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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.

COVID-19HealthNews and information

COVID-19 Update: The New Strain in Town

COVID-19 continues to spread, even as we enter the last week of the first month of 2021. While nearly all of our current stats show real improvement, there’s a new strain in town that may further complicate relief and recovery efforts. Also, we have some more numbers on COVID-19 vaccine distributions and “shots into arms”.

Today’s COVID-19 check-up: Nearly all metrics are finally moving downward for a change.

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s overall COVID-19 infection rate has dropped some more to 0.84, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 84 new infections. Churchill (0.35), Humboldt (0.44), Carson City (0.78), Lyon (0.80), Elko (0.82), Douglas (0.83), Clark (0.83), Washoe (0.83), White Pine (0.83), Nye (0.94), Lander (0.95), and Lincoln (0.99) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00.

Storey (6.9), Eureka (7.0), Pershing (10.6), and Lyon (18.6) Counties are reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while Elko (23.0), Douglas (24.5), Mineral (25.4),  Washoe (28.5), Lander (31.0), Carson City (31.2), Esmeralda (32.7), White Pine (34.3), Nye (37.5), and Lincoln (46.9), and Clark (47.6) Counties are over that benchmark. 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 20.7% (according to the Indy’s calculation of “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day”), though our seven-day average seems to be holding steady around 35%. These figures remain far above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.

According to the Nevada Hospital Association, our hospitals are treating 1,326 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 115 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 1,441 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. This amounts to 27% of Nevada’s total number of patients in our hospitals. As of this morning, Nevada’s hospitals are reporting overall occupancy rates at 75% of staffed beds, 69% of adult ICU beds, and 42% of ventilators being used. As was mostly the case last week, Northern Nevada hospitals are experiencing lower demand while Southern Nevada hospitals remain closer to their record highs in COVID-19 patients admitted and general occupancy.

Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 4,029 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today. Last week, we averaged 35-40 COVID-19 deaths per day. This week, state public health authorities have flagged all counties but Storey and White Pine for elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission. According to CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker and Nevada state health officials, 286,950 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed in Nevada as of 12:00 PM today. State officials also insisted that about 184,000 total doses have been administered, as the CDC’s database has yet to note some 20,000 doses that have been administered but not yet reported to WebIZ.

“As you let this virus spread in the community, you let the virus develop more variations. Every time it spreads from person to person, it has the opportunity to change itself.”
– Dr. Mark Pandori, Nevada State Public Health Laboratory
COVID-19 testing Mesquite, Nevada

During today’s Nevada Health Response press call, Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Director Dr. Mark Pandori confirmed many Nevadans’ worst fear: The B-1.1.7 “U.K. Variant” of COVID-19 has officially arrived in our state. Pandori noted that initial testing by Southern Nevada Public Health Laboratory detected this “U.K. Variant”, then, “It was sent to the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory for genomic sequence testing. […] Data analysis carried out on Friday and Saturday confirmed that this was the B-1.1.7 strain.”

Pandori soon added, “The strain was found in a symptomatic woman in her 30’s with an address in Las Vegas.” Pandori mentioned that it’s unclear whether this B-1.1.7 strain is more severe than other strains of COVID-19, but he agreed with other epidemiological studies showing that this B-1.1.7 strain is more contagious. And shortly after the call, health officials added that this woman had no travel history and “limited contact with people outside her household”. This strongly suggests that this B.-1.1.7 strain was already expanding its reach through community spread right here in Nevada before this person tested positive last week.

Though Pandori expressed some relief that public health authorities “caught it pretty early”, he nonetheless cautioned, “As you let this virus spread in the community, you let the virus develop more variations.” He continued, “Every time it spreads from person to person, it has the opportunity to change itself.” 

“It’s difficult to know only one week ahead of time what kind of mass vaccination we can do.” 
– Candice McDaniel, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

As we hop back onto the vaccine front, we can also note additional clarification from state health officials on how they’re managing limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine. During today’s call, Candice McDaniel, Health Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness at Nevada DHHS, confirmed that the state is still receiving about 36,000 vaccine doses per week from the federal government, yet she and Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage indicated the state needs shipments of 18,000 doses per day to reach federal and state goals of securing herd immunity from COVID-19 later this year.

As the Nevada Current reported this morning and Governor Steve Sisolak (D) publicly complained about earlier today, Nevada has one of the nation’s lowest rates of vaccinations per capita because we also have one of the lowest distribution rates of vaccine doses per capita. And in response to questions on why it takes so long for the state to get more shots into more arms, McDaniel explained, “It takes a workforce of people. When a delivery is received, they have to go through the entire cold storage process. It’s difficult to know only one week ahead of time what kind of mass vaccination we can do.”

Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

As Vox’s German Lopez has (again) eloquently explained, there’s no need for the Biden administration to invade Nevada and round us up onto military bases to get us all vaccinated. Rather, Biden and Congress can simply step up with actions like invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up supply of vaccines and other necessities, providing more funding to state and local health officials so they can obtain more cold storage units, providing more funding for more medical staff to deliver those shots into arms, and providing more funding for more staff to simply update state and federal vaccine databases. 

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the dollars and cents of federal vaccine support and other critical matters of economic “stimulus”. But hopefully now, you can better understand the challenges that continue to lie ahead, even with the top-line improvement that’s finally materializing in our COVID-19 stats.

If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check with Nevada Health Response on testing in your area, check with Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability in your area, and check with 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.

Cover photo provided by the Southern Nevada Health District.

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