COVID-19 continues to spread in Nevada and throughout the nation, but we are seeing more signs that Nevada and the U.S. are finally having more success in lowering infections and hospitalizations. Can this trend continue?
Also: What’s this new in-home COVID-19 test that’s making headlines, and are the COVID-19 vaccines still effective when we have new strains spreading?
Today’s COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates remain low, but test positivity and death rates remain quite high.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate appears steady at 0.81, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 81 new infections. Carson City (0.70), Douglas (0.71), Elko (0.71), Lyon (0.77), Lincoln (0.78), Clark (0.80), Washoe (0.83), Lander (0.84), Nye (0.84), White Pine (0.94), and Churchill (0.98) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while Humboldt (1.02) and Mineral (1.22) Counties now suffer more rapid spread. Storey (3.5), Pershing (9.9), Douglas (12.9), Lander (15.5), Elko (16.2), Lincoln (16.5), Lyon (16.6), and Carson City (18.9) Counties are reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Washoe (25.4), White Pine (28.3), Nye (32.5), and Clark (37.6) are over that benchmark. Even worse, Churchill (55.1), Humboldt (64.5), and Mineral (104.6!!!) Counties are 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 20.9% (according to the Indy’s calculation of “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day”), though our seven-day average continues to trend lower, now hovering around 30%. Nonetheless, these figures remain far above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening. And as of this week, the state is flagging all but Storey, Pershing, and White Pine Counties for elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission.
— @NVHealthResponse (@NVHealthRespon1) January 30, 2021
According to the state health officials, our hospitals are treating 1,057 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 190 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 1,247 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Once again 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 4,280 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today. Following last week’s spike, we’re back to averaging around 35 daily deaths as of today. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, 368,800 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed in Nevada as of 12:00 PM today. Today, state officials reported that 253,159 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded, including over 37,000 second doses. And for a change, we are seeing less of a lag between the state’s vaccination data and the federal data being posted on the CDC’s site.
“These are over-the-counter, self-performed COVID-19 tests with 96% accuracy that can detect COVID-19 within 15 minutes.”
– Andy Slavitt, White House COVID-19 Response Team Senior Adviser, on Ellume’s new rapid test kits
At this morning’s White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky voiced hope over the national declines in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, though she also called for continued vigilance amidst continually high caseloads and death rates: This means continuing our standard COVID-19 prevention measures of washing our hands, social distancing, wearing face coverings, and quarantining if there’s evidence of potential exposure to the virus. Wallensky also announced that the CDC has $15 million on hand to help state and local health authorities expand their testing capacity and bioinformatic research.
Speaking of testing, Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, announced that the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health & Human Services will approve Ellume’s new at-home COVID-19 test and grant Ellume $231.8 million to scale up production in order to produce 19 million test kits (with 8.5 million of those directly ordered by the federal government) by the end of the year. As Slavitt described, “These are over-the-counter, self-performed COVID-19 tests with 96% accuracy that can detect COVID-19 within 15 minutes.”
But with Ellume’s at-home tests expected to cost $30 each, how will this help poorer Americans who can’t afford frequent purchases of Ellume’s tests? Slavitt reassured Americans that in addition to Ellume, the NIH is continuing its RADx initiative to expedite more available and accessible (including lower-cost) COVID-19 testing.
“You need to get vaccinated when it becomes available, as quickly and expeditiously as possible.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden
With new vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax currently on track for federal approval, White House officials project another 100 million vaccine doses to come online by late June if just Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is soon approved. However trial results thus far have shown Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine only 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 disease 28 days after inoculation, while Novavax’s vaccine showed an average of 89.3% efficacy: 95.6% on the original SARS-CoV-2 strain, 85.6% on the B-1.1.7 “U.K. Variant” strain, and only 60% on the 501.V2 “South African Variant” strain.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, even though Johnson & Johnson’s and Novavax’s respective vaccines show lower efficacy than Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna did following the release of their respective Phase Three trial results, that’s likely due to the emergence of these new strains, and that Americans are better off getting vaccinated with whatever’s available because of the urgent need to stop all these strains from spreading and replicating.
According to Fauci, “There was a profoundly positive effect in the [Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines], even though the numerical effect was diminished. It is important, even when you have a variant circulating where you don’t have 95% efficacy, to provide the vaccine to lower serious illness and death.” Fauci later added, “You need to get vaccinated when it becomes available, as quickly and expeditiously as possible.”
“Many vaccination sites have to scale down because of the limited amount of doses available.”
– Candice McDaniel, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
During the White House’s press call, Fauci called out health care providers who have been stockpiling vaccine doses beyond federal and state rules on vaccine storage: “The priority should be to make sure that those who received their first dose get their second dose, and then the next round must be [eligible] people their first dose. A dose that is available will go into someone’s arm.”
Then during the Nevada Health Response press call, Candice McDaniel, Health Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness at DHHS, clarified that state protocol includes guidance to providers on full use of their weekly vaccine allotments. She also warned again that Nevada’s overall vaccine supply remains low: “Many vaccination sites have to scale down because of the limited amount of doses available. We must continue to be patient as limited doses are available.”
When asked again about the Biden administration’s plan for FEMA to launch more community vaccination centers, Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage voiced more support: “We’re engaged in these conversations. We’re glad FEMA is now involved.” Still, Cage indicated that state officials still want more details from the White House on potential state cost-sharing requirements for FEMA vaccination sites, as well as whether FEMA vaccinations will count toward Nevada’s total vaccine allocation.
For Nevadans who qualify for the current phase of vaccinations but still have trouble getting an appointment, the Nevada Health Response team recommended Immunize Nevada’s NV Covid Fighter online resource center. And for Clark County residents who have limited internet access but need help getting vaccinated, Clark County now has its toll-free hotline at 1-800-401-0946 open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM every day.
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.