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‘Tragic milestone’: Washoe County surpasses 900 COVID-19 deaths


Washoe County health officials today announced the community’s 900th death from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020.

“This is a tragic milestone for loss in our community from COVID-19,” said Washoe County Health District’s Kevin Dick.

There have been nine deaths from COVID-19 this week alone, Dick said, including two people in their 40s who weren’t vaccinated. 

“It’s sad to see,” he added.

Area hospitals remain strained as well, with 91% of staffed hospital beds occupied and 117 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, according to data from the Nevada Hospital Association. 

Dr. Reka Danko, a member of Washoe County’s District Board of Health, said that when numbers improve in the community, they’re not seeing it in the hospitals. 

“What happens in the hospital is we see the most severe cases,” she said. “Patients in the hospital tend to have more severe illness, they tend to be sicker, and one of the things that happens with severe COVID infection is it can take a long time to see improvement. We can still see patients on high-flow oxygen in the hospital for weeks.” 

Severe cases aren’t limited to people with other health concerns, she added. Hospitals are seeing young people with “grave consequences” from COVID-19 infections, including long-term inflammation that affects the heart and lungs and can cause strokes.

Dr. Danko said that getting the flu vaccine is another important health measure to take this time of year. 

Getting one illness can stress the immune system, which can make it more susceptible to other viruses, she explained. People can be infected with both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, and the severity of illness can be much worse.

“The options out there to receive [the vaccine] are vast and wide.”

Moving in the wrong direction

Dick said that Washoe County is still at a high transmission level for the coronavirus. The COVID-19 risk meter remains in the high range and ticked up a notch over the past week. 

“We’re moving in the wrong direction,” he said. The plateau of cases reported last week has ended and cases are beginning to increase again. The seven-day moving average for new cases is up to 125.1 per day. There’s been a 17% increase in cases from the week ending Oct. 16 to the week ending Oct. 23, and a 10% jump just since last Thursday.

Health officials are concerned that with cases increasing once again and a handful of celebrations over the weekend–Nevada Day, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos–the community could see a repeat of last year when cases began to increase throughout the community.

“People really need to think about protecting themselves, protecting others and avoiding those gathering activities,” Dick said. “Outside is safer, with masks as part of the costume, and not being in large groups.”

When asked if he’d be handing out Halloween candy at home, Dick said no, and that it was a personal decision families would have to make. 

“Older people–kid after kid after kid–seems like a risk,” a reporter on today’s media call alleged based on children not yet being able to get vaccinated. 

“Thanks for calling me old,” Dick replied. 

Uptick in vaccinations 

WCHD’s James English said the county’s main vaccination site at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center has seen “a huge uptick” in people interested in getting booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially with last week’s approval of the Janssen and Moderna boosters. 

He said they’ve also seen an increase in people getting their first and second doses who say they’re getting vaccinated to meet employer requirements.

Scheduling continues to be a challenge, though. The county’s vaccine sites schedule appointments through the state’s online system, which takes a week or two to update for changes in scheduling–such as getting a booster dose. Booster doses for the Pfizer vaccine can be scheduled online, but booster doses for the Moderna and Janssen vaccines aren’t yet available in the scheduling system.

Different dose sizes for boosters versus additional doses is complicating matters further, Dick added.

English said the county’s vaccine sites are getting slowed down by people scheduling an appointment for a third dose of Moderna vaccine, or second dose of Janssen vaccine, when what they really need is a booster dose. The difference, he said, is that third doses are full size doses intended for people who are immunocompromised; booster doses of those two vaccines are half the dosage. 

He urged people to wait to schedule a booster dose at one of the county sites until the state had updated the scheduling system. Or, he added, it may be faster to get a booster dose at an area pharmacy. “The options out there to receive it are vast and wide.”

Walk-up appointments for booster doses are available at county vaccination sites, however people may be turned away if they’ve reached capacity for the day. 

Dick repeated that vaccination for COVID-19 continues to be highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths from the disease and urged people to get vaccinated. After making that statement, he was asked if he was frustrated that people weren’t getting vaccinated. 

“My frustration is not going to lead people to get vaccinated,” he said. “What we need is for people to look at the facts and get them from reputable sources,” he said. “The vaccine is  just about a miracle that’s been able to be developed based on our scientific and technological advances over the past decade.”

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows nearly 65% of Washoe County residents aged 12 and above have been fully vaccinated. County vaccine locations and times are available online at https://covid19washoe.com/community-vaccine-schedule/. For additional vaccine sites visit https://www.nvcovidfighter.org/

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.