COVID-19 continues to spread, but the pace of this spread varies. Here in Nevada, we’re seeing our stats improve again after a brief bump in infections. But nationally, the picture looks more stagnant as evidence grows of a growing number of people wanting to take a spring break from proper mitigation measures. And on the vaccine front, the increasingly messy picture of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine feels like an incredibly frustrating contrast to the overall better picture of stronger vaccine distribution.
Here’s the latest on the state of the pandemic, nationally and here at home.
“At the end of the day, everything will be open and transparent. Hopefully, this will address any hesitancy.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
While the overall COVID-19 vaccine landscape continues to improve thanks to growing supply, high demand, and a distribution and administration system that’s quickly becoming better funded and better run, we do need to touch upon the latest sore spot. For all of us who’ve been wondering why U.S. regulators are taking so long to provide the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine the same emergency use authorization that the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J, or Janssen) vaccines all have, we may finally be getting some answers.
Yesterday federal officials claimed that AstraZeneca provided “an incomplete view of the efficacy data” that’s based on “outdated information” when they claimed 79% efficacy at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease, and that federal regulators’ own analysis of the AstraZeneca trial results suggests that this vaccine is 69%-74% at preventing symptomatic disease. Though even this range still indicates that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine works at preventing severe illness, death, and rapid spread of the virus, this is precisely the kind of “mishap” that risks undermining public confidence in a vaccine that doesn’t need any kind of “book cooking” or deceptive spin to prove that it works.
During today’s White House COVID-19 Briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, acknowledged, “We are always concerned when there’s apparent miscommunication that could add to any already existing vaccine hesitancy.” Fauci then added, “We remain confident this will turn out to be a good vaccine. At the end of the day, everything will be open and transparent. Hopefully, this will address any hesitancy.”
“Are we turning the corner? For me, it looks like we’re at the corner. When we’re at these levels, we can’t declare victory and claim we turned the corner.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci
WATCH NOW: Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky are joined by Andy Slavitt to share updates on the latest science, the state of the pandemic, and progress we’ve made in our vaccination program. https://t.co/ePVsNJBF6B
— White House COVID-19 Response Team (@WHCOVIDResponse) March 24, 2021
In better news, White House officials confirmed to reporters what they told state governors yesterday: The Biden administration is increasing weekly vaccine distribution to 27 million per week, or just over triple the amount being distributed when Biden first took office. ⅔ of these doses will go to state and local public health authorities, most of the rest will go to the federally run pharmacy vaccination program, and 4 million of these 27 million doses are the one-dose J&J vaccine. As White House Senior COVID-19 Advisor Andy Slavitt proclaimed during this morning’s briefing, “We continue to improve the pace of vaccinations in this country with three approved vaccines.”
However, both Dr. Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that just because “vaccines are here” doesn’t mean we can pretend that COVID-19 no longer exists. Instead, as long as we up our game in basic prevention measures, we can bring down our still-too-high infection and hospitalization rates, and we can resume more pre-pandemic norms and activities as we get a critical mass of people vaccinated.
In a marked contrast to former President Donald Trump’s regular claims of “rounding the corner” despite stagnant or deteriorating COVID-19 stats last year, Fauci was more careful in describing the current state of the pandemic: “Are we turning the corner? For me, it looks like we’re at the corner. When we’re at these levels, we can’t declare victory and claim we turned the corner.”
That message was further reinforced during the Nevada Health Response press call, when Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage said, “We have come a long way. We have improved. However, now is not the time to be complacent.” Though Nevada’s COVID-19 stats are actually improving again (see below), Cage stressed that Nevada can not afford risking another wave of surging hospitalizations and deaths.
“Every week, we’ve been getting a little more allocation. […] Eligibility grows week to week, so we’re able to get more people vaccinated.”
– Candice McDaniel, Nevada Health Response
As the Biden administration continues to ramp up vaccine distribution, and as the American Rescue Plan is set to provide more resources for vaccine administration, Nevada state health officials expressed confidence today in their ability to deliver on Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) promise that all Nevadans aged 16 and up will become eligible for vaccination beginning April 5. As Candice McDaniel, Nevada DHHS Health Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness, explained, “Every week, we’ve been getting a little more allocation. […] Eligibility grows week to week, so we’re able to get more people vaccinated.”
Still, McDaniel cautioned that eligibility is not the same as availability, and she advised all Nevadans waiting to “get the jab” to check with Immunize Nevada and their local health authorities for updated information. More specifically, she noted, “We’re waiting on that Janssen allocation for the week of April 5. We don’t have the number yet, but we’re eagerly awaiting future allocations.”
And for everyone who’s already made appointments to “get the jab”, McDaniel had some more advice: Hold onto your vaccination card once you get it, make a digital copy of that card to ensure you have your readily available vaccine record, but don’t post that vaccine card on social media. To prevent any potential for identity theft, McDaniel advised, “Please post about your vaccination experience, but please keep your card private.”
Finally, today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates, hospitalizations, and test positivity are coming down again.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has dropped some more to 0.83, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 83 new infections. Elko (0.76), Carson City (0.77), Lyon (0.79), Clark (0.80), Douglas (0.81), Nye (0.81), Churchill (0.86), Washoe (0.96), and Humboldt (0.97) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while White Pine (1.24!), Lincoln (1.28!), and Lander (1.71!!!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 7.6 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Lander (2.6), Nye (5.5), Humboldt (5.9), Mineral (6.3), Storey (6.9), Washoe (7.0), Clark (7.6), Lyon (7.7), Churchill (8.0), Lincoln (8.3), Douglas (9.1), Elko (9.7), Carson City (10.5), White Pine (11.9), and Esmeralda (16.4) 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 appears stable at 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 is just below 10% – that’s the lowest we’ve seen since last September. Still, these figures remain above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.
The #COVID19 vaccine event TOMORROW in Douglas county is now open to those who are currently eligible in the Quad-County Region. The event is by appointment ONLY. To schedule your appointment and to view the groups eligible visit https://t.co/zcMrf3lAxj pic.twitter.com/HqvU1rmv1w
— Carson City Health (@CCHealthEd) March 24, 2021
— Town of Pahrump (@TownofPahrump) March 24, 2021
After the recent uptick in infections, hospitalizations began to creep up, but now hospitalizations are now moving downward again. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 224 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 77 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 301 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,203 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 (as of 12:00 PM today), 1,491,350 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 1,185,896 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 757,829 first doses have been administered thus far, meaning an estimated 24.6% of Nevadans have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 423,335 second doses have been administered, meaning an estimated 13.7% of Nevadans are fully vaccinated.
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.