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How Bad Is Nevada’s COVID-19 Outbreak Now?

These last few days, we’ve examined Nevada’s alarming surge in COVID-19 infections, as well as the nationwide resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. So how bad is this resurgence? We just heard from state health officials on new contact tracing data, and they offered some gentle rebuttal to growing concerns that Nevada isn’t doing nearly enough contact tracing to put us on any realistic “Roadmap to Recovery”.

So how bad is Nevada’s COVID-19 outbreak now?

Just since mid-day yesterday, we’ve seen more changes in Nevada’s COVID-19 statistics. According to the official Nevada Health Response database and The Nevada Independent’s running tally, Nevada has a total of 18,459 positively tested COVID-19 cases and 507 COVID-19 related deaths (as of 11:00 AM). Keep in mind that the death rate tends to be a lagging indicator, and we’re only beginning to see the death rate accelerate after Nevada’s COVID-19 caseload grew by 156% over the last two weeks.

After dropping to a record low of 5.23% on June 18, Nevada’s cumulative positive test rate has bounced back to 6.59%. That’s well above the 3% positive test rate other countries have used as a benchmark for reopening, as well as above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% positive test rate threshold. And even worse, Nevada’s seven-day moving average stands at 16.0%, well above the World Health Organization’s 10% positive test rate maximum benchmark for safe reopening. 

While Covid Act Now’s database suggests Nevada has enough hospital capacity (74% overall occupancy, and 73% occupancy of Nevada hospitals’ ICU wings) to handle the latest surge in COVID-19 infections, COVID-19 hospitalizations have grown by 50% in just the last week. Despite Nevada’s efforts to improve testing capacity, we’re still testing at a lower rate per capita than several other states, particularly states like New York and New Jersey where COVID-19 has been more successfully contained. And when it comes to contact tracing, Nevada is probably falling further behind, as Covid Act Now estimates that Nevada can only contact trace 14% of new infections within 48 hours, and that’s far lower than the 90%+ 48-hours-or-sooner contact tracing rate experts recommend for successful containment.

“Can we reach out to people who’ve tested positive within 24 hours of their test results? Can we talk to them and get a list of people they’ve been in contact with within 24 hours of the point of infection? As long as we’re adhering to those benchmarks, we’ll be able to keep up with the ebb and flow.”
– Julia Peek, Nevada Health Response
COVID-19, coronavirus, Steve Sisolak
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae

So what does this all mean? For one, this explains Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) decision to officially extend “Phase Two” of the “Roadmap to Recovery” through July, and his warning that he may move the state back to “Phase One” level closures if the infection rates remain this high or surge even higher. And second, this calls into question both Sisolak’s decision to reopen so many businesses this spring, including casinos on June 4, and President Donald Trump’s ongoing refusal to treat the pandemic as the legitimate public health crisis that it is.

Today, Nevada State COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage and Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health’s Deputy Administrator for Community Health Services Julia Peek held another of what are now their daily press calls to explain more of what the state is doing to get a handle on what’s increasingly looking like a “second wave”.

Photo by Andrew Davey

On contact tracing, Julia Peek avoided labeling Covid Act Now’s assessment of the state’s program as inaccurate. Still, she insisted that the state’s push to conduct more contact tracing via automated text messaging negates Covid Act Now’s insistence that the state needs over 2,400 more human contact tracers than the current staff of 400 in order to successfully contact trace at least 90% of new COVID-19 infections within 48 hours.

As Peek described it, “We’re doing as much as is possible to automate and do more digital tracing.” She then said, “Can we reach out to people who’ve tested positive within 24 hours of their test results? Can we talk to them and get a list of people they’ve been in contact with within 24 hours of the point of infection? As long as we’re adhering to those benchmarks, we’ll be able to keep up with the ebb and flow.”

“We request that all residents and all visitors to this state adhere to the Governor’s mask rule to help us bring the numbers back down. It’s the only way to surely do so.”
– Caleb Cage, Nevada Health Response
Photo by Andrew Davey

In addition to addressing the state’s contact tracing capacity, Peek and Cage also addressed the content of the June contact tracing data. As appears to be the case nationwide, Nevada’s June data suggests that the Black Lives Matter protests have not been the “super-spreader events” that some public health officials feared when the protests began roughly a month ago. Rather, as many have been documenting since June 4, larger “indoor gatherings” (such as reopened casinos) and large chunks of the population who refuse to wear masks and social distance appear to be larger culprits in furthering the spread of COVID-19.

On that front, Cage and Peek stated that the state will soon bolster its enforcement of the state’s mask/face covering and social distancing rules, including a new hotline for people to call to report business violations. As Cage reminded everyone on the call, “We request that all residents and all visitors to this state adhere to the Governor’s mask rule to help us bring the numbers back down. It’s the only way to surely do so.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Cage and Peek also noted that the June infection data indicate that the European mutated strain of the novel coronavirus has probably overtaken the original Wuhan-Chinese strain as Nevada’s predominant strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Some research has suggested that the European mutated strain is more contagious and lethal than the original Wuhan-Chinese strain, but recent mutation(s) don’t appear to be derailing scientists’ efforts to develop treatments and a vaccine.

As Cage and Peek were speaking with Nevada reporters, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told the U.S. Senate, “We are now having 40,000+ new cases a day [nationally]. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around.” Fauci then cautioned against resuming mass gatherings this summer and fall, such as professional sports events with full audiences, even after U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) chided Fauci for his “lack of optimism”.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For 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.

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