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January was deadliest month of COVID-19 pandemic in Nevada

Updated February 1, 2021 - 8:11 pm

Nevada reported eight additional coronavirus-related deaths Monday, concluding the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic.

The new fatalities, which occurred on the final day of January, brought the statewide death toll for the month to 1,132 — more than a quarter of the 4,278 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Nevada since the beginning of the pandemic in early March. The total easily surpassed the previous monthly record for fatalities of 982 set in December.

Toni Stockman, an ICU nurse at St. Rose Dominican, San Martin campus, said the increase in deaths in recent weeks has been noticeable compared with early in the outbreak.

“It’s almost like when you come into work now, you’re just expecting somebody to die,” she said.

Larry Davis, managing partner of Bunkers Mortuaries, Cemeteries and Crematory in Las Vegas, said January is typically the busiest time of the year for the funeral industry, but that this year was different.

“Our January was busier this year than I have seen in quite a while,” he said, adding that he could not say to what extent COVID-19 was responsible for the increase.

The state also reported 838 new COVID-19 cases and another decline in the positivity rate compared with the previous day on Monday, continuing recent downward trends in both forward-looking metrics.

Lagging indicator

UNLV epidemiologist Brian Labus said deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus, on the other hand, are a lagging indicator, since the people who died in January were mostly infected between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“So it doesn’t tell us about what’s going on now,” he said. “It tells us about what was going on a while ago.”

Labus, who serves on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team on COVID-19, said deaths of people who were infected around Christmas and New Year’s Eve are just being recorded now. The state is averaging 16 deaths per day over the past two weeks, according to state data.

With the recent decrease in new cases and the positivity rate, Labus expects deaths to trend lower this month.

But Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director, said high levels of deaths associated with the most recent holidays are likely to continue for a couple of more weeks before they begin declining.

He also noted during a news briefing that the fatalities in the daily report could be understated, as reporting over the weekends often results in lower numbers on Mondays.

His boss, Sisolak, said in a statement Monday that each death of a Nevadan due to COVID-19 is devastating.

“My thoughts are heavy each day when new deaths are reported, as I know that each death represents another Nevadan whose life was cut off far too soon due to the virus,” he said. “I think about the families and friends who will never get to see their loved ones again. Kathy and I hold these families close in our hearts.”

Numbers improving

The two-week positivity rate, a key indicator public health officials monitor, has declined since Jan. 13, when it hit a peak of 21.7 percent. On Monday, the positivity rate was at 17.4 percent, a 0.3-percentage-point decrease from the previous day.

The new cases brought the statewide total to 279,146 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The average number of daily cases has been falling since the two-week daily average of cases spiked to 2,275 on Jan. 9. As of Monday, the state was reporting a two-week moving average of 1,011 cases per day.

The state sometimes redistributes data to better reflect the onset of symptoms or the date of death, causing some discrepancies between the daily reported totals.

As of Monday’s report, there were 1,247 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state, according to the state data. That was 12 higher than the previous day’s total, the data show.

In Southern Nevada, 84 percent of licensed hospital beds and 75 percent of intensive care beds were occupied, according to numbers released by the Nevada Hospital Association.

Meanwhile, the Southern Nevada Health District reported 672 new coronavirus cases and one additional death in Clark County, bringing local totals to 214,780 cases and 3,277 deaths. Clark County’s numbers are included in the statewide totals.

This article has been updated to correct the number for COVID-19 deaths reported in January.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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