Pandemic Chronicles: Virus spikes in Washoe, state

Labor day weekend gatherings, college parties blamed

PHOTO/PIXABAY: Washoe County will utilize drive-up and pop-up inoculation clinics when a vaccine arrives, officials said.

Nevada and Washoe County last week experienced spikes in COVID-19 cases that health officials attributed to gatherings over the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5th through 7th.

And the state and county are gearing up to distribute a vaccine through drive-through clinics whenever that inoculations may become available in the Silver State.

On Friday, Sept. 25, Nevada’s COVID-19 cases hit their greatest one-day increase since Aug. 28, according to health officials. The state reported 556 new cases and nine deaths. Nevada has reported 78,764 cases of COVID-19 since tracking began.

As of Sept. 27, Washoe County has reported 9,349 cases and 156 deaths due to COVID-19. The six month death toll is about 10 times more than the county would experience to seasonal flu in a two-year period. In the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 flu seasons, for example, Washoe County recorded 31 deaths from the disease.

In Washoe County, the Regional Information Center reported 162 new cases on Friday, Sept. 25, the third-highest one day increase in cases since tracking began. There were no deaths reported. Statewide,  602 new COVID-19 cases were reported by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. 

IMAGE: WASHOE COUNTY DISTRICT HEALTH: The county ‘s COVID-19 Dashboard for Sept. 27

“We attribute a number of these cases to people that were participating in private gatherings over the Labor Day holiday that are now testing positive. We also are aware of cases resulting from students at (the University of Nevada, Reno) that attended private parties that were going on off campus,” said Kevin Dick, Washoe County Health officer, at a weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

Effect of Trump rally on cases remains undetermined

He said it’s too early to tell if President Donald Trump’s Nevada rallies held in Minden on Sept. 12 and in Las Vegas Sept. 13 contributed to the higher case count. The Minden rally was held outdoors at a small airport and the Las Vegas event took place indoors. At both venues, most of the thousands of participants weren’t wearing masks and were packed tightly together for several hours.

Last week, the state topped 1 million virus tests processed, with a total of 1,017,333 tests administered since tracking began.

The recent upswing in cases puts the state’s daily positivity rate – a metric tied to success at containing the outbreak – on an upward trend after a decline in early September. On Sept. 26, Nevada is reported a 9.4% daily positivity rate, up from 8.6% two days before. The World Health Organization’s goal is a rate of 5%.

The statewide rate peaked at 11.5% on Aug. 24 and then sank to a low of 6.6% on Sept. 9. It remained on a plateau of below 7% until Sept. 15 before steadily rising to 7.3% on Sept. 21.

Drive-up vaccine distribution planned

In other COVID-19 developments, a state official who told the Washoe County School Board that a vaccine for the virus might be available locally in “four to six weeks” weeks later clarified her statement.

Julia Peek, Nevada’s deputy administrator of community health told the board Tuesday that a vaccine could soon be available in Nevada on a limited basis. She later said that the state is required to be ready to distribute the vaccine by Nov. 1, but had no confirmation a vaccine would be ready by then.

Although Trump has hyped “Operation Warp Speed,” the fast-track effort to come up with an effective vaccine, and has said shots may be available within a month or six weeks, that scenario isn’t likely, epidemiologists said. That’s because any vaccine requires FDA approval and at least a minimal waiting period to rule out dangerous side effects before large numbers of people are inoculated.

Dick said regardless of when the vaccine will be available for distribution, the Washoe County Health District is already preparing for its arrival by utilizing pop-up vaccine clinics for seasonal flu shots and a drive-through COVID-19 testing station at the Reno Livestock Events Center.

Nevada’s high rates of COVID-19 may work in the state’s favor when federal officials decide where to send the initial doses of the vaccine, Dick said. However, he noted that the state has a history of low vaccine rates, so many people may not take advantage of the inoculation when it does become available.

PHOTO/PIXABAY: Frequent hand-washing, social-distancing and wearing masks in public remain the best defenses against spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

Precautions would remain during vaccine period

In any case, the arrival of a vaccine won’t be a magic bullet. It’s not the end of the pandemic; it’s the beginning of the end.

Once a vaccine is available it would be distributed on a tiered basis, using criteria established by a National Academy of Medicine committee, according to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Such factors as prioritizing those most at risk for disease (health care workers and the elderly, for example) and those most at risk for transmitting the virus  (such as essential workers) will be considered.

When the vaccination is widely available, between 60 and 70% of a population would have to be immune in order to achieve community protection, also called “herd immunity,” and end the pandemic. In the U.S. that translates into about 200 million people.

All that will take time, experts have warned. Presumably, precautions including face masks and social distancing, would have to continue based on the virus’ prevalence in a community, while the scenario plays out or until there are effective ways to treat COVID-19 infections.

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