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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: The Mask Is Back?

COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccines, vaccine science, health care, travel, Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium, football, NFL

COVID-19 continues to spread, and our numbers continue to look rough. As Clark County brings back a partial mask mandate, we examine what exactly the Commission decided to do, how Nevada state health officials are responding, and what else may happen in the days and weeks ahead.

Today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates and new daily caseloads remain very high, and hospitalizations have returned to “winter surge” era highs. Delta has rapidly become Nevada’s predominant variant, and almost 44% of Nevadans are fully vaccinated. Clark County’s outbreak remains alarmingly severe, but the Reno-Tahoe region and the rest of Nevada are also experiencing worsening outbreaks.
COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccines, vaccine science, health care, travel
Photo by Andrew Davey

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate remains dangerously high at 1.20, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 120 new infections. Only Elko (0.83) and Lyon (0.90) Counties have infection rates under 1.00, while Lander (1.02), Churchill (1.08), Douglas (1.09), Carson City (1.12), Lincoln (1.12), Nye (1.12), Clark (1.20!), Humboldt (1.20!), Washoe (1.27!), and White Pine (1.37!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 25.8 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Pershing (2.1), Eureka (7.0), Douglas (7.3), Washoe (7.7), Carson City (8.2), Lyon (8.4), Humboldt (8.5), and Churchill (8.6) Counties are reporting under ten new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Elko (11.1), Nye (13.5), Mineral (15.9), Esmeralda (16.4), White Pine (17.9), Lincoln (19.3), and Clark (32.1!) Counties are all suffering higher caseloads.

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” has surged even higher to 12.6%. According to the Mayo Clinic, our statewide seven-day test positivity average has inched higher to 18.65%, which is the highest we’ve seen in the past two months. And according to the Scripps Institute’s, the Delta variant (B.1617.2) has spread quite rapidly here in Nevada since May: Delta accounts for 79% of our new COVID-19 cases in the last 30 days, 68% of our new COVID-19 cases in the last 60 days, and 47% of Nevada’s cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases.

This week, our COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 910 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 84 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 994 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients – the highest since February. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,789 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and we’re averaging about seven COVID-19 deaths per day.

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of 11:30 AM today), 3,197,650 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 2,895,012 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,604,601 patients have received at least one vaccine dose, meaning an estimated 52.1% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 63.9% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 1,341,798 of these patients are now fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 43.6% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 54.1% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I posted a special “This Week in Corona Scams” on COVID-19 vaccine disinformation yesterday, and Mike has the report on the “Disinformation Dozen” who often lead the charge in spreading anti-vaccine propaganda throughout the internet.)  

Clark County finally did something this week. Is it really enough?

Yesterday, the Clark County Commission made a decision on indoor masks that seemingly satisfied no one. Confronted by the actual epidemiological data (see above) showing COVID-19 continuing to spiral out of control and the Southern Nevada Health District’s recommendation for universal masking in “crowded indoor spaces” on one end, versus the usual contingent of far-right anti-mask/anti-vaccine activists on the other end, the Clark County Commission approved a new indoor mask mandate for workers only. Gaming industry lobbyists approved of this move, and we can probably explain this by pointing out that multiple casino resorts already have employee mask rules on their properties. 

As Reno Gazette-Journal and USA Today reporter Ed Komenda deftly noted yesterday, the biggest problem doesn’t seem to lie in our workforce. Rather, the biggest problem lies with the tourists and locals who continue to crowd together unvaccinated and unmasked on and off The Strip. According to the CDC’s own study that was released this past March, infection and death rates dropped last year in jurisdictions that adopted universal mask mandates. And ever since Nevada (with de facto approval from the CDC) began to loosen the statewide mask mandate, then completely abolish it on June 1, we’ve watched our COVID-19 stats surge to the alarming levels we see today.

As we hinted in May, the whole concept of relying on “the honor system” for public health was a huge risk… And really, it still is. With the absence of a “vaccine passport” to verify vaccination status and the absence of universal mask and social distancing rules, federal and state health authorities essentially provided anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers the perfect blueprint to game the system. By relying on a mere “honor system”, we have essentially been playing the public health version of Russian Roulette when there’s no need to take such a dangerous risk.

At yesterday’s Clark County Commission meeting, Commissioners Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D) and Jim Gibson (D) hinted at the “potential economic fallout” of the Las Vegas region continuing to make national and international news for our latest COVID-19 infection surge. As we’ve repeatedly sought to make clear, there has never been any real “conflict between health and the economy”. To the contrary, without sustained effort to contain COVID-19 and prove to prospective travelers that they’re not risking their lives and their loved ones’ lives by coming here, tourists and business travelers will simply vote with their wallets regardless of what our politicians say or don’t say about “lockdowns”.

“The big factors that drive the spread of this disease are the level of indoor activities and travel.” 
– Dr. Ellie Graeden, Talus Analytics
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

During today’s Nevada Health Response press call, state health officials declined to explain whether Clark County’s partial/employee-only mask mandate will actually work in bringing down our COVID-19 infection and hospitalization counts. However, Dr. Ellie Graeden of Talus Analytics effectively conceded that the rapid relaxation of health safety rules contributed to this latest COVID-19 resurgence: “The big factors that drive the spread of this disease are the level of indoor activities and travel.” She then added that “the higher-risk behavior of those who are unvaccinated” is allowing for faster and further spread.

When asked whether Governor Steve Sisolak (D) may change his mind in reimposing stronger statewide health safety rules, his office continued to state, “The Governor is supportive of local decisions. We are completely supportive of counties taking the initiative.” Yet even as COVID-19 infections rebound throughout the state, so far Clark County is the only county government to take such an initiative.

Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

However, the Governor’s Office did announce one policy change that may have a greater impact. Last week MGM Resorts announced that unvaccinated employees will not receive paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19, and multiple casino companies announced that unvaccinated workers will have to submit to regular testing in order to continue working. Today, the Governor’s Office confirmed that they’re following suit in requiring unvaccinated state workers to take weekly COVID-19 tests and denying paid leave to unvaccinated (and not previously immunocompromised) who test positive for COVID-19.

In announcing this move, Policy Director DuAne Young also stated, “The state encourages local businesses to follow this path as soon as possible.” We’ll have to continue to keep an eye here to see where this goes next.

“Nevada’s vaccination efforts continue to help in slowing the spread.”
– Dr. Ellie Graden, Talus Analytics
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Speaking of MGM, state health officials thanked them for hosting the first Viva Vax Vegas pop-up vaccination clinic at Park MGM last Saturday. This weekend, it’s Caesars Entertainment’s turn: Viva Vax Vegas will hit Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club at the Linq Promenade from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM this Saturday. Anyone can go, get a vaccine shot, and become eligible for gifts and prizes. And during today’s call, state health officials promised more Viva Vax Vegas events up and down The Strip in the weeks ahead.

As Nevada’s daily vaccine uptake continues to tick higher, Dr. Graeden declared, “Nevada continues to rise above the national trend in first doses administered. We know that our Vax Nevada Days strategy is working.” She then added, “Nevada’s vaccination efforts continue to help in slowing the spread.”

Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Nevada DHHS Deputy Director Candice McDaniel later promised that in addition to Viva Vax Vegas, state and local health authorities will continue to expand vaccination opportunities to more corners of the Las Vegas Valley, as well as throughout the state: “We know that making vaccines convenient […] is key to our efforts. […] These volunteers and advocates are instrumental to our progress.”

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will come to Las Vegas tomorrow to meet with Sisolak and state public health leaders, and to highlight President Joe Biden’s national vaccination strategy and COVID-19 surge response efforts. We may get more details tomorrow on what FEMA will do to further expand vaccine access and how the Biden administration’s localized vaccine outreach strategy will be carried out here in Nevada.

COVID-19, COVID-19 Vaccines, vaccine science, health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

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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Comments (1)

  1. […] nearly 18 months, far too many media pundits have peddled the false narrative of “health versus the economy”. In reality, our economic well-being has always depended upon the state of our public […]

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