COVID-19 is still spreading at a brisk pace, both nationwide and right here in Nevada. At this point, it just seems like our stats are stagnating at frustratingly high levels. At least hospitalizations and deaths remain well below the levels we experienced during prior “waves” of infection surges, though we are noticing continuing volatility.
Vaccinations continue to pile up, though we are starting to see a slower pace. In better news, one of those COVID-19 vaccines is back on the market following a brief “pause”. Here’s the latest on the state of the pandemic, nationally and here at home.
Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates are mostly coming down again, and hospitalizations and new deaths remain low.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has dropped to 1.05, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 105 new infections. Carson City (0.78), Douglas (0.78), Lyon (0.89), Washoe (0.91), Humboldt (0.96), and White Pine (0.96) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while Elko (1.02), Nye (1.04), Clark (1.05), Lincoln (1.27!!), and Lander (1.85!!!!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 12.1 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Nye (3.7), Washoe (8.1), Mineral (9.5), Douglas (9.6), Pershing (10.6), Churchill (12.6), Clark (13.0), Elko (13.8), Carson City (14.6), Lyon (14.9), and Storey (17.3) Counties are all reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Humboldt County is just over that benchmark at 21.2.
According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 tracker, Nevada’s cumulative test positivity rate is holding steady at 20.2% (according to the calculation of “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day”), and our seven-day average has returned to the 10-12% range following another spike in test positivity earlier this month. These figures remain well above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.
We are excited to offer the Pfizer vaccine to the 16 and 17 year olds in our community at @renownhealth’s #COVID19 drive-thru #vaccine site. Offering vaccinations to this age group gives me hope for the future. https://t.co/IzmjBYjzqD pic.twitter.com/6NRB1FslmN
— Tony Slonim MD, DrPH (@RenownCEOTonyMD) April 24, 2021
People who are homebound but want to receive the #COVID19 vaccine, there is help available!
▪️To make an appointment, call (702) 455-0696 or email email@example.com.
— Clark County Nevada (@ClarkCountyNV) April 23, 2021
In the last week, hospitalizations have come down again. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 270 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 54 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 324 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,433 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and this week we’re still averaging around seven COVID-19 deaths per day.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of 11:45 AM today), 2,396,080 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 1,985,316 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,193,085 first doses have been administered thus far, meaning an estimated 38.7% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 49.4% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 817,847 of these patients have been fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 26.6% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 34.2% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I got my own first vaccine dose earlier this month, and I’ll post an update after I get my second dose this weekend!)
What’s up with Johnson & Johnson, and why should we care?
In some largely expected but still broadly welcomed news, the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen, or J&J) vaccine is back online. In a very tricky and incredibly high-stakes intersection of public health, risk management, and governing amidst a crisis of Infodemic proportions, federal regulators opted to temporarily pause J&J use to investigate some more a very small number of patients who experienced blood clots after getting the J&J jab.
That got some media pundits panicking over how the FDA’s and CDC’s decision to “pause” J&J use might affect vaccine hesitancy. But as we’ve been exploring in our ongoing “This Week in Corona Scams” series, the Influencer Infodemic is probably scaring more people away from vaccination than any specific decision emanating from the federal government (other than, perhaps, how they intend to respond to this Infodemic of a disinformation campaign).
Nevada state health officials have already indicated that they will soon resume J&J use, and the rest of the country will probably resume J&J use as well. As we’ve previously noted regarding J&J and the other prominent adenoviral vector vaccine from Oxford and AstraZeneca, a very tiny number of patients developed blood clots after receiving this type of vaccine. Scientists continue to investigate to determine what exactly is causing the blood clots, but the fact remains that this is a very rare condition that is no more prevalent (if anything, this is rarer) than the potentially serious side effects we see in standard contraceptive and heart disease medication.
Bottom Line: Regardless of what some public polls show about what Americans think of the J&J vaccine, it’s safe for the vast majority of patients who will most likely be offered J&J doses. And regardless of this latest Sturm und Drang regarding J&J and Oxford-AstraZeneca, the U.S. now has so much supply of the mRNA based Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that we still have the potential to vaccinate every American adult by mid-summer. It’s just a question of reaching more people who need the vaccines, and it’s a question of how to convince more of the vaccine hesitant to want inoculation.
How’s Nevada’s “Roadmap to Recovery” coming along?
As generally expected, Nevada Health Response’s county task force meetings have largely confirmed what seemed to be developing when Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced the state’s further accelerated reopening timeline on April 13: Clark County will go through one more phase of relatively gradual reopening, while the rest of the state will barrel ahead to 100% full capacity allowance for all businesses and public places starting May 1.
The task force has already approved Clark County’s plan to let businesses go to 80% capacity, reduce the social distancing requirement from six feet to three feet, and allow up to 100% capacity for larger events once at least 60% of local residents complete vaccination. And even though some rural county elected officials have made statements suggesting they’ll do away with any and all health safety rules, their plans have all been approved due to their confirmation to state regulators that they will continue to enforce the state’s mask mandate, and that they will at least “encourage” businesses’ continued use of CDC social distancing guidelines.
The one glaring exception to all this intergovernmental kumbaya lies in Washoe County. Because the Washoe County Commission brought forward a reopening plan to return to 100% full capacity and no social distancing requirements that both the City of Reno and the Washoe County Health Office rejected, Washoe is the one county that remains in limbo. If Washoe can’t get regional authorities’ endorsement and the state task force’s approval this week, Washoe may be the one county that remains under state public health mandates in May.
“We don’t know yet if that will be an alarming increase. We don’t know yet how many hospitalizations and mortalities we can expect.”
– Kyra Morgan, Nevada State Biostatistician
During last week’s task force meeting, Nevada’s state biostatistician, Kyra Morgan, warned that, “As we see these plans come forward with essentially no restrictions, essentially opening things to 100%, the expectation is that we will see a significant increase in disease transmission.”
And as we’ve repeatedly noticed during the White House’s COVID-19 Briefings, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has warned against state and local authorities reopening rapidly without sufficient public health safety measures. Just last Monday, Walensky cautioned, “We still have a high amount of disease out there. […] We need time for the vaccines to kick in. We still need to take prevention measures today.”
During today’s Nevada Health Response press call, Morgan mostly stood by last week’s statement, though she did add, “We can do our best to estimate what that will be like, but we don’t have specific numbers to measure against.” She continued, “We don’t know yet if that will be an alarming increase. We don’t know yet how many hospitalizations and mortalities we can expect.”
Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage agreed: “As we reduce mitigation measures and go towards more reopening, we certainly expect an increase in cases and spread. We just don’t know what exactly that looks like.” And as expected, gave no indication of Sisolak considering any changes to his more aggressive reopening timeline.
“We have not had any difficulties. The MVU’s started using the Janssen vaccine on Saturday.”
– Karissa Loper, Nevada Health Response, on the state resuming use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
So now that J&J is back in the mix, what can we expect on the vaccination front going forward? As Karissa Loper, Deputy Bureau Chief for Nevada DHHS’ Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness, reminded everyone, “The Janssen vaccine has been found to be safe and effective. These side effects are very rare. The benefits outweigh the risks.” Still, going forward, health care providers will be required to provide notice of this rare side effect, and those who notice any adverse reactions must report these cases to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
And for anyone who was wondering what would happen to the mobile vaccination units (MVU’s) that originally carried J&J before the federal “pause”, Loper provided a status update: “The MVU’s will be stocked with the Pfizer and Janssen vaccines.” She also noted, “We have not had any difficulties. The MVU’s started using the Janssen vaccine on Saturday.”
The MVU’s will be providing vaccine doses in Duck Valley, Wells, and the Paiute-Shoshone Native American Tribal Reservation in Fallon this week. For more information on vaccine availability, check Immunize Nevada’s website or call 1-800-401-0946 (from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM any day of the week for live assistance) for more information.
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.
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.