Pandemic Chronicles: Shots keep coming

Vaccine supply to increase; Sisolak relaxes COVID-19 restrictions

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: A Renown Health nurse administers a vaccine to a Reno woman at the hospital’s drive-through clinic Feb. 3. That day, patients with appointments waited about 45 minutes to get their doses of the vaccine.

Nevada is still lagging behind some states in the per capita distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations, federal data show, but the Silver State’s standing has improved from third-to-last in the nation last month to being ranked 22nd among the 50 states on Feb. 11.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, in his televised pandemic update Feb. 11, said Nevada is rated high among states in terms of getting available vaccines into people’s arms as quickly as possible, but Nevada isn’t receiving enough vaccines from the federal government to meet its ability to dispense the shots.

Sisolak also announced phased plans to relax statewide capacity restrictions on public gatherings. Restaurants, bars, churches and gyms, fitness studios and other indoor venues, which had been limited to 25% capacity since November, will be capped at 35% starting Feb. 15. Reservations will no longer be required at restaurants and other businesses. In the current plan, gatherings up to 250 people are scheduled to resume March 15.

Larger gatherings in May

If the current trends of lower infections and adequate hospital capacities continue, Sisolak said, the state by May 1 would back away from mandating regulations for virus-containment efforts in favor of local control. The statewide masks and social- distancing requirements will remain in effect, he said.

“We want to give this to the cities and the counties, but I’m confident we can work on this together. If they need our help, we’re here and willing to do that,” Sisolak said. “But they’re the ones closest to the people, to the citizens.”

“These are significant decreases and I’m grateful that the statewide pause, as difficult as it has been, has helped Nevada mitigate the spread while COVID transmission was surging across the country. I am grateful to Nevadans across the state who continue to stay home when they can, mask up, socially distance and follow other mitigation measures to protect themselves and each other.”

– Gov. Steve Sisolak, virtual press conference, Feb. 11.
IMAGE/U.S. DATA STRATEGY AND EXECUTION WORKSHOP: State-by-state comparison of vaccine distribution as of Feb. 10, showing doses of first and second COVID-19 vaccines shots administered per 100,000 population.  

Washoe County vaccines

Washoe County health officials said they are getting the available supplies of the vaccines to patients as fast as they are made available.

“Our limitation is the supply of the vaccine that is being provided to us,” said Kevin Dick, Washoe County health officer. “However, we are seeing an increase in that vaccine that’s being provided to the county, so we hope to see that continue to increase.”

District sets daily record

More than 75,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Washoe County as of Feb. 9, he said. By that date, 11.2% of residents received their first dose of the vaccine and 4.6% received their second shot. Overall, Dick said, the health district saw an increase of about 2,000 first and second doses this week.

The health district set a record on Feb. 5, Dick said, with 1,800 vaccinations administered in six hours at its drive-through shot dispensary. Renown Regional Medical Center inoculates about 1,000 people per day and the Community Health Alliance dispenses about 240 shots daily. The vaccine distribution totals for the 12 area pharmacies that are partners in the vaccination effort weren’t immediately available.

More shots on the way

The district and the other vaccine providers could be inoculating a lot more people per day if more vaccines were allocated to Nevada, Dick said. With the amount of future supplies uncertain, Nevada officials can’t predict how long it will take to get vaccines into the arms of every Nevadan who wants the shots. The best-case scenario extends well into the fall unless much greater supplies become available.

In his address Feb. 11, Sisolak said he is working with the Biden administration to increase the amount of vaccine doses available to Nevada.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: A Renown Health worker collects paperwork from a patient in line at the hospital’s drive-through vaccination clinic on Feb. 3.

Nevada had been vaccinating people age 70 and older as well as health care workers, first-responders, teachers, childcare workers, higher education front-line staff and workers and residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Those people are in the first tier of the state’s vaccine plan.

Eligibility expanded

“We’re beginning to work with our frontline essential workforce to expand that,” Dick said. “… to include the essential workforce, frontline workers that are working in organizations that support the needy, homeless population needing shelter, the elderly and people with disabilities.”

The next tier includes Nevadans ages 65 to 69, followed by those ages 16 to 64 who have preexisting medical conditions. For those not yet eligible for the vaccine, a waiting list is available on the Renown MyChart app. Those interested must first download the app and set up an account; residents do not need a Renown Health provider to enroll in the service.

Masks still needed

Immunize Nevada provides county-specific information about vaccine eligibility and where and how to get shots. Those who don’t have access to the internet or who prefer talking to a human may call 1 (800) 401 -0946, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that researchers still need to learn more about the protection the vaccines provide under “real-life conditions.” The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are very effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19, according to the CDC, but it’s unclear whether someone who’s been vaccinated can still catch the virus and transmit it to others.

The agency said it could take months for the population to build up immunity, and the CDC recommends preventive measures such as face masks and social distancing remain in place even as large numbers of people get vaccinated. However, on Feb. 11, the CDC announced that most people who have received their full COVID-19 vaccine course don’t need to quarantine after exposure to an infected person.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: A Renown Health nurse instructs a patient about what to expect after she received a COVID-19 vaccination Feb. 3.

Variants a wild card

Overall, virus cases in the U.S. and in Nevada are trending downward, but some experts predict  the decline is temporary as new, more contagious variants spread. The new U.K. variant, the B.1.1.7 strain, has already been identified in Clark County and in California. Two California counties that have already seen a number of U.K. variant cases notified the Washoe County Health District that they had residents who recently traveled to Washoe County.

As of Feb. 11, Clark County had identified seven people who tested positive for the U.K. mutation of COVID-19. Researchers who conducted genomic testing on the county’s wastewater system also detected the variant in the effluent. That means that there are probably a thousand or more people infected with that strain in Clark County, the researchers said.

Washoe County tests wastewater for the virus, but doesn’t do genomic testing of the samples. So far, spot checks of samples from Northern Nevada patients haven’t detected the U.K. variant.

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