COVID-19 continues to spread here in Nevada and nationwide, though we are finally seeing encouraging signs that this spread is winding down. But as vaccinations continue at such a snail’s pace, what’s being done to get more shots into more arms more quickly?
Here’s the latest on the pandemic that we still can’t cancel just yet.
“Any stockpile that existed previously no longer exists. We are passing doses along to states in real time as they order them.”
– Andy Slavitt, Senior Adviser to the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team
This morning, I hopped on a press call that opened up to us for the first time ever: one for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. In our previous COVID-19 updates, we’ve noted Nevada state health officials’ frustration with low vaccine allocations, only being able to plan vaccinations on a week-by-week basis, a large burden of data to report, and other logistical hurdles that have bogged down the state’s attempt to get more shots into more arms. During today’s White House press call, the Biden administration’s health officials acknowledged these problems and promised action to improve vaccine distribution.
In their effort to clear up confusion over how many vaccine doses the federal government actually has, White House COVID-19 Senior Adviser Andy Slavitt indicated, “Any stockpile that existed previously no longer exists. We are passing doses along to states in real time as they order them.” Slavitt then stated that the federal government has a rolling reserve of 2-3 million vaccine doses daily to act as a buffer to prevent delays in shipments to states, but that’s all the reserve they have on deck.
In response to questions about state health officials’ complaints about low vaccine supplies throughout the U.S., Slavitt lamented, “I wish we inherited a situation where we inherited stockpiles of vaccines.” He then promised, “We will increase by 16% the amount of vaccine we get out, and we will provide a three-week window to allow states to do better planning.”
“We are working to develop new federally backed health centers. […] We want to bring the vaccines into people’s communities.”
– Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force
In another confirmation of Nevada state health officials’ reports that federal vaccine data was lagging well behind real-time vaccinations due to the WebIZ reporting backlog, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky admitted, “We’re getting data on when vaccines are reported instead of when they’re administered.” Slavitt and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients later pointed to this and other logistical hurdles to rebut claims from Republicans and some conservative Democrats in Congress that President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is “too expensive”.
Rather, Slavitt declared, “The American Rescue Plan is a critical part of our plan to get Americans vaccinated. […] We need immediate action.” Included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan are: $20 billion for a new national vaccination program in partnership with state, municipal, and Native American tribal authorities; $15 billion for community health centers, many of which Biden wants to serve as vaccination clinics; ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are free-of-charge to all Americans; a 100,000 strong public health job corps that will include more workers to deliver vaccines; and expansion of the Medicaid FMAP to 100% for vaccine administration.
Yet in the meantime, as the White House and state health authorities await Congress’ decision on providing more funding for vaccine distribution, Biden administration officials promised more and better help with the federal funds they currently have available. Yesterday Biden announced that the U.S. government will boost vaccine distribution to states from the current rate of 8.6 million doses per week to a minimum of 10 million doses per week, and the federal government has negotiated new agreements with Pfizer and Moderna that will boost America’s vaccine supply to at least 600 million doses (enough for at least 300 million Americans) by the end of this summer.
In addition FEMA has already budgeted $1 billion to launch new federally supported community vaccination centers, and the White House plans to open 100 of them throughout the nation within the next month. As Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, explained, “We are working to develop new federally backed health centers. […] We want to bring the vaccines into people’s communities. It is our plan to ensure that when it’s your turn, you will have access to the vaccine.”
Today’s COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates and hospitalizations still trend downward, but test positivity and death rates remain quite high.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has dropped a little more to 0.80, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 80 new infections. Humboldt (0.40), Churchill (0.73), Carson City (0.74), Washoe (0.77), Clark (0.80), Douglas (0.80), Lyon (0.83), Elko (0.84), Lincoln (0.92), Lander (0.92), White Pine (0.93), and Nye (0.93) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, indicating slower and weakening spread. Storey (10.4), Pershing (14.9), and Mineral (15.9) Counties are reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Lander (20.7), Elko (21.9), Washoe (23.2), Lyon (25.3), Douglas (28.3), Churchill (31.0), Esmeralda (32.7), Carson City (35.5), Nye (41.8), Clark (45.7), and White Pine (47.7) are over that benchmark. Even worse, Lincoln County (52.4) is once again reporting over 50 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 hit a new record high of 20.8% (according to the Indy’s calculation of “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day”), though our seven-day average is back below 35%. Nonetheless, these figures remain far above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.
According to the state health officials, our hospitals are treating 1,307 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 93 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 1,400 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. So far this week, Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada hospitals are treating fewer COVID-19 patients and experiencing lower general occupancy rates.
Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 4,135 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today. The average daily COVID-19 death rate had been dropping for most of this month, but this week it’s ticking back up toward 40 deaths per day. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker and Nevada state health officials, 338,025 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed in Nevada as of 12:00 PM today. State officials also reported that 194,930 doses have been administered as of today, and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has confirmed that their database still lags behind state records.
“We are appreciative that the federal government has listened to us and ordered more vaccine doses. […] We also appreciate that they are providing us more predictability.”
– Candice McDaniel, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
During the Nevada Health Response team’s press call later today, state health officials generally lauded the Biden administration’s new COVID-19 vaccination strategy. Or as Candice McDaniel, Health Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness at Nevada DHHS, put it, “We are appreciative that the federal government has listened to us and ordered more vaccine doses. We appreciate that they are being more proactive. We also appreciate that they are providing us more predictability.”
Yet while state health officials appreciate the Biden administration’s new strategy, they nonetheless decried Nevada’s second-to-last-place status in allocation of doses per capita. McDaniel and Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage then said Governor Steve Sisolak (D) is “having conversations” with fellow Governors and with Nevada’s members of Congress on how to boost Nevada’s vaccine allocation some more.
In response to the White House’s announcement this morning of their new community vaccination center program, Cage confirmed, “We got off a call [with officials from FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]. It was exactly about these new mega-sites being fielded by the federal government.”
Cage and McDaniel didn’t really indicate how state health officials view this new plan to launch federally backed vaccination clinics. Instead, Cage just said he hopes the federal government will stick to its tradition of “federally supported, state managed, and locally executed” disaster relief. He also said that as the White House continues to roll out its new national strategy, “We will determine [what kind of federal support] for the Governor to request on Nevada’s behalf.”
If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check with Nevada Health Response on testing in your area, check with Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability in your area, and check with 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.
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.