Updated September 5, 2020 - 7:58 pm
Six months since Nevada’s outbreak of COVID-19, public health data is trending in the right direction.
The Silver State has seen a steady drop in its seven-day average of new cases since peaking in mid-July. As of Friday, nearly 90 percent of all Nevadans who tested positive for the disease were considered recovered.
Hospitalizations of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients have almost been halved since the end of July. And, for the first time in six weeks, the number of newly reported deaths each week dipped late last month.
The shift in statistics is “exactly what we want to happen,” UNLV epidemiologist Brian Labus said.
“It’s still spreading in the community, but we’ve managed to slow that rate down quite a bit,” said Labus, a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team.
States bordering Nevada have also experienced a decline in their average number of new cases since July, but Labus said residents here should not let their guard down.
The rate of new cases and deaths, with hospitalizations, remains higher than when Sisolak ended his stay-at-home directive and began reopening the state’s economy in May.
The data shows COVID-19 still has a solid foothold in Nevada, Labus said. The Nevada Hospital Association on Wednesday suggested COVID-19 may now be “endemic,” meaning it is widespread enough to occur regularly, like the flu.
“Just because things are better, does not mean they’re good,” Labus said. “It’s kind of like if you’re driving down a hill. You put the brakes on, you feel yourself start to slow down. It doesn’t mean you take your foot off the brake.”
In a news conference Thursday, Sisolak said there was still “a long way to go” before restrictions on businesses and social gatherings could be lifted.
“If we don’t get this right, we could suffer even greater economic damage,” he said.
Nevada COVID deaths
COVID-19 has killed 1,375 Nevadans as of Friday, according to state data.
The rising toll positions COVID-19 as the fifth-leading cause of death in Nevada behind heart disease, all cancers combined, chronic lower respiratory disease and accidents, according to state-level data from 2014-2018 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the majority of those killed have been 60 and older, experts say the disease is far deadlier than the flu.
Federal officials have also refuted recent social media posts that falsely claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had massively reduced the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.
The falsehood, which was shared widely on Twitter, posited that the CDC changed the number of deaths from almost 154,000 to about 9,000. Those claims are misrepresenting a CDC data table.
In reality, COVID-19 was listed as a cause of death in all of the cases. But it was the single cause mentioned in 6 percent of the cases. As of Friday, more than 186,000 Americans have died from the disease. Cases are over 6 million.
The CDC’s Dr. Robert Anderson wrote in a statement that COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death in 92 percent of all deaths tied to the disease, meaning it was “the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person’s death.”
Explaining the positivity rate
Despite fewer Nevadans testing positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, the state’s cumulative test positivity rate slowly grew since mid-June and has remained stable in the past week.
That is because fewer people on average are getting tested for the disease. The positivity rate is calculated by dividing the number of infected by the total number of people tested.
Labus said he expects the rate to shift in the near future because of a testing initiative Clark County launched on Monday.
The county hopes to administer 60,000 free tests at three drive-thru locations throughout the Las Vegas Valley over 14 days. As of Friday, Nevada’s case total is 70,712.
“This couple-week period isn’t really comparable to what happened before or after,” Labus said.
COVID impact on children
About 4 percent of Nevada’s cases have been in children under the age of 10, according to data from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. There has been one death in this age group.
About 9 percent of cases — and two deaths — have been in people ages 10 to 19.
In the early days of the pandemic, there appeared to be a silver lining in that children, for the most part, were spared the worst effects.
But by May, the CDC had issued an alert that in rare instances, children may develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which causes inflammation in the the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.
There have been eight cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome reported in Nevada, according to the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, part of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.
Nevada hospital capacity reports
An influx of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients approached Clark County hospitals’ normal capacity in July.
Intensive care units here became almost 90 percent full multiple times during the month. On some days, COVID-19 patients accounted for more than half of all people in the ICU.
That has shifted.
While some local hospitals are still experiencing higher-than-normal occupancy, the Nevada Hospital Association reported this week that Clark County’s health care infrastructure “is in good condition with sufficient capacity and capability.” ICU capacity was under 70 percent as of Friday, and COVID-19 patients accounted for only one-third of patients.
In Northern Nevada, “COVID-19 is not currently placing any significant strain on hospitals within the region.”
Also, preliminary data suggests “a fair number” of COVID-19 patients are hospitalized for a reason other than the disease, the NHA reported Wednesday.
Reporter Mary Hynes contributed to this story.