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County continues to chart record COVID-19 cases

By Kristen Hackbarth

Washoe County continued to record an “enormous” number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week, said District Health Officer Kevin Dick on Wednesday. 

The county now has an average of more than 1,000 confirmed cases per day, more than double that of the COVID-19 spike in November 2020.

Officials reported 1,694 new cases on Jan. 20. Dick said just a month or two ago it would have taken the county 20 days to rack up that many cases of the virus. 

“We really don’t know when we’ve hit the peak until we’ve passed it.”

“While the numbers that we’re seeing are huge, we know that there are even more cases than that out in our community,” Dick said. 

Positive results from at-home tests aren’t counted in the reported totals, and people who are presumed positive but haven’t been tested aren’t counted either.

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows a county test positivity rate of about 29%, but Dick said that number is misleading. The dashboard is a backward-looking system, showing a 14-day average from a week ago. The latest data from the CDC, which he said is more accurate, shows a test positivity rate of 42% in Washoe County. 

Dick said the high test positivity rate is a sign that the omicron variant is all over the community and also that more testing needs to be done. 

“Omicron is out in our community and people have a very large chance of coming across someone that’s infected…of being infected themselves,” he said. “We really don’t know when we’ve hit the peak until we’ve passed it.”

With more testing, the community’s test positivity rate will decline, he said. Case counts may not, for now. Data from the county’s wastewater study shows a slight increase of the omicron variant in the community. 

Dick said the “slight” increase was encouraging, however, as it was a change from the sharp increases the county has seen in the past several weeks. 

More testing to become available

Dick said increasing access to testing is also needed to reduce the long lines at some community sites.

WCHD has requested help from the National Guard to expand testing capacity at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Event Center community site. 

Gayle Erickson, an operations manager with the health district, said the extra staffing from Guard members will continue through mid- to late February and allow for afternoon hours and Saturday testing. WCHD expects to test 700-800 people per day at the site. 

covid rapid test
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Some in the community are also beginning to receive at-home tests provided by the federal government. Under the program launched by the Biden administration and managed by the U.S. Postal Service, each household can request four free at-home tests. Tests can be ordered at https://www.covidtests.gov/.

Health insurance providers are also now required to cover the cost for up to eight at-home tests per month if purchased through a pharmacy, Dick said. 

Deaths, hospitalizations continue

To date, the county has reported 1,052 COVID-19 deaths, mostly in unvaccinated individuals. Dick said in January there’s been about one death per day.

The Nevada Hospital Association this week said 87% of staffed hospital beds in Washoe County are occupied. Over the past week there have been more than 219 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day.

Dick said hospitalizations from COVID-19 are expected to increase over the next couple of weeks as they tend to lag behind increased cases. 

Vaccines, he said, are the best defense against the virus. Those seeking treatment may not have access to medications developed to fight COVID-19. He said the state has been given limited supplies–fewer than 1,000 doses of each–of antivirals such as Paxlovix and Molnupiravir or monoclonal antibodies known as sotrovimab. 

“Not everybody that would want to receive those medicines would receive them,” Dick said.

He urged people instead to get vaccinated and boosted to prevent severe COVID-19 infection. If infected, or suspected to have an infection, people should isolate at home and stay isolated for at least five days after developing symptoms. 

To find vaccine locations and appointments visit covid19washoe.com or vaccines.gov

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