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Washoe County says “downward disease trends” artificial; recommends caution

By Sudhiti Naskar
Washoe County health care workers receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Washoe County will be watching the COVID-19 trends for the next few days as the numbers this week show a downward trend. “I do believe that those [numbers] may be artificially low,” said Health District Officer Kevin Dick during the weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday.

“It is an inaccurate picture of the overall situation that we are declining from the peak we hit in the surge that happened just before Thanksgiving,” Dick said.

The district reported a total of 483 deaths from COVID-19 in Washoe County as of Wednesday. On Tuesday, the county reported a daily total of 14 deaths from COVID-19. There were nine additional deaths on Wednesday.

The seven-day-moving average of new cases per day is down to 218, from 326 last week. 

“I believe that that level is artificially low because of the Christmas holiday,” said Dick. The more accurate number is likely close to 250 new cases per day, Dick added.

Just before Thanksgiving, the county reported 538 new cases per day. 

Dick suspects that there are a few reasons behind the low numbers. The labs and other health care providers might not have been working at full capacity during the Christmas holiday and the weekends that followed, he said. Also, fewer people might have taken a COVID test in that time. 

This is why the health district will keep an eye on how the holidays might have had an impact on COVID-19 disease trends in the coming days and weeks.

The district expects to see an increase in new cases caused by holiday gatherings. 

Guidelines issued for New Year’s Eve gatherings 

“The most common activity associated with COVID-19 cases in Washoe County has been small gatherings like holiday celebrations, barbecues, birthday parties, weddings and other social activities,” said an official press release from the district this week. 

The health district recommends that people stay at home and not go out to celebrate New Year’s Eve this year.

The district is also recommending people follow Governor Steve Sisolak’s directive on gatherings, including a pause in venturing out from home unless for work and getting food. 

Also, limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people from no more than two households is recommended. 

Everyone will need to maintain health practices like handwashing, masking and social distancing for the foreseeable future as the vaccination drive continues. 

Federal, state and county level health departments are advising people to get together virtually or call up family and friends as they ring in 2021. 

Local businesses will need to support state-mandated checks and balances to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Casinos will need to abide by the 25% occupancy restrictions per the governor’s directives. The City of Reno and Sparks are going to implement these rules. 

Restaurants and bars downtown, where most New Year’s Eve gatherings have taken place in previous years, will have a gathering limit of 50 people. 

There may not be any fireworks this year, per official information. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on underlying conditions to inform people about their health vulnerabilities. 

The CDC has also listed out recommendations for the New Year’s Eve, if gatherings take place with non-household members. 

A case containing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A case containing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Image: Eric Marks

Vaccination demand persists 

High demand for COVID-19 vaccines is an indication the demand for the vaccine now surpasses initial anti-vaccine sentiments.

The health district has been flooded with phone calls and emails from people wanting to get vaccinated in the past few days. 

Responding to a large number of queries on vaccination eligibility, the health district clarified who’s eligible for vaccination in Tier 1: people actively employed in the health care profession or volunteering with the health district in its COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including volunteering at the district’s vaccination pod at the Reno Livestock Events Center.

If a person is not in this category, they need to be patient and wait for their turn. 

Roughly 30,000 people are in the Tier 1 vaccination group in Washoe County. Among them, 10,000 to 15,000 people are estimated to have now received their first doses, per official information. 

The Health District has vaccinated more than 3,000 people through its vaccination pod at the Reno Livestock Center. 

Dental officers are included in Tier 1. District health officials have recommended those working in dental offices to contact the district if they haven’t received vaccinations already. 

Effects of COVID-19 vaccine

Dick said that the district has not received reports of adverse symptoms from the COVID-19 vaccine. “For the most part…people are not experiencing a lot of symptoms,” Dick said.

There are, however, some side effects to include sore arm, elevated temperature in individual cases, soreness and fatigue.

“After I was vaccinated, my arm was sore like when I got a flu shot,” Dick said, adding that the soreness can stay for a couple of days, less so on the second day.

Tier 2 vaccination

The county will move on to Tier 2 vaccination likely by Jan. 25, or as soon as it has completed vaccinating people in Tier 1, said Dick.

The state has determined that everyone age 75 and older will qualify in Tier 2. Educational staff, public transportation workers, logistics workers and other public health employees are also in this group. 

Local pharmacies–43 in all–will be engaged in the drive for Tier 2 vaccination, said the health district. Washoe County is also reaching out to health care providers.

The health district will also include in its messaging that Nevadans can get vaccinated with no out of pocket costs following an announcement Tuesday that said most Nevadans will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Numbers at-a-glance in Washoe County

  • Total COVID-19 cases in Washoe County: 35,451 (+319 from 12/29)
  • Deaths: 483 (+9 from 12/29)
  • Recovered: 20,691 (+116 from 12/29)
  • Active Cases: 4,277, (+194 from 12/29)
  • Tests performed: 296,856 (+1,207 from 12/29)
  • Hospitalized: 305 (+12 from 12/29)

According to the Nevada Hospital Association, in Washoe County as of Dec. 30:

  • 86% staffed hospital beds are occupied (+8% since 12/29)
  • 73% of all licensed hospital beds are occupied (+7% since 12/29)
  • 65% of all Intensive Care Unit beds are occupied (+7% since 12/29)
  • 35% of all ventilators are in use (+1% since 12/29)

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

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