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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: Even More Vaccine Chronicles

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

COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly again, both nationwide and right here in Nevada. At this point, we’re still worrying about a potential “fourth wave” of surging infections that remains alarmingly possible.

In better news, hospitalizations and deaths are not rising as rapidly as they did during prior “waves” of infection surges, though we are noticing some upticks. Meanwhile vaccinations continue to rise at a rapid pace, so much so that America broke another record last weekend. Here’s the latest on the state of the pandemic, nationally and here at home.

Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: If you’ve been following along with us, you knew this was coming.

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has surged further to 1.15, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 115 new infections. Douglas (0.76), Lyon (0.83), Nye (0.84), Carson City (0.85), Elko (0.91), Washoe (0.95), and White Pine (0.95) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while Churchill (1.14!), Clark (1.21!!), Humboldt (1.32!!!), Lincoln (1.46!!!!), and Lander (3.34!!!!!!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 13.2 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Nye (2.1), Storey (3.5), Washoe (6.2), Pershing (6.4), Lyon (8.4), Elko (9.5), Douglas (10.8), Churchill (12.6), Carson City (13.5), Clark (15.2), Humboldt (15.3) and Lincoln (19.5) Counties are all reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day.

According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 tracker, Nevada’s cumulative test positivity rate has slipped further to 20.3% (according to the Indy’s calculation of “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day”), but our seven-day average has surged above 15% for the first time in nearly a month. These figures remain well above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.

So far, hospitalizations remain fairly stable and quite low. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 228 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 68 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 296 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,332 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and this week we continue to average eight to nine COVID-19 deaths per day.

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of 12:45 PM today), 2,014,340 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 1,684,035 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,045,774 first doses have been administered thus far, meaning an estimated 34% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 43.5% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 662,481 of these patients have been fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 21.5% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 27.7% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I got my own first vaccine dose last Friday, and I’ll go into further detail tomorrow on my own vaccination experience thus far.)

“If we have an acute situation like what we’re seeing in Michigan, we can’t just deliver more vaccines, as we’ll have a delayed response.” 
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Both nationally and here in Nevada, it seems like daily new cases are plateauing. If we interpret this in a “glass half-full” way, we can see that so far we’re not seeing the kind of explosion in new infections that foretold the previous “waves” early last summer and late last fall. If we interpret this in a “glass half-empty” way, we can see that we’re still moving in the wrong direction on infections. Regardless, it’s quite clear that our current trajectory remains one that merits a more cautious reopening strategy than replaying those Mervyn’s TV ads from many moons ago.

Once again, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Response Team pleaded for patience and vigilance during today’s briefing. And when asked why the White House won’t just divert some vaccine doses to particularly hard-hit states like Michigan that are experiencing a “fourth wave”, they countered that a two-to-six-week waiting period for the vaccines to take full effect isn’t practical when combating an immediate surge of infections. But of course, since a growing cohort of politicians across party lines have decided to recycle those old Mervyn’s TV ads for their own campaign ads, a growing chorus of public health experts outside the White House have endorsed diverting vaccine shipments from other states to Michigan as a near-last-ditch effort to stop further spread.

In response to these demands, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky countered, “If we have an acute situation like what we’re seeing in Michigan, we can’t just deliver more vaccines, as we’ll have a delayed response.” She continued, “Really, what we need to do is shut things down. If we just try to vaccinate our way out of this, we will be disappointed by the delayed response.” She and White House Senior COVID-19 Response Advisor Andy Slavitt also said that the federal government is already working to help Michigan boost its testing and contact tracing capacity, and that more treatments are on their way.

“You probably need two doses, as we’ve been saying, in order to get greater protection. […] The only thing that isn’t confusing is that two doses are really good.” 
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Since we’re back on the topic of the COVID-19 vaccines, we might as well address the growing chatter over “breakthrough infections”, or COVID-19 infections involving people who’ve already been vaccinated. They can indeed happen, but the data we have so far suggest this only describes the experience of about 1% of fully vaccinated individuals. And as we’ve previously covered on these pages, even those who have suffered “breakthrough infections” seem to be describing milder COVID-19 cases than what we were accustomed to seeing before the vaccines started to come online.

On this matter of “breakthrough infections”, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the NIAID and Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, admitted, “No vaccine is 100% efficacious. There will always be some level of breakthrough in infectious diseases. […] There are always breakthroughs.” He then said that even when we factor in “breakthrough infections”, we’re better off vaccinated than completely unprotected: “The critical factor here is – look at the denominator. Look at what you’re comparing to.”

And though the subject didn’t directly come up today, Fauci also made some comments that probably serve as another rebuttal to the continuing calls among some outside public health experts to delay second doses and instead commandeer planned second doses in order to provide more first doses more widely. According to Fauci, “You probably need two doses, as we’ve been saying, in order to get greater protection. We’ve seen shifts after the first and second doses.” He continued, “The only thing that isn’t confusing is that two doses are really good.”

Slavitt backed Fauci’s recommendation to continue two-dose regimens as planned, and he reassured Americans that the nation will continue to have enough vaccine supply regardless of the recent Johnson & Johnson vaccine shortage. Slavitt also said, “We all need to do our part. If we do, better days are ahead. We need Americans to do their part – wear a mask, social distance, and get vaccinated when you can.” He then added, “No vaccine dose is perfect. But with two doses and two weeks, we will have greater protection.”

“We must admit to the disparities that exist, and we must commit to a more equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. […] We must do better, and we will do better.” 
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Last Saturday, America broke its previous record by recording an astounding 4.6 million vaccine doses administered just that day. As we zoom out to the last week, America averaged 3.14 million vaccine doses administered per day, a 2% uptick over the previous week. Closer to home, Nevada enjoyed a 20% surge in vaccine doses administered during our first week of universal eligibility for Nevadans aged 16+

While White House officials celebrated this news, they admitted that not only must more be done, but also that those who’ve been hit the hardest need and deserve more life-saving medicine. Building on her official statement on racism as a public health threat last week, Dr. Walensky said today, “We must admit to the disparities that exist, and we must commit to a more equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. […] We must do better, and we will do better. Here’s how.”

Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Walensky and Slavitt indicated that as part of the Biden administration’s continuing rollout of American Rescue Plan vaccination programs, they’re planning on having 36 mass vaccination sites running across the country next week, along with at least 40,000 retail pharmacy vaccination clinics and ongoing work with state and local health offices to expand vaccine availability to more communities, including historically underserved communities of color. As Slavitt promised, “All of this work will help ensure that over 90% of Americans will have a vaccination site within five miles of them by this coming Monday.”

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, white Nevadans account for 48% of our overall population and 37% of our COVID-19 infections, yet white Nevadans got 51% of the vaccine doses administered between December and early April (based on infection and vaccine records that include racial data). And as of April 5, 28% of white Americans and 27% of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) got at least one vaccine dose, while only 17% of Black Americans and 16% of Latinx Americans have gotten at least one vaccine dose.

“The levels of Pfizer and Moderna are increasing every week, so we don’t expect overall supply to be affected by [the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shortage].” 
– Karissa Loper, Nevada Health Response
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Photo provided by the Office of Governor Steve Sisolak

During today’s Nevada Health Response call, state health officials provided updates on the new mobile vaccination units (or MVU’s) that are traveling to rural communities and Native American tribal communities throughout the state. As Nevada DHHS’ Karissa Loper explained, “We’re targeting it for specific populations, particularly those who may have trouble getting a second dose,” and she further specified that these MVU’s are currently just using the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine that’s now in very short supply.

When asked whether this recent supply crunch will affect Nevada’s MVU’s, Loper stated that when Nevada was receiving more J&J doses, they reserved many of those doses to stock up these MVU’s. As a result, Loper said, “I do not anticipate having to fall back on [the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines], but we do have cold storage units available just in case.”

And when it comes to Nevada’s overall vaccine supply, Loper indicated that the state will continue to have enough supply to cover growing demand: “The levels of Pfizer and Moderna are increasing every week, so we don’t expect overall supply to be affected by [the J&J shortage].”

“It doesn’t matter which vaccine is available at which site. Whichever vaccine is available, please go and get it.” 
– Dr. Mark Riddle, University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, Caleb Cage, Mark Riddle, Nevada Health Response, COVID-19 vaccines, vaccines
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Also during the Nevada Health Response call, the University of Nevada Reno’s Dr. Mark Riddle returned to not just back up Fauci’s analysis of “breakthrough infections”, but also break down some more what this all means. Riddle cited the growing data from around the world showing that the COVID-19 vaccines have worked in reducing further spread. And regarding the small amount of “breakthrough infections”, Riddle noted, “It’s not unexpected. The vaccines are not 100%. For every 100 who get vaccinated, five might get infected.”

On this potential “fourth wave” of infections, Riddle provided further confirmation of the good news of fewer severe infections and the bad news of the greater risk of younger Americans contracting “Long COVID”: “This fourth wave will likely be characterized by more younger people being infected. We still don’t know for sure how severe the outcome will be. You’re taking a chance, especially once we factor in ‘long-hauler’ [or ‘Long COVID’] conditions.”

COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccines, vaccine science, health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

Amidst these challenges and this new opportunity of expanding vaccine availability, Riddle urged Nevadans to take advantage of this opportunity in order to overcome the challenges of rising infections and newer variants: “We need to increase vaccination of our entire population so we can stop the spread. […] It doesn’t matter which vaccine is available at which site. Whichever vaccine is available, please go and get it.”

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 wear your masks and maintain social distancing from people outside your household.

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