The outlook is grim as regional COVID-19 trends continue a precipitous rise. The increase in cases is mirroring the spike experienced last fall. Hospital beds are filling up, and it’s mostly the unvaccinated who are occupying them.
Washoe County Health District’s (WCHD) Kevin Dick said the difference between now and last fall is that we have a tool for combatting the virus: vaccines.
The Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. Dick said he hopes those who were awaiting this will now get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
To those who remain opposed to the vaccines and mask wearing, Dick said, “look around and see where that’s getting us.”
Dr. Reka Danko from the District Board of Health, who joined Dick for a call with media Wednesday morning, said she has had unvaccinated patients ill with COVID-19 tell her they regret not getting the jab. She said it has been emotionally taxing to have some patients beg for the vaccine after becoming infected, when it’s too late to use it.
She also said she recognizes and understands anxieties surrounding vaccination but advised people to trust the COVID-19 vaccines and avoid disproven treatments like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. She said studies of the COVID-19 vaccines and data from the vaccinated speak to their efficacy.
“It’s that data that has continued to allow us to progress and be able to come up with combinations of medications that are helpful. We have to realize that, currently, with ivermectin there is no clinical recommendation for that to be utilized,” she said.
“And when it comes to hydroxychloroquine, that was a medication that I believe received an emergency authorization back some time in spring of 2020, but very quickly it became clinically evident when we used it that it did have profound side effects,” Danko added. The emergency authorization for it was later pulled.
Danko said while there have been breakthrough cases and hospitalizations among the vaccinated, these are not the patients requiring stays in the intensive care unit or being put on ventilators.
She noted that the Delta variant has been associated with faster disease progression. Last year, she said, it might take weeks for a patient to become ill enough to be put on a ventilator. That’s now often happening in a matter of 24 to 48 hours.
Washoe County experienced five deaths per month from COVID-19 in both June and July. There have been 30 deaths so far this month.
The county is experiencing 250 new cases per day on a seven-day moving average. The test positivity rate is at 19.8%. Testing has resumed at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center five days per week, and about 2,500 tests are being done per week.
WCHD disease investigators are overburdened to the point that they cannot contact every new positive case, Dick said. He said the health department can investigate about 100 new cases per day when it’s fully staffed. Right now, it’s struggling to even keep up with new pediatric cases and is focusing on those—starting with 5- to 12-year-old children, then those ages 12 to 17 and, finally, ages 0 to 4.
Dick said the return to in-person classes at the University of Nevada, Reno, will, of course, further spread of the disease within the community. Mandatory vaccines for higher education students won’t go into effect until Nov. 1.
“I think that will be contributing. I think everything is contributing to the spike right now,” he said. “We have school in session, and that’s allowing the parents to be out and about more while their children are in school.
“We’ve got the extracurricular and after-school gatherings. With the students back at UNR, they’re not just attending class. They’re also socializing outside of those hours. All of those things are contributing to the spread,” he added.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.