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Explaining Nevada’s changing coronavirus numbers

Updated July 8, 2020 - 11:30 am

Nevada’s state and county health officials are releasing a large amount of COVID-19 data every day, and making sense of those numbers can be confusing.

Context and comparison of data over time are important as the state heads into the fifth month of its novel coronavirus outbreak. For example, a single-day spike in cases does not necessarily indicate a problem, because testing capacity has increased dramatically since March. Instead, it is better to track a weeklong average of new cases to monitor trends.

The best indicator of the disease’s impact on Nevada and Clark County can be found by monitoring test positivity rates, hospital capacity and the number of hospitalized people and deaths due to COVID-19.

The Review-Journal is constantly charting them at our Coronavirus Data Guide and in print on Sundays.

Test positivity rate

Calculating the state’s test positivity rate gives officials an idea of how prevalent the disease is among our population.

The rate is calculated by dividing the number of infected by the total number of people tested. This calculation is one way to compare Nevada’s outbreak to other states across the U.S.

If the rate is rising, it indicates that increased testing is not the sole reason that case numbers are rising.

Seven-day average of new cases

The number of new COVID-19 cases identified in Nevada can vary in the hundreds day to day.

These fluctuations can be caused by many factors, including when people choose to get tested, health officials say.

A clearer picture of whether a state is seeing more or fewer new cases can be obtained by averaging the past seven days of new cases and comparing that to previous averages.

If the average is trending upward, larger numbers of new cases are being identified.

Tests performed per day

Performing and processing more COVID-19 tests in a day is key to identifying new cases of the disease, health officials say.

Once officials know someone has the virus, they can alert that person to self-isolate and contact people he or she may have infected, in order to prevent further spread.

Generally, the more tests that are completed in a day or week, the better idea we have about our state’s outbreak.

COVID-19 patients hospitalized and hospital capacity

A major fear from health officials is that a surge of COVID-19 patients could overwhelm acute care hospitals. In Arizona, some hospitals are running out of intensive care beds.

While a record number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Nevada this month, the state’s hospital capacity has not yet risked running out.

A couple caveats: The Nevada Hospital Association releases patient and capacity data one day after it is reported, and the association does not publish data on the weekends.

Officials for major hospitals in Southern Nevada also say they have plans in place to expand their capacity, should an influx of patients arrive.

Deaths per week

The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 recover, but hundreds have died in Nevada.

Tracking the number of deaths per week can provide a better idea of when the disease is having its greatest impact on the state.

How we publish the data

State health officials release new COVID-19 data at the state and county level daily, at varying times.

As the Review-Journal receives the data, we compile and incorporate it into graphics posted on our Coronavirus Data Guide.

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

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