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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: “Much More Work to Do”

COVID-19 continues to spread across Nevada and America, yet we continue to see improvement in lower infection rates and less crowded hospitals. In fact, we’re seeing so much improvement that Governor Steve Sisolak (D) made a surprise announcement today on the future of school contact sports events. Also, we have some updates on the vaccine front.

“Let me be clear: We have much more work to do.” 
– Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator 
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

This morning, The New York Times published a report where multiple medical experts complained about the Biden administration’s deliberate lowballing on vaccination goals and called for at least 3 million shots per day nationally. Though we certainly need at least 3 million vaccine shots per day to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of herd immunity before the end of this year, we also can’t afford to forget what we need to actually reach that goal.

When President Joe Biden took office on January 20, the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” had ground to a halt because all their focus on vaccine development had no matching effort to nail down vaccine distribution, Nevada and other states were scrambling to launch mass vaccination programs on their own due to former President Donald Trump’s refusal to provide them more federal support, and the terms and conditions for vaccine access were mostly being dictated by the pharmaceutical companies that held the patents. 

During today’s White House COVID-19 Briefing, COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients brushed past most of the details from Trump’s handling of “Operation Warp Speed”, but he did engage in some humble-bragging as he noted that average daily vaccinations have soared from 892,000 per day during the first days of the public vaccine launch to 1.1 million per day during Biden’s first week in office, then made it to 1.7 million per day as of this week. Zients himself summed up the Biden administration’s efforts to repeal and replace “Operation Warp Speed” with a new national vaccination strategy this way: “We’ve acted aggressively to increase vaccine supply.” Still, he also acknowledged, “Let me be clear: We have much more work to do.” 

Zients reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to provide $3 billion for community vaccination centers in 40 states and multiple Native American tribal communities, as well as the 2 million vaccine doses federal authorities are sending directly to the pharmacy vaccination clinic program on top of the 13.5 million doses going to state health authorities this week, but he also reiterated Biden’s desire for Congress to pass his American Rescue Plan soon in order for the federal government to further scale up the national vaccination strategy. Or as Zients put it, “Doing this costs money. That’s why the American Rescue Plan is so important to do.”

“When the disease comes into the schools, it’s not because the spread started at the school. The spread has come from the community.” 
– Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

For all the fire and fury on the cable news channels, at local school board meetings, and on social media over plans for school reopenings, the White House COVID-19 Response team again sought to walk the political tightrope between Biden’s promises to reopen schools for in-person learning with public school districts’ real-world need for more resources just to survive this pandemic.

In their effort to clear up confusion over where the Biden administration stands on school reopenings and vaccination of school staff, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated, “We should try as best as we possibly can to vaccinate teachers. They should be considered essential personnel.” She continued, “We don’t feel every teacher must be vaccinated to reopen schools, but we feel very strongly that teachers need to be vaccinated.”

Walensky and Zients later praised Nevada and other states that are prioritizing education workers for vaccine access, and they again promised more support for schools should Congress pass Biden’s rescue plan. They also echoed Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) messaging closer to home about the role the American people play in determining school reopening timelines via proper health safety protocol. As Walensky stated, “When the disease comes into the schools, it’s not because the spread started at the school. The spread has come from the community.”

“Getting students back into classrooms as safely as possible is my top priority. In order to get our students back into classrooms, it’s going to take every Nevadan acting with this as their priority.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Later this afternoon, Sisolak held his own press conference and reiterated, “Getting students back into classrooms as safely as possible is my top priority. In order to get our students back into classrooms, it’s going to take every Nevadan acting with this as their priority.” He also reiterated that teachers are already in a priority lane for vaccinations: “I think it’s important that teachers have vaccines available.”

Also during the program, Sisolak and Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert laid out the new rules for schools as more of them prepare to reopen for in-person learning on March 1: 75% capacity or 250 students maximum, mandatory masks and social distancing, and 66% maximum occupancy for school buses. As Ebert announced the new rules, she thanked Nevadans for making this possible: “I want to thank our communities for bringing our [COVID-19] numbers down, so we can bring students back to school. We have over 500,000 students we serve, and we want to ensure they’re on a path to success.”

Also today, Sisolak announced that beginning next week, NIAA governed school sports leagues can begin applying to resume contact sports events (such as football). Sisolak stressed that the NIAA must first commit to enforcing the current statewide health safety rules, develop its own rules and guidelines, then obtain local school board approval before scheduling any play dates, but he also stated that Nevada’s COVID-19 infections have dropped low enough that he’s confident that it’s finally safe enough for students to get on the field and play again.

“No dose of vaccine is going to waste. We’re getting this into every arm we can.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak

In addition to making some news on the education front, Sisolak also updated Nevadans on COVID-19 vaccine availability. Pharmacies in the federal vaccination clinic program (see above) will begin opening vaccination appointments for Nevadans aged 65 and up next week, and Sisolak expects all other vaccination sites will be able to accept Nevadans aged 65 and up beginning March 1. 

As he heralded this new vaccination opportunity, Sisolak stressed, “No dose of vaccine is going to waste. We’re getting this into every arm we can.” And on that same call, Candice McDaniel, Health Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness at Nevada DHHS, stated that state health officials are working with local health authorities to launch more “mobile strike teams” to reach more seniors who lack easy access to vaccination centers, and she reiterated at the statewide COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 1-800-401-0946 is available for seniors with limited internet access to schedule their vaccine appointments.

As the Texas blizzard continues to wreak havoc throughout much of the nation, McDaniel confirmed that the delivery of some Moderna vaccine doses may be affected by logistical delays. And as we await these and additional vaccine doses, Sisolak repeated, “We continue to ask Nevadans to be patient as we await more shipments from the federal government.”

And finally, here’s today’s COVID-19 check-up. 

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection has slipped further to 0.77, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 77 new infections. Humboldt (0.61), Nye (0.63), Lyon (0.65), Douglas (0.67), Carson City (0.68), Washoe (0.68), Churchill (0.71), Clark (0.78), Lincoln (0.81), White Pine (0.86), Lander (0.87), and Elko (0.90) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, which indicates slower spread throughout the state. Lander (5.2), Lincoln (5.5), Storey (6.9), Lyon (7.5), Douglas (7.6), Washoe (9.4), Mineral (9.5), Carson City (10.5), Humboldt (11.0), Nye (12.0), Churchill (18.7), and Elko (19.8) Counties are all reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Clark (20.9), Eureka (21.1), Pershing (21.2), and White Pine (34.3) Counties are over that benchmark. 

According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 tracker, Nevada’s cumulative test positivity rate remains at 21.0% (according to the Indy’s calculation of “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day”), and our seven-day average has dropped under 20% for the first time since last October. Nonetheless, these figures remain far above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening

According to state health officials, our hospitals are treating 652 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 88 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 740 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Thus far this week, hospitalizations throughout the state are at the lowest levels we’ve seen since last fall.

Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 4,774 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today. So far this week, we’re averaging under 30 daily deaths. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, 593,275 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada. And according to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard, 464,037 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded to Nevada WebIZ, including 345,848 first doses and 118,192 second doses. As of this morning, an estimated 10.98% of Nevadans have initiated the vaccination process, and an estimated 3.75% of Nevadans have completed vaccination.

If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check Nevada Health Response on testing in your area, check Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability 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.

The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.

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