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COVID-19 cases high, but still dropping; mask mandate could be lifted

By Kristen Hackbarth

The needle on Washoe County’s COVID-19 risk meter continues to hover over the “very high” range and current case data puts the county in the CDC’s “high transmission” range. 

Despite this, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday is expected to drop the state’s mask mandate, which has been in place since the start of the pandemic. 

His office did not respond to when a decision would be made, but a COVID-19 media briefing has been scheduled for Thursday. California is dropping its mask mandate Feb. 15, and Sisolak is expected to make a similar announcement. 

Only nine states have a mask mandate still in effect, and although Sisolak’s mandate remains, many businesses are not enforcing it.

Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick on Wednesday said the mandate was a state decision, but added that masking continues to be an option for Nevadans. 

“I would encourage people to make decisions based on the risk meter, based on the number of cases, based on the people that they’re interacting with as far as whether they want to wear a mask or not,” Dick said today during a media briefing. 

His comments on masks came after noting some significant COVID-19 numbers. 

Washoe County has passed 100,000 COVID-19 cases since the first case was announced in March 2020, Dick said, with nearly a quarter of the total cases – 22,985 – confirmed in the past month. 

The number of new cases over the past week is 555 per 100,000, five times the CDC’s “high transmission range.” Test positivity is three times higher than the CDC’s range at 33.9%.

New COVID-19 cases as charted on Washoe County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The omicron surge has been so pervasive that WCHD officials said many more cases have occurred than have been reported, spurring the removal of the “active cases” data point from the county’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“Omicron has just been incredible, something we haven’t seen before as far as the huge number of cases, the very rapid increase of those case numbers,” Dick said. He added that a rapid decrease in cases has followed with a 50% drop week over week. 

The number of COVID-19 deaths has been high as well. There have been 81 deaths since the start of the year, and 12 so far in February. 

“We knew that we were going to have an increase in deaths occurring because of the sheer number of COVID-19 cases that hit our community,” Dick said. “While omicron is not as severe, it’s still putting at-risk residents in increased danger.”

As Dick has repeated since the COVID-19 vaccine was released more than a year ago, vaccination is the best protection from death and severe illness from the virus. He urged people to get the booster as well. 

As This Is Reno has previously reported, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention studies show the unvaccinated are considerably more at risk for dying and being hospitalized.

“The booster is your best protection against the variants including omicron….It reduces your risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” he said.

To date, just under 28% of residents who are eligible to receive a booster dose have received one. 
COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in the community. To find a location visit https://covid19washoe.com/ or vaccines.gov.

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