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COVID cases are on the rise; state believes deaths are next

Updated October 12, 2020 - 5:46 pm

Nevada’s average number of newly identified COVID-19 cases is more than double what it was in mid-September, a trend that a top health official says will likely lead to more deaths next month.

The seven-day moving average of new cases rose to 559 on Monday, compared to a recent low of 264 last month. The Nevada Hospital Association has also reported a “steady increase” in COVID-19 hospitalizations for the past five days, adding that “relative demand remains low” statewide.

Another key metric, the seven-day moving average of test positivity rates, climbed to 10.4 percent on Monday, according to the state. It’s the highest the rate has been since late August, and is up from a recent low of 6.6 percent in mid-September.

Nevada COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage, who confirmed Monday he has the novel coronavirus, said he expects to see a related increase in deaths by mid-November. More than 1,600 Nevadans have died from the disease since March.

“Anytime we see an increase in cases, leading to an increase in hospitalization, we would expect to see an increased rate of death four to five weeks from now,” he said Monday.

Tracking the impact of COVID-19 in Nevada: Data Guide

Hospitalizations and the average number of new cases identified each day remain well below their peak, which ran roughly from mid-July through early August.

Deaths remain well below their peak in mid-August, where the state announced 128 fatalities in one week. Last week’s death toll was 39.

Still, Nevada has seen a rising number of newly identified cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, reversing a downward trend the state had seen.

“I think my concern is that they haven’t continued to decrease,” said UNLV epidemiologist Brian Labus, who serves on Sisolak’s medical advisory board for COVID-19. “That shows that we’re still seeing transmission within the community here.”

COVID-19 across U.S.

Similar trends are being seen across the U.S.

Nevada was one of 24 states that the White House Coronavirus Task Force placed in the “red zone” earlier this month, according to a weekly report obtained by The Center for Public Integrity. The designation is given to states that have seen more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week.

Nevada ranked 20th among the states. Neighboring states Utah ranked fifth, and Idaho ranked eighth.

Explaining Nevada’s changing COVID numbers

At the COVID-19 mitigation task force meeting on Thursday, state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said officials were striving to balance containing the virus and keeping the economy open.

“We know that as we loosen mitigation efforts and we open some things back up, we can’t be naive and not expect that there is some kind of increase,” Morgan said.

During the same meeting, task force members eased two of the three criteria officials use to determine whether counties have elevated risk of disease spread.

The state lowered the required daily testing rate for counties, and raised the permissible positivity test rate for counties with a case rate above 50 per 100,000 population. State officials said the changes would align Nevada with federal guidelines and account for data fluctuations.

In another recent change, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a new directive on Sept. 30 to substantially loosen state restrictions limiting the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings.

The limit was raised to allow 50 to 250 event attendees, not including staff or entertainers. Large venues can apply for local and state approval to host events up to 10 percent of their total capacity. Other COVID-19 restrictions, including face masks, will remain in place.

Allowing more people to gather will undoubtedly increase the risk of disease transmission, Labus said. However, it is too early to measure the impact relaxing restrictions will have.

He stressed that people should not let their guard down.

“The only way we can safely have these types of reopenings is if we still continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing,” Labus said.

Citing a recent increase in cases, health officials in Nevada’s second most-populated county have said they are not yet prepared to host large gatherings.

The Washoe County Health District announced last week it would not allow gatherings of more than 250 people for at least a month. The district is unable to review event plans while also maintaining its disease investigation and contact tracing effort.

“I understand the desire to get back to normal, but we’re clearly not there yet and our health infrastructure is strained,” district health officer Kevin Dick wrote in a statement.

Sisolak’s decision-making process recently came under fire from Dick and Southern Nevada Health District chief health officer Dr. Fermin Leguen. The two health district officials co-signed a letter this month alleging they had been shut out of the state’s discussions about policies and directives.

On Friday, all three parties released a joint statement that they were committed to working together and improving their communication.

Nevada reported 569 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths related to the disease on Monday. Larger increases were seen over the weekend, which state officials attributed to a delay in receiving lab results, some dating back to September.

The updated figures brought the total for the state to 86,348 cases, according to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ coronavirus website.

In Clark County, the Southern Nevada Health District on Saturday reported 415 additional cases and one more death, according to the health district’s coronavirus website.

The updated figures brought the total number of cases in the county to 72,048. The number of fatalities was 1,440.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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