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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: Vaccine Chronicles, Continued

Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19

COVID-19 appears to be spreading more slowly and weakly as Nevada’s and the nation’s stats continue to improve. But at the same time, vaccine distribution is just beginning to ramp up following a slow and often chaotic rollout. Here’s the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic, and on federal and state efforts to defeat it.

Today’s COVID-19 check-up: Infection rates remain low, but caseloads and test positivity rates remain high.

According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate holds steady at 0.80, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 80 new infections. Carson City (0.65), Douglas (0.67), Elko (0.72), Lincoln (0.73), Lyon (0.73), Clark (0.79), Lander (0.80), Washoe (0.80), Nye (0.86), White Pine (0.94), Humboldt (0.96), and Churchill (0.97) Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, but Mineral County (1.25!!!) still suffers more rapid spread. Storey (3.5), Pershing (7.4), Lander (7.7), Lincoln (11.0), Douglas (11.7), Lyon (12.4), Lander (12.9), Elko (14.1), and Carson City (16.9) Counties are reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while White Pine (22.4), Washoe (24.6), Churchill (30.4), Nye (32.2), and Clark (36.2) are over that benchmark. Even worse, Humboldt (64.5) and Mineral (114.2!!!) Counties are still 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 21.0% (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 have settled around 30%. Nonetheless, 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 1,040 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 105 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 1,145 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. This amounts to 22% 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, 66% of adult ICU beds, and 45% of ventilators being used. So far this week, hospitals up north and down south continue to treat fewer COVID-19 patients and experience lower overall occupancy.

Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 4,373 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today. Following last week’s spike, we’re now averaging under 35 daily deaths as of today. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, 417,875 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed in Nevada today. And according to Nevada Health Response’s brand new vaccine information dashboard, 288,531 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded to Nevada WebIZ, including 45,424 second doses. So far an estimated 9.16% of Nevadans have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and an estimated 1.44% of Nevadans are fully inoculated.

“Not wearing masks and attending social gatherings have contributed to this most recent spike.” 
– Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

At today’s White House COVID-19 briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky voiced hope over the continuing nationwide drop in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations: “Cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease, and we appear to be on a consistent downward trajectory. […] While [newly reported] deaths appear to be increasing, the rate of increase is slowing to about 1%.”

However, Walensky and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci also attributed the last surge in COVID-19 infections to insufficient compliance with basic social distancing and face covering guidelines. As Walensky described it, “Cases remain extraordinarily high, higher than they were during the peak of last summer. […] Not wearing masks and attending social gatherings have contributed to this most recent spike.”

During today’s Nevada Health Response press call, Michelle White, Governor Steve Sisolak’s Chief of Staff, acknowledged that the state will need to continue enforcing health safety rules once Sisolak winds down the current “statewide pause”: “Safety is a partnership in this pandemic, and the government has a role to play.” However, White did not provide further details on whether we’ll see new regulations and/or new enforcement protocols once Sisolak reauthorizes municipal authorities to allow for more reopenings.

“We are on track to meet the president’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.” 
– Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Yesterday, the White House announced a new boost to COVID-19 vaccination efforts: a pilot program where 6,500 pharmacies will host on-site vaccine clinics beginning Thursday next week (that the White House hopes to expand to 40,000+ pharmacies nationwide), and an additional 5% raise in vaccine allocation to states on top of the 16% raise that President Joe Biden announced last week. During an impromptu briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients clarified that these pharmacies will initially get 1 million doses, and that these doses will not count against the doses being distributed to states.

In addition, Zients announced that the Biden administration will provide states with at least $3 billion worth of reimbursements for PPE purchases and National Guard activations that former President Donald Trump never fully supported when he led the federal government’s (lack of a) COVID-19 response. In a statement following the White House’s announcement, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) exclaimed, “This is extremely welcome news for the State of Nevada. States and local governments have shouldered the immense costs of this pandemic, hampering their abilities to provide critical services to those most in need.”

During today’s White House COVID-19 briefing, Zients cited the most recent seven-day rolling average of 1.3 million shots per day nationally as progress toward achieving true herd immunity: “We are on track to meet the president’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.” But of course, 100 million shots (which currently equates to 50 million Americans fully inoculated) still leave us far from true herd immunity. 

Zients again called for passage of Biden’s American Rescue Plan to ensure the federal government’s ability to further expand our new nationwide vaccination program: “We need Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan for more vaccine resources, as well as more testing and more [PPE] supplies.” Fortunately for Biden and Zients, they got an extra boost from potential “magic 50th vote” U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) this morning as he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “If it’s $1.9 trillion, so be it,” and he seemed to agree with Biden and other Democrats that they can’t wait too long for Republicans to decide whether they want actual good faith negotiations over the Rescue Plan. Also, the Senate’s final resolution on its organizing resolution will finally let Democrats chair all of the Senate’s committees, which will almost certainly allow for a smoother path to passage for the new COVID-19 relief bill.

“We know that there have been challenges in equitable [vaccine] distribution, and we will work with local partners to achieve that equity in distribution.” 
– Michelle White, Chief of Staff to Governor Steve Sisolak
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

As we await Congress’ decision on COVID-19 relief, we’re also keeping track of current efforts to expand vaccine access. Following Clark County’s launch of its new toll-free hotline, the State of Nevada now has a statewide toll-free COVID-19 vaccine hotline: 1-800-401-0946. State officials say the hotline is equipped to handle 15,000 15-minute calls every day, and live help will be available from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM every day.

During the Nevada Health Response call, Michelle White acknowledged, “We know that there have been challenges in equitable [vaccine] distribution, and we will work with local partners to achieve that equity in distribution.” White also exclaimed, “It’s comforting to see that our logistics are in good hands,” and she thanked the 130 FEMA and federal HHS workers who are now assisting state and local officials in clearing the vaccine data backlog.

According to state officials, Nevada is now administering 76% of doses received, and Nevada leads FEMA Region 9 (or the western states) in administration of doses that have been shipped. Still, Candice McDaniel at the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) confirmed that the state will continue to request more vaccine doses to accelerate our vaccination regime further: “It is our job that as soon as we are ready to order more vaccine, we do so. We continue to have productive dialogue with the federal government on [increasing Nevada’s allocation further].”

“We need Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan for more vaccine resources, as well as more testing and more [PPE] supplies.” 
– Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator
Joe Biden, White House, White House COVID-19 Response Team, COVID-19
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Finally, we might as well clear some air on a little scandal that exploded on social media this morning. When asked about where teachers and other public school staff should go on the priority list for vaccinations, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained, “Those plans have to be in sync with how they manage their supply versus the demand among those who want it. We’ve left this up to the states to manage it.”

She later said, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening,” but she and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients subsequently clarified that the Biden administration remains committed to its safe school reopening plan that includes greater PPE supplies and safety resources for all school staff. Zients then repeated, “We need Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan for more vaccine resources, as well as more testing and more [PPE] supplies.”

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

Closer to home, Michelle White confirmed that Sisolak is directing Nevada DHHS and state Department of Education teams to provide the Clark County School District (CCSD) with assistance in transitioning back to in-person classrooms at select elementary schools on March 1.

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.

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