Southern Nevadans will probably have to wait additional weeks before health officials release detailed information on likely COVID-19 clusters in their communities.
After promising a “deeper dive” into suspected disease exposure sites last week, Nevada health official Julia Peek said Thursday that in-depth findings will not be released until a new data collection platform is implemented across all counties over the “next few weeks.”
Local health departments will be given time to review and investigate state-generated findings before they are publicized, Peek said.
“Our goal remains to provide the best data possible to allow action and policy decisions,” said Peek, deputy administrator for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. “But where there is data that needs to be investigated further, we want to make sure we do that prior to releasing it because context matters.”
State and local health officials for months have not identified any specific spreading events or case clusters in Southern Nevada beyond those at nursing homes and other state-licensed facilities.
But since at least August, the state has regularly analyzed county-level data to identify types of businesses and specific locations that are most frequently identified as possible disease exposure sites. This week, state and local health officials denied public record requests made by the Review-Journal for copies of the analyses pertaining to Clark County, citing an ongoing investigation into the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
“The review of that analysis is not yet complete to provide accurate statistical information that can be publicly disclosed at this time,” department spokeswoman Shannon Litz wrote in an email.
Nevada’s slow rollout of information is meant to protect businesses from being harmed by “half information,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said last week. The governor said he would consider identifying businesses that are linked to “a high propensity of cases,” but he expressed concerns that disease investigation data could not pinpoint where someone contracted the virus.
As questions swirl about the role that casino resorts play in COVID-19 infection among both Nevadans and out-of-state visitors, Nevada Open Government Coalition President Patrick File said officials should be releasing as detailed information as possible to help people make healthy decisions.
“The less reliable information that is out there, the more speculation and rumor fill the void,” he said.
Officials did release some general county-level findings at Thursday’s meeting of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation task force, which hinted at Southern Nevada’s tourism industry.
In Clark County, trends have been noticed at hotels and resorts, food establishments, health care settings and correctional facilities, such as jails and prisons. Peek also pointed to informal social gatherings and transmission between family members as “one of the greatest risk factors to COVID spread.”
But none of the trends identified Thursday was accompanied by specific statistics showing how they compared to one another.
Peek said a more robust investigation into exposure sites is on the horizon, as public health agencies across the state are shifting to a single survey and data collection platform, known as SalesForce.
The platform will allow investigators to connect possible COVID-19 exposure to more than two dozen kinds of locations, including casinos, schools, gyms and restaurants.
Disease investigators will use a uniform questionnaire that should allow them to identify trends within businesses too, Peek said. For example, determining whether the spread of COVID-19 is primarily among employees or customers, and where in the business the exposure is occurring.
“This reporting will help us get much more granular data and compare across all counties,” she said.