Nevada COVID-19 task force encouraged by trends

As Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak drives toward a goal of having each county reopened at 100% by June 1, the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation Task Force reviewed positive trends in case numbers, hospitalizations and test positivity during its meeting Thursday morning.

According to state biostatistician Kyra Morgan, Nevada’s daily average of new COVID cases over the past 14-days is 269, up slightly in recent days, but not unexpected. 

“This is likely a combined effect from the increase to 50% capacity, but also from behavior changes as the general public is kind of letting their guard down,” Morgan said.

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She also reported a drop in the numbers of Nevadans being tested for COVID-19, which she said was anticipated because more people are being vaccinated and no longer feel the need for regular testing.

It’s also the reason Morgan believes the state’s test positivity rate has been hovering at just under 6%. 

“People who used to be tested, for example, regularly through their employment might now be vaccinated, so it's not unexpected as we promote vaccine and as more people get vaccinated to see some of our healthy people who used to be tested out of an abundance of caution kind of be removed from that calculation.”

According to Task Force data, a majority of all Nevadans over the age of 60 have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, helping to stabilize hospitalization rates at manageable levels. 

“It is reasonable to anticipate future increases for hospitalizations as restrictions become lightened and activities begin to normalize,” Morgan said, “but, because of the vaccination coverage specifically in our elderly population, we don't anticipate, even if we do see significant increases in cases, we don't anticipate this will ever reach the catastrophic levels we saw in November and December.”

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Task Force member Dr. Mark Pandori, who serves as the director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, said vaccination rates appear to be heading off a significant spread of variant versions of the coronavirus. 

“That’s happening in the face of what is a transition, genetically, where we're seeing almost, not exclusively, but an extremely large increase in variants of concern, so these are viruses that have the biology to even spread more quickly,” Pandori said.

He added that even though variants can spread more quickly, “things are increasing in a relatively manageable and slow manner. So, although I'm saying to you that we're seeing a lot of variants of concern taking over the epidemiology and biologically, this doesn't seem to be causing a radical acceleration. so I would look at that as good news.”

Clark County officials say local efforts are underway to reach a 60% vaccination level among all eligible residents. That level currently stands at about 44%, according to county data. 

The 60% threshold would allow Clark County to expand to 80% capacity at public events and larger gatherings by May 1. Clark County Fire Chief John Steinbeck was cautiously optimistic during the discussion.

“I know we're going to be successful,” Steinbeck said, “but the number-one threat to this plan moving forward, in our eyes, is vaccine hesitancy.” 

Steinbeck went on, telling the Task Force, “There's no capacity issue, there's no operation issue that we can't overcome. That's our number one threat that we identify today.”

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