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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: Shots, Shots, (Vaccine) Shots

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

COVID-19 continues to spread, but the pace of this spread varies. Here in Nevada, we’re seeing more signs that we’re “flattening the curve” again following a brief bump in infections. But nationally, the picture looks more stagnant and murky. In better news, more Nevadans become eligible for vaccination today, and another COVID-19 vaccine moves closer towards FDA approval.

Here’s the latest on the state of the pandemic, nationally and here at home.

(Editor’s Note: The original version of this story included potentially faulty data about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, so this story has been updated on March 24 at 12:55 PM to provide more accurate information. For more on this, check our March 24 COVID-19 Update.)
Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates, new daily caseloads, and hospitalizations move downward again.

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has dropped below 1.00 again and now sits at 0.94, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 94 new infections. Elko (0.66), Carson City (0.73), Lyon (0.75), Nye (0.81), Churchill (0.82), Douglas (0.88), Washoe (0.89), Clark (0.95), and Humboldt (0.96) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while White Pine (1.18), Lincoln (1.43!!!!), and Lander (1.56!!!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 8.5 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Lander (2.6), Storey (3.5), Elko (4.3), Nye (4.9), Washoe (5.3), Humboldt (5.9), Lyon (6.0), Mineral (6.3), Churchill (8.0), Carson City (8.9), Clark (9.3), Douglas (11.4), White Pine (11.9), and Lincoln (16.5) 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 a little to 20.6% (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 to a little over 10% after staying between 15% and 23% for over a month. These figures remain well above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening

After the recent uptick in infections, hospitalizations began to creep up again, but today it appears this spike is already subsiding. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 232 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 68 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 300 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,174 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today. So far we’re averaging 7-8 deaths per day, which is the lowest we’ve seen since last November.

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, 1,348,650 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 1,164,939 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 742,578 first doses have been administered thus far, meaning an estimated 24.1% of Nevadans have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 417,067 second doses have been administered, meaning an estimated 13.5% of Nevadans are fully vaccinated.

“These statistics should serve as a warning sign to the American people. […] This is a serious threat to the American people.” 
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, on America’s overall stagnating COVID-19 stats
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

While Nevada’s COVID-19 stats are generally improving again, much of the rest of the country is where we were last week (in going in the wrong direction). During today’s White House COVID-19 Briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky sounded the alarms: “Deaths remain at an elevated level, and the trajectory of declining deaths has slowed.” She continued, “These statistics should serve as a warning sign to the American people. […] This is a serious threat to the American people.”

When asked whether the CDC is trying to convince state governments to ease up on easing up health safety rules, Walensky responded, “We’re reaching out to individual states, trying to encourage them to look at their case data, look at the variants, and do as much outreach as we can. We need to slow down this relaxation [of health safety rules].”

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

As the eyes of the world have (once again) turned to Florida, where spring breakers are partying en masse with no masks, no social distancing, and nothing else protecting them from newer and more contagious SARS-CoV-2 variants, Slavitt echoed Walensky’s concern that what’s happening in Florida should not stay in Florida, let alone spread elsewhere: “What I saw in Miami did not look like a whole lot of vaccinated individuals.”

But when asked about Dr. Walensky sounding the alarms on the recent surge in air travel and loosening of health safety rules during today’s Nevada Health Response press call, Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Director Dr. Mark Pandori sounded more optimistic. According to Pandori, as long as Nevada continues on the “Roadmap” that we’re currently on, “We are in a position such that we may not see another surge. This doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.” And now that Governor Steve Sisolak (D) is moving ahead to expand vaccine eligibility to all Nevada adults beginning April 5, Pandori indicated, “It does appear that we are on a trajectory to achieve the low end of herd immunity in the next couple of months.”

“During this trial here, there was no indication at all.” 
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor for President Joe Biden, debunking false rumors on the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

In their press statement, AstraZeneca claimed that the most recent Phase III clinical trial for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that includes U.S. patient data shows that this vaccine is 79% effective at reducing overall symptomatic COVID-19 disease and 100% effective at reducing severe COVID-19 and hospitalization. However, federal regulatory authorities have since indicated that Oxford-AstraZeneca is probably more in the range of 69%-74% effective at reducing overall symptomatic COVID-19 disease. This discrepancy very much risks efforts to rebuild confidence in this vaccine, but it’s important to keep in mind that all the available data still point towards the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being highly effective at preventing severe disease and reducing further transmission of the virus.

In addition, during the White House COVID-19 Briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, reported, “During this trial here, there was no indication at all,” that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine caused blood clots or any other severe health complications.

As we discussed in last week’s “This Week in Corona Scams” column, anti-vaxxers around the world have already pounced on anecdotal evidence and misinterpreted it to (falsely) claim that Oxford-AstraZeneca caused fatal blood clots in some European patients who received this vaccine. Yet since then, the European Medicines Agency (as in, the European Union’s pharmaceutical regulatory agency) has confirmed that “the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots”. Though the EMA report noted “very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia”, or an abnormally low amount of blood platelets, their report nonetheless admitted that there’s no scientific evidence that even proves that use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine affected these very rare and isolated cases of thrombocytopenia.

Thus far, the FDA has not granted emergency medical authorization for Oxford-AstraZeneca like it has for Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. And when asked about a potential timetable for FDA approval of Oxford-AstraZeneca, Fauci demurred, “The FDA will very carefully go through all this data. Rest assured that the FDA will apply scrutiny to all this data.” Andy Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor for COVID-19 Response, agreed: “We are going to withhold any judgment until we hear from the FDA. They will go through this rigorous process.”

“We’re going to continue to ask everyone to have patience and check for availability.” 
– Candice McDaniel, Nevada Health Response, on Nevada’s schedule for expanding vaccine eligibility
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Beginning today, all Nevadans aged 16 and up with underlying health conditions are eligible for vaccination. Candice McDaniel, Nevada DHHS’ Chief of the Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness, voiced confidence that state and local health authorities are ready for the influx of newly eligible Nevadans: “We have about 600,000 statewide who have underlying health conditions. […] One complexity to this population is that it’s duplicative to occupational eligibility. We’ve already caught many of these people by their occupation.” 

Or in other words, many of these people were already eligible as higher-priority essential workers, so there may not be as steep of a curve here in Nevada as there’s been in other states that have experienced much more of a roller coaster in vaccine eligibility and availability. Still, McDaniel cautioned that even as vaccine eligibility expands in the days ahead, actual availability will depend on vaccine supply and how many sites will be ready to begin “giving the jab”. As McDaniel reminded everyone, “We’re going to continue to ask everyone to have patience and check for availability.”

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, and this story was updated at 4:35 PM to provide updated and corrected hospitalization data. 

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