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Explaining Nevada’s changing COVID numbers

Updated August 7, 2020 - 1:23 pm

Nevada’s state and county health officials release 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 continues to manage the coronavirus outbreak. For example, a single-day spike in cases does not necessarily indicate a problem, because testing capacity has increased dramatically.

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.

Bookmark our updating Coronavirus Data Guide, or look for a print version in the Sunday paper.

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.

The number of infected people hospitalized in Nevada grew tremendously in most of June and July. But by early August, the number had steadied.

Officials for major hospitals in Southern Nevada also say they have plans in place to expand their capacity, should an influx of patients arrive. They began adding beds and staffing in mid-July.

Deaths per week

The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 recover, but nearly 1,000 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.

Questions about data? Email Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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