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Health officials: COVID risk still ‘very high’

By Jeri Chadwell

COVID-19 cases are still high and hospital beds are filling up. The Washoe County Health District (WCHD) held a press briefing Wednesday morning to provide updated numbers related to COVID-19 trends.

“As a reminder, we are still in a pandemic,” said WCHD spokesperson Scott Oxarart. “Washoe County is still flagged for elevated transmission.”

To not be flagged, Washoe County’s test positivity rate needs to be at 8% or lower, and the case rate per 100,000 residents needs to be under 200. The test positivity rate is currently 19.2%, and cases per 100,000 residents stands at 1,400.

Intensive Care Unit bed capacity is at about 75%. These numbers are similar to what the region experienced the same time last year, leading District Health Officer Kevin Dick to say we are in another surge.

Today, 294 new cases were confirmed. The seven-day moving average of new cases is 255. Over the weekend, that figure rose to 296—though Oxarart said that number might be artificially low because the health district was not fully staffed over the weekend due to the holiday.

Although WCHD reported about 1,700 breakthrough coronavirus cases in those who have been fully vaccinated, that number is less than 1% of the 252,025 fully vaccinated people in Washoe County.

New cases of COVID-19 per day in Washoe County from March 2020 to Sept. 8, 2021.

Vaccination clinics continue

Oxarart said no-shows for testing appointments remains a problem. Nearly 200 people who were scheduled to have a test done Tuesday did not show up. The health district is appealing to people to cancel their testing appointments if they know they’re not going to make it so those time slots can be given to others in need of testing.

WCHD will be at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park during the Great Reno Balloon Race Saturday between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m.

There are also other community vaccination events planned in the coming week. The Reno Fire Department (RFD) is hosting one at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino’s Capri Ballroom between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sept. 13.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, there will be another RFD vaccination event at the Evelyn Mount Northeast Community Center between 10 a.m. and 2p.m., as well as a separate events at the Great Basin Brewing Co. location on South Virginia Street between 4 and 7 p.m.

Masks, vaccines still the best tools

Nancy Diao, epidemiologist for the health district, said she has often been asked these days if COVID-19 will ever go away and if life will get back to normal.

She said that’s possible, but it depends upon several factors including the number of people out and about in the community, the high transmissibility of the virus, vaccination rates and the use of “non-pharmaceutical interventions” like masks and hand washing.

Spread of the virus can still be contained despite the ease with which it transfers from person to person, even if many people are out socializing—but only if a large number of those people are vaccinated and if people are taking safety precautions like wearing their masks.

Diao stressed that people should avoid using drugs that are not recognized as effective against COVID-19, like ivermectin. She also reiterated that masks are an effective tool to prevent spread of the virus.

School children in Washoe County are not required to wear masks when outside of buildings. Diao said if they’re doing things like playing on playgrounds and unable to be sufficiently socially distanced, they ought to be wearing them.

“Masks do work,” she said. “They’re not going to suffocate you or your children. If you have a medical issue, talk with your provider about alternatives.”

Children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated yet. Studies on vaccines in children are still underway. Diao said vaccinations for children may be approved before the end of the year.

She said the reason it takes longer to get authorization for a vaccine in children is that it’s difficult to conduct clinical trials with children who may be too young to articulate how they’re feeling in response to vaccination.

Diao repeated something she has said multiple times in recent months: the county remains in a battle that’s pitting “team humans versus team virus.”

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