Washoe County Health District officer Kevin Dick on Wednesday said the county was in a “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases dominated by the omicron variant.
Test positivity has risen to nearly 30% over the last several days and the seven-day moving average of cases is now 742.3 cases which is one-and-a-half times higher than the previous peak in November 2020–before COVID vaccines were available.
The Nevada State Public Health Lab has confirmed 149 omicron cases through genetic sequencing, but Dick said that doesn’t tell the whole story. The lab tests only a portion of cases, he said, and nearly all of the new cases in the community, including the 674 cases confirmed Wednesday, are the omicron variant.
On a chart, the trend line for COVID-19 cases is almost vertical.
“We can see that all of the concerns and projections that we’ve heard from public health officials about omicron are coming to fruition,” Dick said. He was one of those public health officials that was sounding the warning bell in November and early December.
“At this point almost everyone in our community knows someone who has COVID-19 right now or has it themselves. That’s the level of cases that we’re experiencing. A tremendous surge right now,” Dick added.
“Unfortunately, with omicron we have a number of people that don’t want to take it seriously and are comparing it to a cold.”
According to COVIDActNow.org, for each person that is diagnosed with COVID-19 in Washoe County, they are expected to infect 1.6 others. That virus reproduction rate is higher than many other counties in the state, including Clark County which has seen its share of COVID strain.
Dick said that in addition to high case counts and test positivity, the impact of this new surge on the community is evident in strain on hospitals and demand for testing.
“We really haven’t seen the worst of this yet,” Dick said.
Demand for tests is high
The county’s test location at Reno-Sparks Livestock Event Center has returned to offering tests five days a week, and last week added four additional test locations operated by NorthShore Labs. Lines for testing can be up to an hour or more.
At-home rapid tests are also in short supply.
President Joe Biden announced this week that the federal government would be working to provide free at-home tests to those who need them, and insurance reimbursement if people purchase them at the store.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today provided information on how to get those tests at home at https://www.cms.gov/how-to-get-your-at-home-OTC-COVID-19-test-for-free.
For those who can’t get tested right away, Dick said they should presume they have COVID if they have symptoms and isolate.
Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is for people to isolate for five days from when symptoms begin. After that, isolation can end as long as you don’t have a fever that needs to be controlled with medicine and symptoms are improving.
Hospitals on alert
Nevada Hospital Association (NHA) is reporting staffing levels that are “on alert” with significant increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations compounded with more staff calling out sick with their own COVID-19 infections.
Dick said there has been a 72% increase in people confirmed with COVID-19 and hospitalized over the last two weeks and no indication that hospitalizations have peaked. He said hospitalizations tend to lag behind diagnoses, which are still high.
Treatments for the coronavirus–monoclonal antibodies and the Pfizer pill–are extremely limited in the state. “People should not presume that treatments for COVID-19 are available for them,” Dick said.
“The only thing that we can do to try to mitigate the impacts of this COVID tsunami that is on us is for everybody to do their part in trying to reduce transmission of this disease,” Dick said. That includes handwashing, masking, social distancing, getting tested and isolating when sick.
Health officials also said that seeking care with primary care doctors, at an urgent care or through telehealth appointments would help to ease the strain on hospitals.
Trying to get omicron ‘a very bad idea’
For those working at health departments, hospitals or other medical facilities, “COVID fatigue” is real, said Dick. He also acknowledged that the community was feeling widespread COVID fatigue, but urged people not to get lax about omicron because it has been less deadly than other strains of the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately pandemics are not convenient. People need to accept that. The idea of people deciding that they want to try to get omicron because it’s not that bad is a very bad idea,” Dick said. “COVID-19 is a deadly disease and it does kill people and you don’t know…what person you’re going to be and whether you’re having a mild case, or you’re going to be ending up hospitalized, or you’re going to be ending up dead. It’s not a good decision to be made.
“Unfortunately, with omicron we have a number of people that don’t want to take it seriously and are comparing it to a cold. And that’s not what it is for the people that are suffocating to death in our ICUs hidden from public view.”