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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: Thanksgiving, Again

COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccines, vaccine science, health care, travel

COVID-19 continues to spread, even as we approach Thanksgiving. Though we have some good news to be thankful for, we also have to be careful with another pandemic holiday season. Here’s what you need to know about booster shots, new treatments, best practices for the fall/winter holiday season, and our overall COVID-19 outlook.

Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Nevada’s overall outlook has improved slightly. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths appear stable. Most rural areas and Washoe County are trending lower, but Clark County is suffering more infections. And finally, over 54% of Nevadans are now fully vaccinated.
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has inched lower to 0.98, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to 98 new infections. Humboldt (0.59), Lincoln (0.61), Douglas (0.68), White Pine (0.77), Elko (0.78), Carson City (0.81), Churchill (0.85), Nye (0.89), Lander (0.91), Lyon (0.91), and Washoe (0.91) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while Mineral County is at 1.00 exactly, and Clark (1.04) and Pershing (1.09) Counties suffer more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 22.2 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Douglas (19.0), Clark (20.8!), Washoe (22.1!), Nye (22.7!), Elko (26.8!), Lander (28.4!), Carson City (29.1!), Storey (31.2!), Lyon (33.3!), White Pine (41.8!!), Lincoln (44.1!!), Pershing (44.6!!), Churchill (44.7!!), Humboldt (48.3!!), and Eureka (115.0????!!!!) Counties are all reporting over 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day.

According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard and The Nevada Independent’s COVID-19 data tracker, Nevada’s 14-day test positivity average based on “new positives as a percentage of new test encounters” ticked up slightly to 7.69%. According to the Mayo Clinic, our statewide seven-day test positivity average has stabilized at 9.7%. According to the Scripps Institute’s Outbreak.info, the Delta variant (B.1617.2) remains dominant: Delta and its sub lineages account for at least 83% of new cases in the last 30 days, at least 92% of new cases in the last 60 days, and about 82% of Nevada’s confirmed COVID-19 cases since February. 

This week, our COVID-19 hospitalizations have slipped a bit. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 656 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 45 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 701 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 7,930 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and we’re averaging about eight COVID-19 deaths per day.

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of yesterday), 4,739,800 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 3,891,373 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 2,025,490 patients have received at least one vaccine dose, meaning an estimated 65.8% of Nevadans (and more specifically, about 70% of all Nevadans aged five and up, and 78.6% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 1,668,543 Nevada patients are now fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 54.2% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 57.6% of all Nevadans aged five and up, and 65.7% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. 270,210 Nevadans thus far have opted for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, meaning that 16.2% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 39% of Nevadans aged 65 and up) have opted for additional vaccine protection.

Treatment Update: Biden administration orders 10 million rounds of paxlovid, and Pfizer and Merck agree to make their antiviral drugs more widely available around the world.
health care, COVID-19
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last month, we examined the initially promising data on Merck’s molnupiravir. Earlier this month, we checked out Pfizer’s paxlovid. The FDA has yet to approve either as COVID-19 medicine, but the White House announced last Thursday that they ordered 10 million treatment rounds of paxlovid in order to begin distributing it as soon as the FDA approves paxlovid.

While Merck’s and Pfizer’s respective press releases claim impressive efficacy for their respective drugs, we’re still waiting for full clinical trial results. Should the full trial results show similar numbers as the pharmaceutical companies’ press releases, then we will have a powerful tool alongside the COVID-19 vaccines to take on this disease. (Hint: Contrary to Wall Street traders’ assertions, there’s no zero sum game between the vaccines and these antiviral pills.) Paxlovid inhibits an enzyme that’s needed to make some viral proteins fully functional, and molnupiravir has a similar function of altering the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ reproduction cycle by tricking the virus into changing its RNA coding in a way that inhibits its viral replication capability. (And no, neither molnupiravir nor paxlovid is “the same thing” as ivermectin!)

In addition, Pfizer made this news: They agreed to share the license for paxlovid and waive royalties as long as COVID-19 remains a public health emergency. Merck and Ridgeback had already agreed to a similar arrangement for molnupiravir last month. This should allow for more manufacturing of the antiviral drugs, including lower-cost generics that can reach a greater number of patients in the Global South.

Next, an update on breakthrough infections
health care, COVID-19
Photo by Andrew Davey

According to the November 18 Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) report, only 1.14% of fully vaccinated Clark County residents (12,898) have tested positive for COVID-19, only 0.0574% (652) have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and only 0.0178% of fully vaccinated residents (202) have died of COVID-19. In contrast, 27.6% of unvaccinated Clark County residents (326,695) have tested positive for COVID-19, and 0.5% of unvaccinated residents (5,906) have died of COVID-19.

Once again the actual evidence shows a tiny risk of fully vaccinated Americans succumbing to COVID-19, in stark contrast to the mounting evidence of the grave danger facing unvaccinated Americans. And while we occasionally see reports of vaccinated patients experiencing side effects and adverse reactions, these remain incredibly rare and pose far less of a risk than contracting COVID-19.

Even if you think SNHD’s data is skewed and/or incomplete, we still have ample evidence elsewhere showing how the COVID-19 vaccines work to prevent severe disease and reduce the potential for further spread. As we’ve discussed before, this does not mean that the mere existence of these vaccines alone solves all our COVID-19 problems. Rather, this means that these vaccines are highly effective in saving people’s lives and curbing further spread of an increasingly preventable disease.

Booster Update: Boosters for all (who want them)
@gavinnewsom

Get your booster!! #iunderstoodtheassignment

♬ original sound – Gavin Newsom

Last Friday, the FDA officially endorsed COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for all adults. As we (and the Biden administration’s public health team) noted earlier this month, early data from Israel already provided promising news on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine becoming even more effective against transmission, hospitalization, and death once an already fully vaccinated patient got the third (or booster) dose. 

Though the original regimen for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines made sense when they first debuted, we still have high enough unvaccinated populations around the world and here in the U.S. for COVID-19 to continue to circulate and mutate into new variants. Meanwhile, we now have a better understanding of the original mRNA vaccine regimen beginning to wane in efficacy six months after the second dose, and two months after the first Johnson & Johnson (Janssen, or J&J) dose. As COVID-19 begins to transition from a shocking pandemic into more of an endemic disease, Pfizer executives have already signaled that they expect the need for annual vaccine booster shots and an arsenal of treatments (such as their own paxlovid) for many years to come.

This data convinced some public health authorities – and elected officials like California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) – to endorse and launch universal booster eligibility early. Following the FDA announcement, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) endorsed boosters for all (who want them) as Nevada public health authorities affirmed the safety and efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna boosters.

What happened in Colorado, and what does this mean for us?

According to Covid Act Now (as of today), California has the nation’s ninth lowest daily new caseload and fourth lowest test positivity rate, while Colorado has the nation’s eighth highest daily new caseload and 19th highest test positivity rate. Also according to Covid Act Now and the CDC, California and Colorado both have about 63% of their respective populations fully vaccinated. And in case you were wondering, Nevada has the nation’s 32nd highest daily new caseload, 17th highest test positivity rate, and 24th highest vaccination rate.

What happened? As we’ve previously noted, Newsom has enacted some of the nation’s toughest vaccination rules, and some of California’s most populous municipalities have gone further in enacting and enforcing health safety rules – such as mask mandates, and vaccination requirements for indoor dining and entertainment venues. In contrast, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) rushed to end all of the Centennial State’s COVID-19 health safety rules on July 8. Polis only enacted a limited vaccination requirement for events with 500 or more people in the Denver-Boulder metro region earlier this month, and Polis continues to refuse to consider stricter health safety rules like a mask mandate or broader vaccine mandates. 

In both California and Colorado, COVID-19 continues to disproportionately hit unvaccinated patients and hit them particularly hard. This should particularly concern us here in Nevada, considering that our statewide full vaccination rate is much lower, and that Clark County’s vaccination rate remains slightly below the statewide rate that remains below the national average. We’re probably best off maintaining our best practices, and we’d probably be even better off if federal and state public health officials would lead on public health instead of playing political games that nearly always end up backfiring.

Finally, some odds and ends… And some more CDC data
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Nevada’s larger mask rule for publicly accessible indoor spaces continues to be updated weekly based on two weeks’ worth of CDC COVID-19 transmission data. 16 of Nevada’s 17 counties show high transmission, so the vast majority of the state will probably remain under the mask mandate. Meanwhile, Esmeralda County has posted low transmission levels for the second consecutive week. If this drop holds for Esmeralda County, they will exit the universal mask mandate this Friday.

After a volatile summer, Nevada’s vaccination rate has mostly bounced higher this fall. According to CDC data, our seven-day moving average of daily vaccine doses administered has slipped again to 9,871, though this comes shortly after we hit a new (seven-day average) high of 10,944 on November 12. This marks a 94.01% increase from our July 10 record low at 5,088, and this marks a 4.46% drop from our previous October 29 high of 10,332 (and a 9.80% drop from our new post-spring high of 10,944). It’s possible that we first got a rebound at least partially due to already vaccinated patients seeking booster shots, but perhaps the recent eligibility expansion to younger children is helping to sustain this higher level of vaccine doses administered.

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 maintain best practices to help stop the spread.

The cover photo was taken by me.

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