COVID-19 is still spreading, though that pace of spread seems to be slowing down again here in Nevada. Unfortunately, so is the pace of vaccinations. Yesterday, President Joe Biden announced some changes to the nation’s vaccination strategy. Which changes can we expect closer to home?
Here’s the latest on the state of the pandemic, both nationally and here in Nevada.
“Easy and convenient and free. Vaccines for everyone. That’s what we want to offer.”
– Andy Slavitt, Senior White House COVID-19 Response Advisor
Yesterday President Joe Biden addressed the nation and presented a new national vaccination strategy, one that acknowledges that America has far less of a supply problem and much more of a demand problem. During today’s White House COVID-19 Briefing, Senior COVID-19 Response Advisor Andy Slavitt spoke more about Biden’s new goal of at least 70% of Americans receiving at least one vaccine shot and at least 160 million Americans becoming fully vaccinated by July 4.
“We are going to make it as easy as possible to get vaccinated,” Slavitt declared. Starting this week, pharmacies that participate in the federal pharmacy vaccination clinic program will start to offer appointment-free walk-in’s, the Biden administration will distribute some $630 million for local and community-based vaccine outreach, and the Biden administration will invest over $100 million in expanding vaccine availability in more rural regions. As Slavitt described the goal of all this, “Easy and convenient and free. Vaccines for everyone. That’s what we want to offer.”
Slavitt then made a personal pitch to reporters and other Americans who were watching today’s briefing: “This is your call to action. People want to know what your experience is like. Please share [what happened] when you got your vaccine.” Slavitt went first: “It was a great experience for all of us. This was the first time I was able to see my mother in a long time. Even my son, who doesn’t like needles, said it was easy.”
Slavitt also disclosed that he got Pfizer-BioNTech, his spouse and his mother both got Moderna, and his son got Johnson & Johnson. For a moment, it seemed like Slavitt was grasping the moment we live in… Until he said this: “This is part of our effort to get reliable information into the hands of people locally. […] They can get a straight answer, as opposed to social media, where who knows what they’re going to get.”
“If we see the vaccination rate hit the 70% level that the president wants, we’ll see a huge difference. The bottom line is you will see a clear pulling back of public health restrictions.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden
As we’ve been covering in these pages, and as Stat News reported on last month, one of America’s biggest hurdles in growing the ranks of the vaccinated is this challenge of combating the Infodemic that far too many social media “influencers” continue to intensify across the internet. As hard as it may be for some government officials to comprehend, more Americans (and especially Americans under 40) are more likely to scroll their way through Instagram and TikTok than ask any of their cable news watching relatives about any of these official government briefings.
Following podcast superstar Joe Rogan publicly challenging official public health guidance on the COVID-19 vaccines, especially on younger people getting vaccinated and previously infected patients getting vaccinated, NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci used today’s White House briefing to publicly clap back at Rogan, and at “corona scammers” like Plandemic producer Mikki Willis and “bro-science” enthusiast JP Sears who often claim they know more about immunology than a trained immunologist (Fauci).
As Fauci explained, “The level of antibodies is ten times more from vaccination than from natural infection.” He continued, “After one dose of the Pfizer mRNA, people show enhanced T-cell immunity and higher antibody counts. There’s even spillover protection against newer variants.”
Later on, reporters asked when federal health safety guidance will change again, particularly on masks and business reopenings. Fauci noted, “It’s important to realize we live in a large country that’s heterogenous,” and said it’s likely that we will continue to see different states and different localities at different herd immunity levels. Still, Fauci added, “If we see the vaccination rate hit the 70% level that the president wants, we’ll see a huge difference. The bottom line is you will see a clear pulling back of public health restrictions.”
“When we see that intersection of high vaccination rates and low case rates, we will release new guidance that reflects that reality.”
– CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Just over a month after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made her “impending doom” comments that led to a protracted round of media pundit hyperventilating, Walensky had some good news for everyone today: “We are hopeful about these encouraging trends. We have another back-to-back decrease [in hospitalizations] from the last seven-day period.” She continued, “All the time, I’m asked when this pandemic will end and when we can ‘go back to normal’. The reality is that it all depends on the actions we take now.”
In response to questions on when the CDC will change its guidelines again, Walensky stressed, “When we see that intersection of high vaccination rates and low case rates, we will release new guidance that reflects that reality.”
Closer to home, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) issued Directive 45 that aligns Nevada’s statewide mask mandate with the CDC’s new guidelines that loosen mask rules for fully vaccinated individuals while continuing to recommend masks for everyone in indoor settings. During today’s Nevada Health Response press call, outgoing COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage reiterated this message: “We encourage everyone to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing. We still have the statewide mask mandate, even though we have otherwise shifted to local control.”
When asked by reporters how the state may prepare to redeploy a larger statewide response in the event of another severe outbreak, Cage replied, “If [local authorities] have specific needs, they will be able to request resources through the emergency management process.” He then added, “We do expect cases to increase beyond the 5.7% positivity we’ve seen for a whole. Should we reach the crisis stage again, the Governor is prepared to respond accordingly,” though he also noted that Sisolak prefers to continue allowing county governments to lead their own local response efforts.
“[Vaccine] doses are still being administered every day. That’s a win for Nevada.”
– Karissa Loper, Nevada Health Response
Echoing President Joe Biden’s and his COVID-19 Response Team’s recent shift in vaccination strategy, Nevada public health officials signaled they’re also shifting from larger-scale vaccination sites to smaller community programs to better target people who had a hard time reaching those larger sites, as well as those who are less enthusiastic about the vaccines. Or as Karissa Loper, Deputy Bureau Chief for Nevada DHHS’ Bureau of Child, Family, and Community Wellness, described it, “Going forward, we’re hoping to switch to more of a traditional vaccination route. We have been providing doses to local health care providers since March.”
So far, over 97,000 vaccine doses have gone to local health care providers. In addition, Loper promised, “We’re working to further expand our efforts. We’re looking to expand to more workplace sites. Pharmacies are beginning to move toward walk-in’s.” And should the FDA soon authorize use of the Pfizer-BioNTech for 12-15 for year-old’s, Loper indicated that pediatricians will also receive vaccine doses to administer to their patients.
And even though she acknowledged that Nevada’s vaccination rate is slowing like nearly everywhere else in the U.S., Loper suggested that the state is still progressing at a solid pace: “We’ve gotten to 46% who’ve initiated. That’s above most flu season years we have for adults. That’s really good when it comes to a new vaccine.” She later added, “Doses are still being administered every day. That’s a win for Nevada.”
Before we go, some notes about the brighter and more lustrous news from our golden neighbors
Though some of the recent vaccine headlines don’t always seem encouraging, I do want to wrap up today’s update with some good news: Next door in California, Los Angeles County has brought its infections and hospitalizations so low that the state just gave L.A. County the green light to move to the State of California’s lowest tier of health safety restrictions. Meanwhile California overall has the nation’s lowest daily case rate (4.5 per 100,000, according to Covid Act Now), the nation’s lowest test positivity rates, an infection rate (0.89) lower than the national average, record-low hospitalizations, and a large-scale reopening plan that’s on track to succeed in allowing for full business reopenings by mid-June.
For all the far-right politicians’ condemnations of California’s “economy killing” health safety rules, this feels like a real-life example of that classic fable of The Hare and The Tortoise. As tempting as it’s been to “LIBERATE!” rapidly to reckless abandon, California’s experience provides another real-world example of “slow, steady, and strategic” beating “fast and furious” in the long run.
And before anyone cites the special recall election against California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) as proof of California’s supposed “lockdown folly”, keep in mind that there’s a difference between collecting signatures to qualify for a recall election (where Republicans largely relied on their strongholds for signatures) and convincing millions more voters to remove Newsom from office (and so far, the polling landscape looks better for Newsom than for the recall backers). Though we obviously don’t know yet how this recall election will play out, we can already see that it’s a far different landscape with better COVID-19 stats and more reopenings than what Republicans were betting on when they went all in for the recall last year.
And finally, here’s today’s Nevada COVID-19 check-up.
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s statewide COVID-19 infection rate has inched back up to 1.00, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 100 new infections. Carson City (0.73), Douglas (0.79), Elko (0.80), Churchill (0.81), Lyon (0.82), Washoe (0.88), and Humboldt Counties all have infection rates under 1.00, while Clark County is at 1.00 exactly, and Nye (1.05), Lander (1.50!!!!), White Pine (1.62!!!!) and Lincoln (2.32!!!!!) Counties are all suffering more rapid spread. Statewide, we’re seeing 12.2 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day. Lander (2.6), Nye (4.0), Washoe (5.7), Douglas (6.1), Churchill (7.5), Elko (8.1), Humboldt (9.3), Carson City (10.0), Lyon (11.9), Clark (14.0), Eureka (14.1), and Storey (17.3) Counties are all reporting under 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day, while White Pine County (64.1!!) is far above that benchmark.
According to the official Nevada Health Response dashboard, Nevada’s 14-day test positivity average based on “new positives as a percentage of new test encounters” steadily hovers at 5.7%. And according to the Mayo Clinic, our statewide seven-day test positivity average sits at 6.89%, which is right in the middle of a 4.2% to 9.2% range we’ve been in for the past month. (Apparently, we’re having a hard time finding the testing data based on the “new positives as a percent of new people tested each day” and cumulative test positivity metrics we’ve used in the past, so that’s why I don’t have those new numbers for you here.)
We're proud to support @ItsMadeToSave’s Latino Engagement Week of Action to raise awareness about the barriers Latino communities face in this pandemic, and increase access to the COVID-19 vaccines. Find out how to get your COVID-19 vaccine at the link. https://t.co/UQDHDaV9Kn
— Immunize Nevada (@ImmunizeNV) May 4, 2021
We're hosting a #COVID19 vaccine drive thru clinic in partnership with @ImmunizeNV, @REMSAHealth & Silver Sage Center for Family Medicine. Completely free, all businesses/industries/people are welcome. Click here to register for your first dose: https://t.co/DAbhhFE3Ur pic.twitter.com/4KUluCF2n3
— Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce (@RSChamberNV) May 5, 2021
Since yesterday, hospitalizations have slipped lower again. According to Nevada Health Response, our hospitals are treating 305 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 40 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total of 345 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 5,487 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of mid-day today, and this week we’re averaging around six COVID-19 deaths per day.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker (as of 11:30 AM today), 2,585,160 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nevada, and 2,122,615 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and recorded. 1,243,235 first doses have been administered thus far, meaning an estimated 40.4% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 51.4% of Nevada adults) have at least initiated the vaccination process, and 906,669 of these patients have been fully vaccinated, meaning an estimated 29.4% of Nevadans (and more specifically, 37.8% of Nevada adults) are fully vaccinated. (Editor’s Note: I got my second vaccine dose last Friday, and I’ll post more updates as I await my fully vaccinated future!)
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 wear your masks and maintain social distancing from people outside your household.
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.