COVID-19 continues to spread, and our numbers continue to look rough. As Americans again ask why this is happening all over again, let’s examine the actual facts and scientific evidence on file to see what we can do about it.
Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates and new daily caseloads remain very high, and hospitalizations and deaths have returned to “winter surge” era highs. Delta now accounts for over half of Nevada’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, and over 44% of Nevadans are fully vaccinated. The vast majority of the state continues to suffer a severe outbreak.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate remains high at 1.18, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 118 new infections. Only Churchill (0.90), Elko (0.90), Nye (0.95) Counties have infection rates slightly under 1.00, while Lander and Pershing Counties are at 1.00 exactly, and Lyon (1.03), Carson City (1.06), Humboldt (1.10), White Pine (1.15), Clark (1.16), Douglas (1.17), Lincoln (1.23!), and Washoe (1.29!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 34.1 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Pershing (2.1), Lander (2.6), Lincoln (5.5), Humboldt (5.9), and Eureka (7.0) Counties are reporting under ten new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Churchill (10.9), Carson City (13.0), White Pine (13.4), Storey (13.9), Douglas (15.8), Elko (16.5), Lyon (18.4), Mineral (19.0), Washoe (19.9), Nye (21.2!), and Clark (40.0!) 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 19.4%. According to the Mayo Clinic, our statewide seven-day test positivity average has rebounded to a two-month high of 19.66%.
We’re still providing the #COVID19 vaccine and some #BacktoSchool vaccines at the Galleria at Sunset, Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11a-5p. We’ll be there until Saturday, Aug. 14. pic.twitter.com/2wE8a6c62Y
— SN Health District (@SNHDinfo) July 30, 2021
This week, our COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 1,130 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 94 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 1,224 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,918 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and we’re still averaging about 12 COVID-19 deaths per day.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of yesterday), 3,315,390 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 2,982,219 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,663,156 patients have received at least one vaccine dose, meaning an estimated 54% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 65.9% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 1,373,864 of these patients are now fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 44.6% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 55.2% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I posted a special “Web of Hate” installment last week showing how widespread the Influencer Infodemic truly is, and we’ll have a new “This Week in Corona Scams” later this week.)
Next, let’s take a brief stroll down Memory Lane. Once again, we must remind everyone: This did NOT “come out of nowhere”.
On May 19, we warned, “While the scientific evidence thus far backs up [the CDC easing up on their mask guidance], the ‘wild card’ here lies with the amount of Americans who continue to live unvaccinated and decide to go ‘back to normal’ living without the precautions that have come to define so many our lives for the past 14 months. As long as we provide ample opportunities for COVID-19 to continue spreading and developing new variants, we still face risk of these future new variants emerging with the potential to break through the vaccines more strongly than the variants we’re combating now.”
And here we are now, with the Delta variant continuing to rage across America and the vast majority of Nevada again subject to an indoor mask mandate. We had to learn the hard way (again) that “the honor system” is no way to protect public health, and that the only way to end the pandemic is to actually end the pandemic.
There are carrots and there are sticks when it comes to getting people vaccinated — the carrots didn’t do the job, so watch for more restaurants, stores, and other businesses go this route 👉🏽 https://t.co/Zyj1VRZqcv
— Laura Jarrett (@LauraAJarrett) July 29, 2021
On May 25, we warned, “We nearly always run into opportunity costs, and there really is no such thing as a purely ‘free lunch’. Either we accept some kind of vaccine passport to ensure that newly reopened businesses and public spaces remain safe environments, we continue to accept and enforce some universal baseline standards for mask wearing and social distancing as we work to get more people vaccinated, or we just accept the heightened risk of another wave of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in the near-to-intermediate future by choosing neither of the first two options.”
Now that America already chose Door #3 and essentially “f—ed around and found out”, a growing number of public and private employers are moving over to Door #1. Following MGM Resorts’ announcement that unvaccinated employees will no longer qualify for paid sick leave if they test positive for COVID-19, Sisolak Administration Policy Director DuAne Young announced last month that the State of Nevada will also require state workers to take weekly COVID-19 tests and deny paid sick leave to unvaccinated (and not previously immunocompromised) workers who get infected. Then last week multiple major corporations – including Union Square Hospitality Group (the operator of multiple New York and D.C. restaurants), Alphabet/Google, and Facebook – announced the launch of their respective vaccine mandates for in-person activities, followed by President Joe Biden announcing that federal workers will either have to get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing. As we’ve been warning for some time, the market will ultimately respond to public health threats regardless of what government officials say or don’t say about “lockdowns” and mandates. But if policymakers want to avoid greater economic catastrophe, it pays to be proactive.
“We’re seeing increased interest from the private sector, and we will assist them […] in navigating these choices.”
– Michelle White, Chief of Staff to Governor Steve Sisolak, on the possibility of private businesses developing their own vaccine passport programs
At last Thursday’s Nevada Health Response press call, Sisolak Administration Chief of Staff Michelle White reiterated that Governor Steve Sisolak (D) is not pursuing any statewide vaccine passport or other form of vaccine mandates for large events and/or public indoor venues. However, she then added, “We will not prevent private sector businesses from doing so. We’re seeing increased interest from the private sector, and we will assist them […] in navigating these choices.”
What might this entail? As of last week, 16 European Union member nations – including E.U. powerhouses France and Germany, and popular tourist destinations like Spain and Greece – are requiring “green passes” for entry into their respective countries or in-person entry into various publicly accessible businesses. Travelers must provide proof of full vaccination (from a list of approved vaccines, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) in advance or a negative COVID-19 test result 48 hours prior to entry, as well as proof of recovery from COVID-19 at least six months prior if they were previously infected. The “green pass” has a scannable QR code, and it can either be on paper or on a smartphone/tablet. Closer to home, the Canadian government has launched its own ArriveCAN app as a digital vaccination verification tool for foreign tourists and Canadians returning home.
Unfortunately the CDC’s use of paper COVID-19 vaccination cards makes the process more cumbersome here in America, but it’s still possible to obtain digital records through state and local agencies such as Nevada’s own WebIZ secure immunization database. And probably as long as you still have that CDC card on file, you can choose from multiple third-party smartphone/tablet apps to scan and upload proof of vaccination.
Long story short: It’s more than possible (and legal) to develop some sort of vaccine passport system, since other countries and businesses are already doing it, and since we already have the tools we need to make it happen. We just have to decide at some point whether we’ll finally do it, or if we’re going to continue to bumble our way through mask and social distancing rules that were long ago politicized as “lockdown fatigue” long before the vaccines themselves also fell prey to partisan polarization.
Who could have guessed? (Ahem – we did.) Vaccine lotteries can only move the needle so much, but real-world conditions may actually be convincing more people to get vaccinated.
In the meantime, though, White stated that Viva Vax Vegas will continue and remain open to tourists, workers, and other locals. This week, it’s going Downtown: The Circa resort and casino is hosting a pop-up vaccination clinic today, and The D will host a pop-up clinic tomorrow.
How’s it going so far? According to Dr. Ellie Graden of Talus Analytics, Nevada’s administration of first doses rose 4% in the last week to 852 first doses per 100,000. That’s 15% above the national average of 733 per 100,000. Is it possible that this Delta-fueled COVID-19 “American Carnage” is scaring people into the vaccination clinic?
According to CDC data, the 14-day moving average of daily vaccine doses administered bottomed out on July 10 at 5,088. Considering how other states that pursued vaccine lotteries saw similar drops after the novelty of the vaccine lottery wore off, that totally does not surprise me. Yet in the last two weeks, we have experienced an increasingly noticeable rebound. As of August 1, the CDC’s 14-day moving average of daily doses administered in Nevada hit 6,403 – a 25.84% increase from July 10. Though the ranks of vaccinated Nevadans remain older and probably whiter than the overall population, we do have evidence indicating that the crowds who have more recently initiated vaccination are younger and more diverse than those of us who got our shots when the COVID-19 vaccines had just begun to become available to the general public. And nationally, the recent rebound in daily vaccinations meant that America overall finally hit President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adults with at least one dose (albeit, nearly a month late).
As Dr. Graeden confirmed last Thursday, “We are seeing some shifts in the trends of who’s being hospitalized. Younger people are being hospitalized at higher numbers because they’re not being vaccinated at high enough rates.” She then added, “The best way to avoid hospitalization is to get vaccinated.”
So what really happened in Provincetown last month, and what does the Massachusetts outbreak really say about the COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy?
Last Thursday, Dr. Ellie Graeden declared, “Cases continue to rise in Nevada and nationally due to the Delta variant, but the vaccines are very effective in preventing hospitalizations.” But in light of new reports on breakthrough infections – especially the outbreak among vaccinated residents and tourists in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the Fourth of July holiday – isn’t this just a stale bad take?
Not really, and here’s why: We must examine the full big picture. While 74% of the new Barnstable County (which includes Provincetown) infections were among vaccinated people, Barnstable County, most of the rest of Massachusetts, and apparently the tourists who visited during the holiday weekend all have high vaccination rates. Judging from trial and study data, it’s likely that the vaccines cut the total amount of COVID-19 infections by at least 75%, even as the vaccines were put to the ultimate test of a holiday weekend full of tourists crowding into indoor and outdoor parties in one of America’s most popular LGBTQ+ vacation destinations.
1. Did vaccines prevent infections?
Based on CDC's estimate, Pfizer/Moderna prevent about 75-85% of symptomatic infections from Delta
So if no one had been vaccinated, initial case loads would have been about 5 times higher
— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) July 31, 2021
The vaccines are working. Of the 900 cases related to the Provincetown cluster, there have been no deaths, 7 hospitalizations, and the symptoms are largely mild. Our positivity peaked at 15% on 7/15 and was only 4.8% yesterday. The outbreak is contained and Provincetown is safe.
— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) July 30, 2021
To put into further perspective, Provincetown Town Manager Alex Morse has noted, “Of the 900 cases related to the Provincetown cluster, there have been no deaths, seven hospitalizations, and the symptoms are largely mild. Our positivity peaked at 15% on July 15, and was only 4.8% [on July 29]. The outbreak is contained and Provincetown is safe.” Bringing this closer to home, Clark County’s daily death rate nearly doubled, our test positivity rate doubled, and our COVID-19 hospitalization count more than doubled during the same period. And in states with even lower vaccination rates, such as Louisiana and Missouri, the infection rates, hospitalization counts, and death rates are even higher.
None of this is any kind of attempt to “hide the truth” about breakthrough infections and COVID-19 vaccine efficacy. Rather, we’re seeking to avoid base rate fallacy as we assess the big picture on the COVID-19 vaccines. Bottom line: The vaccines still work very well, there are additional near-term steps we can take (such as masking) to curb new infections while we shift to more of a long-term and vaccine-centric pandemic survival strategy.
“This is a race against time. We must protect our communities before new variants emerge.”
– Candice McDaniel, Nevada Health Response
During last Thursday’s call, Michelle White stated that going forward, Nevada’s mask rule will be updated weekly based on CDC data on counties with “substantial” or “high” levels of community transmission. Yet while the CDC’s ratings change nearly every day, Nevada’s current mask rule states that state officials will move counties in or out of the indoor public space mask requirement based on two consecutive weeks of CDC data, and they will make decisions every Tuesday then give counties until Friday to either begin enforcing the mask rule or drop the mask rule should they fall into the CDC’s “Low” or “Moderate” categories that week.
As Candice McDaniel, Deputy Director, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, explained, “As the virus changes and evolves, our public health response must do so as well. With increased disease transmission due to the Delta variant, a more layered mitigation strategy that includes masking must be utilized.” And as she again stressed that “the vaccines are working”, McDaniel explained how more masking essentially buys us more time as public health officials work to drive up our vaccination rate: “This is a race against time. We must protect our communities before new variants emerge.”
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 12:30 PM to include new vaccination data.