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COVID-19 Update: Dozens of deaths predicted from ‘Thanksgiving surge’

By Bob Conrad
Renown's Alternate Care Site in the Mill Street parking garage, just days before its first patients arrived.

Our greatest hope is our residents. Our hope is our citizens doing the right thing.”

The City of Reno, area doctors and scientists today continued to sound the alarm about COVID-19.

“It’s really imperative as a community we understand the magnitude of what’s happening right now,” said Mayor Hillary Schieve. “We are in crisis in our community — absolute crisis.”

Dozens are dying each week from COVID-19 in Washoe County. The severity is being measured by the region’s Covid Risk Meter, which is expected to peak at a “severe” level starting tomorrow. The severity is determined by hospital capacity, health care staffing levels and daily new cases.

It’s not just beds in hospitals that are filling up. The ability to treat the increasing number of patients has put a strain on the health care workforce.

Dr. John Hess called the situation horrific.

“If you look at deaths alone, in the last seven days there were 43 deaths directly attributable to COVID,” he said. “Statistically, based on our population size, we typically see 18 deaths a week from cardiovascular disease and 16 deaths a week from cancer, which are the two most common killers in our country.

“Based on those numbers, over the past couple of weeks, we have more COVID deaths than cancer and heart disease deaths combined. That is a phenomenal number. That is way beyond what you would see with a bad flu outbreak,” he added. “This is not the flu. This is much, much worse — on a scale of 10 times worse.”

Truckee Meadows COVID-19 Risk Meter, Dec. 8, 2020.
Truckee Meadows COVID-19 Risk Meter, Dec. 8, 2020.

Hess said that it is not just the elderly dying. People in their 30s and 40s with common health conditions are dying.

“We have had a couple of teenagers,” he said. “These are young, productive people in society. Maybe they had an underlying medical condition, but that might have been obesity or hypertension, which are both incredibly common in our society.”

He said hospital capacities have flattened, but that’s not because of a lack of incoming patients — it’s because of the number of people dying.

Officials blamed the dramatic increase in cases on family gatherings, people still going out in public and simply being too close to one another. They reiterated that masks are mandatory, and increasing evidence shows masks not only reduce the risk of transmission but also the severity of the coronavirus disease.

Avoiding others continues to be the best way to avoid getting COVID-19. Doctors said people should stay home if at all possible and to avoid visiting others at homes or being around others in public places.

Stay at home, they emphasized. “Don’t invite anybody over. Don’t go to gatherings.”

Washoe County’s Medical Examiner said more people are also dying at home. This is causing a strain on the ability to investigate other deaths.

“The fact is, we’ve had more deaths in the past seven days than we’ve had in the entire month of October,” Dr. Laura Knight explained. “At the current rate, I think we could see 170 or more deaths just in the month of December because of the way this virus is flourishing and the way it is spreading in our community.”

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve

Some funeral homes have already reached their capacity, she added. There are available spaces in the region for about 200 more bodies, “but that can change overnight.”

She said her office has had to store bodies longer before they they are able to be accepted at funeral homes.

Schieve reminded the community of the mask mandate ordered by the governor but admitted the mandate is not being enforced.

“If you should be in a car accident or have a heart attack, your care could be compromised,” she said. “Let’s take care of each other — especially our health care workers. They are our heroes.”

Councilmember Naomi Duerr echoed those statements. “Our greatest hope is our residents,” she said. “Our hope is our citizens doing the right thing.”

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