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COVID-19: County reports massive COVID-19 case increase

By Sudhiti Naskar
Health District sign.

District Health Officer Kevin Dick said Wednesday the Washoe County Health District is recording a widespread community increase in COVID-19 cases.

For perspective, back on Sept. 15, the seven-day moving-average was about 57 new cases per day, Dick said. As of Tuesday, the seven-day moving-average was about 158 new cases. That’s a 177% jump in cases.

This is a “huge increase in a short period of time,” he said.

Dick also added that the county has been seeing “a 25% increase in new cases,” in the last few weeks. “As a result, we now have 2,000 active cases,” Dick said.

Nearly 200 people have died from the disease in Washoe County since March.

The official estimation is that the county is at the height of disease transmission since the beginning of the pandemic. Dick said Washoe County is reflecting the trend of increasing disease transmission seen throughout the U.S. and parts of Europe.

A worrying trend

Dick also mentioned that the contact tracers are finding a new, worrying trend of disease transmission in the community. Unlike before, when contact tracers found clear connections between disease transmissions and a specific age group or location, the disease is now spreading throughout communities and across age groups, at the moment.

The spreads are happening at schools–both public and private–at private gatherings, during interactions in other public places and not just in a “common hot spot,” Dick explained.

Asked to elaborate on the trends, Dick suggested that the disease is more spread out within the community right now than before.

“We have people that have tested positive for COVID-19,” and they have been “in close contact with numerous other COVID-19 cases,” he told This Is Reno.

And these numerous interactions may have happened while people were outside getting together with people they know, running errands, having dinner with a family or a family member who has been in a classroom.

A sample taken for COVID-19 testing at Renown.
A sample taken for COVID-19 testing at Renown. Image: Sudhiti Naskar

“We can’t really attribute where that spread has occurred,” Dick said. “There could be multiple people you encounter during the day. They may have COVID-19; they may not have developed symptoms yet, [or] got tested.”

Many of these people are “determined to be tested positive later on,” he added. Contact tracers are finding that these asymptomatic people “were in their infectious period” when they came in contact with other people. Many people who are fairly asymptomatic and never go in to get tested are a major contributor to the community spread.

The age ranges where new infections are occuring have also changed. Beginning in August, the county had a surge of new cases in the age range of 20-29 year olds, and also 10-18 year olds.

Dick also suggested that widespread disease transmissions may have been caused by high rates of infections in the younger age ranges, as they “do not live in a bubble.” Right now, the county is seeing increasing numbers of cases occurring through the 30-59 age ranges.

Guidelines for Washoe County

“I would recommend people to exercise extreme caution with being out and about,” said Dick. “Of course, people need to go to work, buy groceries,” he added, but for any other types of interactions or socializing, the “best recommendation” is to limit them and mingle with “immediate family members,” both indoors and outdoors. Having additional contact with people outside of immediate family members increases the risk of possible transmission.

Considering Nevada Day and Halloween are just around the corner, Dick recommended against participating in big gatherings and trick or treating. A bag of candy is not worth the life and wellbeing of children and family members, he said.  

That’s why we are asking people to have a “bubble,” with their immediate family members, a sort of safety bubble to minimize potential transmission with outsiders, and be safe until the community sees much lower transmission levels.

Potential for closures and lockdowns 

Asked whether further increase in disease transmission could mean another lockdown like early this year when the pandemic came to Nevada, Dick said there is a potential for further restrictions.

He referred to “gradual roll backs” around the world and closings of bars and restaurants and commercial recreations. 

State officials, too, gave similar indications of a potential lockdown during the statewide call by the Nevada Health Response team as Washoe County has been in the elevated risk-zone for the last five weeks. 

“About a month ago, Nevada was doing pretty well. This week, we are seeing alarming trends in Nevada and across the United States,” said Caleb Cage, State of Nevada COVID-19 response director.

“We need to decide what we want for our community,” Dick said. “We have to make a choice: do we want to continue to have our schools open? Do we want to continue to have our businesses open? And if the answer is yes, then we all need to be part of the solution of preventing the spread of COVID-19 with the personal actions we take.”

Governor Steve Sisolak said as much when he answered questions from the media this afternoon.

“We are not rounding the corner. I don’t care who says it. We are not rounding the corner,” Sisolak explained “You can see from the [presentation] slides our cases are going up. Anyone that says the contrary is just not telling the truth…We need to be more vigilant than ever, to step up everything that we did. If you want to go to your kid’s football game or you want to go out with your buddies and play basketball — we can do those things if everybody would just follow the regulations, the protocols that we put in place.”

Numbers at-a-glance:

  • Total COVID-19 cases in Washoe County: 13,090, up from 11,811 last week
  • Deaths: 196, up from 189 last week
  • Recovered:  10,765, up from 10,106 last week
  • Active Cases: 2,129, up from 1,516 last week
  • Tests performed: 177,503, up from 166,995 last week

According to the Nevada Hospital Association, in Washoe County as of Oct. 28:

  • 82% staffed hospital beds are occupied (+3% since 10/27)
  • 68% of all licensed hospital beds are occupied (+2%)
  • 49% of all Intensive Care Unit beds are occupied (+3%)
  • 17% of all ventilators are in use (+1%)

NOTE: Numbers are for all hospital patients in Washoe County and not just COVID-19 patients.

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