Earlier tonight, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced progress on the COVID-19 vaccine front. However, he also clarified that the earliest possibility of mass vaccinations remains Spring 2021. As such, he urged Nevadans not to use the promising vaccine news as an excuse to forget that COVID-19 remains an active pandemic.
Today’s bonus COVID-19 check-up: Improvement in some areas, but our overall outlook remains grim
According to Covid Act Now, Nevada’s overall infection rate has dropped a little more to 1.10, meaning that every 100 COVID-19 infections will lead to another 110 new infections. While Lincoln (0.65), White Pine (0.66), Nye (0.82), Humboldt (0.90), and Churchill (0.94) Counties have managed to get their respective infection rates under 1, Washoe (1.01), Clark (1.11), Elko (1.13), Mineral (1.13), Lander (1.17), Lyon (1.47), Carson City (1.48), and Douglas (1.59) Counties continue to suffer more rapid spread.
All 17 of Nevada’s counties now report over 10 new cases per 100,000 per day, only White Pine County (15.7) now reports daily new caseloads of under 20 per 100,000, and both Clark (64.0) and Washoe (83.1) Counties have daily new caseloads of over 50 per 100,000. 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 17.6% (according to the Indy’s calculation), and our seven-day average still trends above 35%, or more than seven times the WHO’s recommended 5% test positivity benchmark for safe reopening.
According to the Nevada Hospital Association, Nevada hospitals are treating 1,513 confirmed COVID-19 patients and an additional 139 patients who probably have COVID-19, for a total and new record high of 1,652 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalized patients. This amounts to 30% of Nevada’s total number of patients in our hospitals, and we’re currently looking at hospital occupancy rates of 81% of Nevada’s staffed beds, 68% of adult ICU beds, 36% of ventilators being used.
Nevada public health officials are reporting a total of 2,201 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, and we’ve been averaging at least 15 COVID-19 deaths per day for the last two weeks.
“I am concerned, and state health officials are concerned.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
During his press conference just moments ago, Governor Steve Sisolak bluntly admitted, “We are not seeing a downward trajectory in any of the metrics we are measuring. Community spread continues to grow out of control. I am concerned, and state health officials are concerned.”
However when asked whether he will consider any travel restrictions and/or further restrictions on high-risk businesses like casinos, bars, and restaurants, Sisolak insisted, “Our resort partners have a very strong mitigation program in place. I don’t know what will happen in the future. Right now, it is not my intent to put a travel ban into effect.”
Instead, Sisolak pointed to recent vaccine news as a reason for hope: “Thanks to the development of the vaccines, there is hope on the horizon. We are closer to the end than to the beginning.” He continued, “It’s critical to remember that we won’t see large-scale vaccinations until the spring. We need to build a bridge to get there by then.”
So what’s up with the vaccine talk?
In recent weeks Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca have all announced 90%+ success rates for their respective COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Though AstraZeneca has since admitted its need for better data to confirm that its vaccine candidate actually works that well, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna appear to stand on much stronger scientific ground. But even with those two vaccine candidates, they’re not yet ready for widespread distribution in the immediate future.
We’re still looking at the very real potential that outgoing President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” continues to focus more on the politics of a “vaccine victory” than the science behind ensuring a truly effective mass vaccination system. After all, the Trump administration has only allocated about $200 million for vaccine distribution. Though that may appear to be a lot of money, the reality is that we’ll need much more investment to get anywhere close to the 70% vaccination rate we need for real herd immunity (as opposed to the far-right fixation of “herd immunity” through mass infections). Just here in Nevada, the Nevada Current reported last month that state health officials are essentially planning to rely on volunteers and cooperation from various private businesses to help them distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
For more context, President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief and response plan includes a proposed $25 billion for vaccine development and distribution. And even with the bipartisan and bicameral $908 billion temporary and “extra skinny” COVID-19 relief proposal floating in Congress that Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) has endorsed, that includes $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution.
“We do not get to choose. It looks like Pfizer will be first.”
– Shannon Bennett, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services
Though it remains to be seen how much more funding Congress approves, and whether Congress can even reach any stimulus agreement before Biden’s inauguration, Sisolak stressed that state and local health officials are ready to begin distributing any COVID-19 vaccine as soon as the federal government begins to release it. He reiterated that any mass release to the general public will probably begin next spring, though he did suggest the state may receive a shipment this December for about 173,000 people in “Tier 1”, such as frontline health care workers and nursing home residents, later this month. He and the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) officials who joined him for tonight’s event also clarified that Native American tribal communities will receive a separate vaccine allocation through Indian Health Services from the general allocation that federal officials will provide to state authorities.
When asked whether state officials will have any choice over whether we will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and/or the Moderna vaccine, Shannon Bennett, Immunization Program Manager at DHHS’ Division of Public and Behavioral Health, indicated, “We do not get to choose. It looks like Pfizer will be first.”
Because the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines rely on mRNA technology, they require cold storage, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires an even colder minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) maximum temperature for safe storage. Sisolak and the DHHS officials did not specify what kind of infrastructure Nevada has in place to meet this cold storage requirement, but they reassured everyone that they will be ready before any vaccine is ready for mass public distribution.
“We can not overwhelm our health care system and put countless lives in danger.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak
As my 1st clinical week in the COVID ICU at Renown @renownhealth I want to thank all the incredible staff who are Fighting the Good Fight to help all those suffering from COVID-19. With 5 deaths in the last 32 hours, everyone is struggling to keep their head-up. Stay strong. pic.twitter.com/pHLp4PPzA6
— Jacob Keeperman (@critcare_airems) November 29, 2020
Though Sisolak and the DHHS team expressed confidence that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will work, and that Congress and the future Biden administration will get the federal government’s end of the vaccine distribution plan working properly, Sisolak again stressed that this is still no time to let up on current efforts to bring down Nevada’s alarmingly severe COVID-19 stats.
After Sisolak read from the White House’s own assessment of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, he condemned Trump’s recent attack on Reno’s Renown Medical Center and endorsement of the already debunked rumor that Renown’s parking garage annex for COVID-19 patients is “fake”. Or as Sisolak put it, “The hospital is real. The comments made by the president were not helpful.”
— Tony Slonim MD, DrPH (@RenownCEOTonyMD) November 21, 2020
Sisolak also reiterated, “We can not overwhelm our health care system and put countless lives in danger.” It remains to be seen what happens at the end of Sisolak’s “three week statewide pause”, but he again expressed hope that if Nevadans do more to adhere to proper COVID-19 health safety measures, he won’t have to tighten the statewide rules any further.
If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check with Nevada Health Response on testing 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.
The cover photo is a screenshot taken by me.