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Disease investigators overwhelmed by Washoe’s COVID-19 case numbers

By Jeri Chadwell

COVID-19 disease investigators for the Washoe County Health District (WCHD) no longer have the resources to reach out to every person with a new, confirmed COVID-19 case.

Officials and disease investigators are concerned by the precipitous rise in new COVID-19 cases in the county and are asking people to do their part in reducing the spread of the virus.

WCHD investigators have prioritized outreach on confirmed cases for youth, ages 0 to 17, because this age group will exhibit higher transmission levels. Many of these children will also be in schools, where cases are being confirmed and exclusions made almost daily.

People who work in school settings, including in transportation, are also being prioritized in an effort to keep schools open for in-person learning.  And households with multiple confirmed cases are being prioritized, too.

Since June 1, 2021, new COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations have seen sharp increases:

  • The seven-day moving average for new cases per day went from 13.7 to 211.1.
  • The test positivity rate increased from 2.9% to 19.5%.
  • The number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations increased from 20 to 142.
  • The occupancy rate of staffed hospital beds is at 91% in Washoe County.
  • There are 270 additional COVID-19 cases today (Aug. 20). That’s on top of the 308 reported on Thursday.
  • The seven-day moving average is as high as it’s been since Jan. 13.

“Our disease investigators are simply overwhelmed,” said Kevin Dick, WCHD officer. “We have a dedicated staff working seven days a week who are reaching a breaking point under very difficult circumstances to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing is not designed to be effective when COVID-19 is widespread in the community and with this many new cases coming in. 

“We need the public to both help limit the spread of COVID-19 and also get vaccinated as that is the easiest and most effective thing you can do at this point to keep those around you safe,” he added.

The Health District, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, is asking residents who test positive for COVID-19 to do the following:

  • Reach out to close contacts who were within six feet of you for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period when you were infectious.
  • Per the CDC, an infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours (or two days) before the person has any symptoms (or tests positive if non symptomatic). By letting your close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID-19, you are helping to protect everyone.
  • Stay home except to get medical care.
  • Rest, stay hydrated and monitor symptoms.
  • Separate yourself from those in your household.

More tips from the CDC can be found here.

If you were exposed to someone under these circumstances, health officials advise you to get a COVID-19 test at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center or elsewhere in the community. Home COVD-19 tests are not as reliable; Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are recommended.

If you are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine unless you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell/taste or other symptoms similar to seasonal allergies. Read more CDC guidance related to quarantine here.

Vaccines remain the best way to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 and are highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death due to the virus. Schedule an appointment or walk in to local pharmacies and grocery stores, or the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8:30-11:30 a.m. You can sign up for an appointment here.

Those opposed to vaccines have often been vocal in voicing their fears—sometimes perpetuating the spread of conspiracy theories concerning COVID-19 vaccines. However, new information released by the governor’s Nevada Health Response team on Thursday shows these people are in the minority.

As of Aug. 19, more than 2.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, by resident county, have been administered and reported to Nevada WebIZ. Some 50% of Nevadans who are eligible are fully vaccinated, and 60.53% of residents age 12 and older have now initiated vaccination. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is available for those 12 years of age and older and is free for everyone. Insurance is not required. Data about cases, testing and vaccination can be found on the COVID-19 Dashboard on the home page of the Nevada Health Response website. 

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