinated. Washoe County’s outbreak still appears to be waning, while Clark County continues to suffer more severe COVID-19 spread, and the rurals look like a mixed bag.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has inched higher to 1.02, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 102 new infections. Douglas (0.72), Elko (0.72), Carson City (0.76), Washoe (0.81), Lyon (0.89), and Nye (0.97) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while Lander and White Pine Counties are at 1.00 exactly, and Clark (1.03), Churchill (1.08), Humboldt (1.14), and Lincoln (1.18) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 9.0 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Washoe (2.0), Pershing (2.1), Lander (2.6), Carson City (3.1), Nye (3.1), Douglas (5.0), Lyon (6.0), Churchill (6.3), Storey (6.9), and Elko (9.2) are all reporting under ten new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Clark County (10.7) is slightly above this benchmark.
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 ticked up again to 3.9%. According to the Mayo Clinic, our statewide seven-day test positivity average has jumped again to 8.42%, which is the highest we’ve seen in the past month.
Tener preguntas sobre las vacunas COVID-19 es completamente entendible. Encuentre información de fuentes confiables ingresando a https://t.co/yiLOiagPys o llamando a la Línea de Ayuda para la Vacunación en Nevada al 1-800-401-0946. [VIDEO] https://t.co/41VabHDEVf
— @NVHealthResponse (@NVHealthRespon1) June 21, 2021
People with disabilities have a new way to access information about COVID-19 vaccines & help connect with independent living services such as food, housing, & transportation. Call the hotline at 888-677-1199, 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. PT. More: https://t.co/GcvrBTVjtr #EveryNevadanCounts
— @NVHealthResponse (@NVHealthRespon1) June 19, 2021
This week, our COVID-19 hospitalizations are creeping up. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 240 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 46 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 286 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,653 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and we continue to average four to five COVID-19 deaths per day.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of 11:00 AM today), 3,023,840 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 2,692,825 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,487,825 patients have received at least one vaccine dose, meaning an estimated 48.3% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 60% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 1,249,921 of these patients are now fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 40.6% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 50.9% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I am now fully vaccinated, and I will post more updates in the weeks ahead on my new fully vaccinated life. Also, here’s a reminder that we’ll probably continue to average about one COVID-19 Update per week.)
Ugh. We need to talk about (the) Delta (variant) again.
.@ASlavitt on the Delta variant of covid-19: “If you’re living in a part of the country where there’s a low degree of vaccination or you yourself are not vaccinated, you’re clearly vulnerable because this is basically covid-19 on steroids…" https://t.co/VG95jo0a1E pic.twitter.com/18q1bnfCCg
— Washington Post Live (@postlive) June 16, 2021
On June 8, we took a closer look at B.1617.2, which is also known as the “Delta variant”. Last Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC’s Good Morning America that the “Delta variant” is on track to become the dominant COVID-19 strain “in a period of one or two months”. Then on Sunday, former FDA Director turned Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb told CBS’ Face the Nation that he expects another surge of COVID-19 infections this fall thanks to B.1617.2, but he also expects an uneven surge due to differing vaccination rates across the nation. Already, we’re seeing an emerging divergence between vaccinated people who face far less risk of COVID-19 infection and unvaccinated people who continue to suffer a ravaging pandemic.
What does this mean for Nevada? As we noted last week, our statewide vaccination rate lags behind most of the rest of the U.S., and we especially lag behind West Coast neighbors like California, where 57% of residents have received at least one dose and 48% are fully vaccinated as of mid-day today. When we look even more closely at California’s numbers, we see that most Bay Area counties have at least 60% of their residents fully vaccinated, San Diego and Orange Counties have at least 50% of their residents fully vaccinated, and Los Angeles County is almost at 50% of residents fully vaccinated. Moving inland, with the exceptions of areas dominated by tourist destinations, more populated regions like Fresno County in the San Joaquin Valley, and Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in the Inland Empire, all have fewer than 40% of residents fully vaccinated.
Notice any patterns here? Let’s return to our own state: According to Nevada Health Response’s data (where we can more easily find regional breakdowns), Carson City leads the state with 47.6% of residents fully vaccinated, with Washoe (45.2%) and Douglas (43.3%) close behind. As you can recall from our Hindsight 2020 series that breaks down last year’s election results, the Tahoe region tends to have Nevada’s highest concentration of college-educated residents. Meanwhile Clark County only has 35.1% of our residents fully vaccinated, yet we’re both the most populated region of Nevada and the state’s #1 tourist destination.
“Nearly every death due to COVID-19 is entirely preventable. We don’t need to accept [most] future deaths from COVID-19 as inevitable.”
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
During today’s White House COVID-19 Briefing, COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients hailed America’s remarkable progress in moving from only about 5% of American adults with at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose on January 20 to about 64% of American adults who have at least initiated the vaccination process as of this morning. With that said, Zients also acknowledged that America overall will nonetheless probably miss President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of Americans with at least one shot by July 4. And while Biden’s other goal of 160 million fully vaccinated Americans may yet be within reach by mid-July, this still means we have much further to go to hit the level of herd immunity that’s necessary to end COVID-19 as a pandemic.
Though he acknowledged the ongoing challenge in getting more Americans vaccinated, especially younger millennial and Gen Z Americans whose vaccination rate continues to lag behind older groups, Zients insisted that America will “look more like America again” this summer: “Thanks to the president’s whole of government effort, we are there. We are entering a summer of joy, a summer of freedom. This calls for celebration, and that’s exactly what we will do: celebrate our independence from this virus.”
A little later, Dr. Walensky noted the nation’s overall improving landscape on COVID-19 and public health: “Thanks to our vaccination programs, we are seeing a dramatic drop in deaths, hospitalizations, and infections.” And now that the COVID-19 vaccines are so widely available, Dr. Walensky noted, “Nearly every death due to COVID-19 is entirely preventable. We don’t need to accept [most] future deaths from COVID-19 as inevitable.”
“We know our vaccines work against this variant, but we don’t want to risk the development of new and more severe variants. This is why we must get more people vaccinated now. We must stop the chain of infections that can lead to new variants.”
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
For the last decade, we’ve had to confront the myths surrounding “young invincibles”, and we’ve been long past due in efforts to better include younger Americans in larger efforts to improve the nation’s health care system. We have a new challenge on our hands when it comes to COVID-19 and the vaccines.
Dr. Walensky spoke about the threat of “Long COVID”, along with the threat of more “Long COVID” cases and higher death counts that comes with new variants. According to Walensky, “We know our vaccines work against this variant, but we don’t want to risk the development of new and more severe variants. This is why we must get more people vaccinated now. We must stop the chain of infections that can lead to new variants.” NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci agreed, and he added, “The ‘Delta variant’ is our greatest threat at eliminating COVID-19 in the United States. The good news is that we have the tools in our hands with the vaccines. Let’s use them.”
Yet while Walensky and Fauci focused more on the risks of maintaining a large share of unvaccinated Amerricans, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy focused more on the rewards of getting more people vaccinated. He insisted that the Biden administration’s digital outreach efforts have reached some 280 million Americans this spring on multiple social media and online gaming platforms, even though there’s still no sign of any White House account on TikTok. When it comes to IRL efforts, Dr. Murthy listed off programs like bi-weekly community calls, in-person college outreach, and a growing array of incentive programs stretching from Spotify to Walgreens as proof that they’re reaching more and younger Americans where they need to.
Murthy also noted, “Over the course of this effort, we’ve learned of the importance of one-on-one conversations, and of local-level outreach.” As he and Zients touted local community outreach efforts that have been expanding throughout the U.S. thanks to the American Rescue Plan, Murthy promised that the Biden administration will continue to “meet people where they are”: “In order to get more people vaccinated, we need to reach more people at the local level.”
Now, we need to talk about vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vaccine movement again.
For some time, multiple media outlets have been focusing on the partisan political divide in vaccinations, and recent analysis from The Guardian and Data for Progress offer further evidence pointing toward Republicans shying away from the COVID-19 vaccines at far higher rates than Democrats. However, partisanship only offers one facet of this larger story.
Digging deeper into Data for Progress’ April 12 poll numbers, we see slightly more vaccine hesitancy and vaccine refusal among voters of color than white voters (though we do see a greater disparity between Black voters and Latinx voters), but we see more of a gap develop between older Americans who have overwhelmingly already been vaccinated and younger Americans who are more likely to choose to hold out after initially being told to wait their turn, and the divergence really intensifies when we look at religion and college education. Voters who identify as “born again” Christians are somewhat less likely to get vaccinated as Americans overall, yet the gap intensifies further when we contrast white Christian Evangelicals with white non-Evangelical voters. When we jump to educational crosstabs, voters who’ve attained a bachelor’s degree or more are 47% less likely to identify as vaccine hesitant.
Nevada has fewer college-educated residents than most of the rest of the west, and Clark County has fewer college-educated residents than Washoe, Carson City, and Douglas Counties. Clark County’s racial and educational demographics hew more closely to those of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties on the California side of the state line, and those Inland Empire counties have far fewer college-educated residents than more expensive coastal regions like San Diego and Orange Counties.
Now, let’s return to the vaccination statistics. Once we bring all these numbers and statistics together, a clearer picture emerges. This is basically the same picture that emerged from the 2020 presidential election: Vaccination has become yet another status symbol in the same affluent and highly college-educated metro regions where President Joe Biden did exceptionally well last year, whereas the COVID-19 vaccines are viewed much more skeptically in the very regions and demographic groups where they’re most needed, yet these geographic regions also tend to be areas where former President Donald Trump often overperformed expectations in the presidential election. Since we clearly need higher vaccination rates throughout the entire country in order to prevent the “Delta variant” from causing a more severe COVID-19 resurgence, how do we close this political/demographic vaccination gap?
Will “Vax Nevada Days” do the trick? Let’s check in on Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” program for clues.
— @NVHealthResponse (@NVHealthRespon1) June 17, 2021
Last week, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced “Vax Nevada Days”, or the state’s new “vaccine lottery” program that includes prizes that vary from Nevada State Park permits and state fishing licenses to $5,000+ college student grants and the grand prize of $1,000,000 in cash. As he pitched this new program in Las Vegas last Thursday, Sisolak declared, “While we’re making progress with more than 50% of our eligible residents at least partially vaccinated, we must do more to protect our State. This vaccine incentive promotion is our way to give vaccination efforts an extra boost and encourage all Nevadans to get their shot so our State can recover and build back stronger.”
While it’s a good sign that Sisolak recognizes that Nevada must do more to get more people vaccinated, is he correct that this “vaccine lottery” will result in a public health jackpot that benefits everyone? For all the hype surrounding Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s (R) launch of “Vax-a-Million” last month, hype that resulted in bipartisan applause from the Biden administration and others due to early signs of an improving vaccination rate in the Buckeye State, more recent numbers cast doubt on the wisdom and efficacy of this and other “vaccine lotteries”.
Though we have some evidence indicating that most people are motivated at least somewhat by incentives, we also have newer rounds of hard numbers from Ohio showing that their rate of new vaccine shots administered has fallen below pre-lottery levels as the novelty of “Vax-a-Million” has worn off.
“We know misinformation remains rampant on multiple online platforms that younger people frequent.”
– Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States
The State of Ohio has also made national news this month thanks to a group of Republican state legislators inviting the notorious anti-vaccine activist Sherri Tenpenny to add her ridiculous lies about the COVID-19 vaccines into official legislative testimony. As more states follow Ohio’s lead in launching “vaccine lotteries” as new incentives for vaccination, they may also be running into diminishing marginal returns due to vaccine hesitancy hardening into vaccine refusal as anti-vaccine propaganda continues to run rampant across the internet. Even during today’s White House briefing, Dr. Vivek Murthy admitted, “We know misinformation remains rampant on multiple online platforms that younger people frequent.”
So what can we do about this? As we’ve discussed before, and we’ll go into further detail in our next edition of “This Week in Corona Scams” later this week, we must address the disinformation and the distrust at the heart of this growing vaccine disparity. As Ohio is already learning the hard way, and as Nevada and the rest of the nation may soon discover as well, not even cash prizes, free beer, and video game discounts may be enough to win people over if they’ve already been indoctrinated into believing that lies are truth, and that the truth is all lies.
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 was taken by me.