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Nevada in the COVID-19 red zone, Washoe County flagged as high risk

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After a brief period of respite, Washoe County and Nevada as a whole are experiencing elevated disease transmission. Officials are not yet sounding the alarm bell, but they are urging people to double down on their mitigation efforts and brace for a rocky winter ahead. 

“Unfortunately, it’s not good news today,” said health officer Kevin Dick on Wednesday during the weekly COVID update from the Washoe County Health District.

“We remain flagged,” said Dick, because of elevated disease transmission. There are over 1,500 active cases in the community. Test positivity rate is at 8.6%. Considering the county is awaiting results for ongoing tests, the numbers are likely to go up. And the county is headed in the wrong direction, he said. 

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Kevin Dick, Washoe County Health District.

“We are at the highest number of daily cases that we have had to-date,” said Dick. Cases are surging, and the seven day moving average of new cases per day is 127. That puts the county at 29.5 new cases per 100,000 population. 

“So, that puts us in the red zone,” Dick said, designated as a high-risk county, under the national county tracking criteria set by Harvard Global Health Institute and Brown University.

Washoe County is performing poorly in COVID-19 mitigation efforts both locally and nationally. The number of new cases is surging here ahead of all other Nevada counties. It has attracted attention from the White House, which put it in the red zone for high levels of transmission. 

Dick also recommended against trick-or-treating and close contact activities during el Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, this year. He hoped that people would spend time with their immediate family members at home instead of going to big parties where the risk of infections are high. He also said that Washoe County recommendations on trick-or-treating are in compliance with guidelines by CDC.

He concluded the COVID update by echoing Gov. Steve Sisolak’s reminder during his statewide press call Tuesday afternoon. Unlike humans who are tired of COVID-19, the virus is not tired, it is actively spreading within communities, said Sisolak. 

Governor’s state-wide update Tuesday

During a statewide update Tuesday afternoon Sisolak informed Nevadans that the White House task force has put Nevada in the COVID high-risk red zone for new cases.

According to Sisolak, Nevada has the 24th highest rate in the country in terms of cases. “We are in the orange zone with test positivity, with 16 highest in the country. Our 14-day test positivity rate is currently 9.1%. 

Cases on a seven-day-average are growing at a rate of 0.8% or 666 additional cases per day as of Tuesday. For comparison, the disease growth rate in a seven day period in the beginning of September was 0.5 % and 332 cases per day, he explained. 

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Gov. Steve Sisolak (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

He also referred to hospitalization trends in regard to COVID-19. “We are beginning to see an alarming trend” in hospitalizations, he said. The hospitals are still maintaining capacity and have not had “saturation or critical infrastructure overload,” but it could quickly get worse. 

“Speed of the virus is most concerning,” he added. Hospital beds may be quickly filled with new cases and overwhelm the system, he added. 

Nationally, America has surpassed eight million known cases as of Tuesday, he said.

As the flu season approaches, Sisolak stressed the need to stay vigilant against the seasonal influenza which has similar preliminary symptoms as COVID-19. “The culmination of flu and COVID can put an enormous pressure on our hospitals,” he said. “We cannot let that happen. Please do your part, get a vaccine for the flu.” 

We all feel COVID fatigue, and it results in riskier behavior and complacency, said Sisolak. “We cannot let that happen. Unfortunately, this virus does not get fatigued. It’s alive and well. It’s that simple. We can’t get tired because the virus isn’t tired. If we allow the fatigue to take over us, the virus will spread.”

Follow the mitigation measures 

Sisolak asked Nevadans to do their part to stop the spread of disease. “Wear a face cover, practice social distancing, wash your hands, get a flu shot, get a COVID test,” he said. 

The governor also pointed out misinformation surrounding COVID-19 having an adverse effect on the mitigation efforts. 

“I know that the behavior of certain officials at the highest level of our government runs contrary to the public health experts,” he said. “They create a sense that the pandemic is over, or rounding the corner, masks don’t work. It creates division. I want to be clear: we need to be united. The enemy is the disease, it’s not each other.”

He reminded Nevadans of the power of adapting and adopting health measures. 

“We are not helpless,” he said. “The most important tool in fighting this pandemic is you, Nevadans. Your behavior, our behavior. It’s our willingness to mask up, to socially distance, to make sacrifices. That’s how we get through this together,” he added.   

A vaccine might be on its way

Sisolak said that last week the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services submitted the state’s COVID vaccination plan to the CDC. 

“I’m extremely proud of the work that’s been done,” he said. But if and when an approval comes through, there will be an extremely limited supply of vaccine, he said. 

Further details will be provided next week, he said. 

Numbers at-a-glance

  • Total COVID-19 cases in Washoe County: 11,811 up from 10,984 last week
  • Deaths: 189 (+3) up from 180 last week
  • Recovered:  10,106 (+124) up from 8,827 (+119) last week
  • Active Cases: 1,516 (-10) up from 1,423 (+94) last week
  • Tests performed: 166,995 (+3,221) up from 159,367 (+1,912) last week

According to the Nevada Hospital Association, in Washoe County as of October 21:

  • 71% of all staffed short-term, acute-care hospital beds are occupied (+1% since 10/20)
  • 53% of the all Intensive Care Unit beds are occupied (+7%)
  • 14% of all ventilators are in use (-2%)

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

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Sudhiti Naskar
Sudhiti Naskar
Sudhiti (Shu) Naskar is a multimedia journalist and researcher who has years of experience covering international issues. In the role of a journalist, she has covered gender, culture, society, environment, and economy. Her works have appeared on BBC, The National, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Reno Gazette-Journal, Caravan and more. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, politics, social justice, education, tech, and culture. She took a sabbatical from media to attend graduate school at the University of Nevada Reno in 2017. In this period, she has won awards, represented her school at an international conference and successfully defended her thesis on political disinformation at the Reynolds School of Journalism where she earned her Master's in Media Innovation.

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