COVID-19 hospitalizations in Nevada and Clark County have nearly reached the peaks seen in April. However, hospitals say they are better equipped now to handle an influx of coronavirus patients, many of whom are less seriously ill than those hospitalized early in the outbreak.
“It feels more business as usual than that kind of anxiety we were feeling in the spring,” said Dr. Joe Corcoran, the chief medical officer overseeing HCA Healthcare hospitals in California and Nevada, including the Sunrise Health system. “I think that we have gotten more capable and more comfortable in providing care for coronavirus patients.”
Las Vegas-area hospitals say they’ve seen less severity of illness in this spike, partly due to treating more younger, healthier patients.
“We have definitely seen the average age of a coronavirus patient drop by almost a decade,” Corcoran said. “We’re also seeing that patients are spending less time in the ICU and fewer patients are requiring ventilators.”
Younger people have been testing positive for the coronavirus in rates previously unseen. In Clark County, those 18 to 24 years old are testing positive for the virus at a rate almost three times that of those over 65, according to data released Friday by the Southern Nevada Health District. Those 25 to 49 years old are testing positive at a rate nearly as high.
Young patients often not admitted
“We’re seeing a younger demographic than we had several months ago,” agreed Dr. Dan McBride, chief health officer for the Valley Health System. He believes this reflects reopenings not just in Nevada but in the Western region of the United States.
Many of these younger patients have mild enough symptoms that they can be discharged from the emergency room without requiring hospitalization, he said.
Hospital representatives said there’s far less anxiety about treating COVID-19 than early in the outbreak, when everything about the disease was unknown.
Protocols have been refined over months for isolating and treating COVID-19 patients. The supply chain has improved for obtaining personal protective equipment for hospital staff, though supplies continue to be allocated cautiously. Best practices for treating COVID-19 patients have been shared among hospitals.
“We’ve learned, we’ve adapted, we have built out an ability to take care of these patients,” Corcoran said. “Here we are five months into it, and nobody’s ready to let their guard down, but everybody’s able to take a deep breath and say, ‘We’ve got this.’”
The highest level of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide since the pandemic appeared in the state in early March was 711 on April 8, compared with the current number of 662, according to data from the Nevada Hospital Association.
In Clark County, the number of people hospitalized with the disease caused by the new coronavirus peaked on April 7 at 633, compared with the current figure of 544. In April, more than 200 of these patients were in the intensive care unit, with 160 on ventilators to help them breathe. Currently, 166 are in the ICU, with 68 on ventilators.
Despite upticks in hospitalizations, overall hospital occupancy is lower than it was a year ago, Corcoran said, adding that people are delaying seeking hospital care.
‘A very manageable level’
“Traffic into our ERs as well as into our urgent care centers is definitely increasing, but it’s still at a very manageable level,” he said.
Should patient volumes continue to increase, every local hospital has a plan in place to provide surge capacity. Equipment such as ventilators can be moved to hospitals where it’s needed, and even brought in from out of state.
“We’ve all worked together to ensure that all hospitals have their surge plans in place and that we can assist each other should that become necessary,” said Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, an infectious disease specialist with University Medical Center.
He expressed hope that surge plans won’t need to be used.
Medina-Garcia said that from his perspective, the war on COVID-19 isn’t being waged primarily in hospitals.
“We need to all understand this isn’t won at a hospital. It’s won at home by preventing yourself from getting infected,” said Medina-Garcia, who emphasized the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.
“It’s not just about protecting yourself,” he said. “It’s about protecting the ones you love.”