Updated January 18, 2022 - 6:40 pm
The number of COVID-19 patients occupying beds in Clark County hospitals hit a pandemic high on Tuesday, while other key metrics suggested the disease has not yet reached its peak.
The Southern Nevada Health District on Tuesday reported 1,641 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in county hospitals, 40 more than the previous high of 1,601 patients reported on Jan. 6, 2021, and up 128 from the 1,513 reported on Friday.
The growing caseload comes at a time when Southern Nevada’s health care system already is under considerable stress, as reflected by a staffing crisis declared two weeks ago by the Nevada Hospital Association.
The trade group, which is expected to update its risk assessment on Wednesday, said last week that local hospitals have been able to provide adequate levels of care by relying “on overtime, team nursing, and other mitigation steps, realizing that these short-term solutions are not sustainable.”
That sounds dire, but the current surge fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus cannot be directly compared to last winter’s crest, due to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic.
Omicron cases, for example, typically do not lead to as many serious complications as its predecessors. The 280 COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit as of Tuesday’s update was well below last winter’s peak of 364 on Jan. 11, 2021, for instance.
Also, it’s not clear how reporting of COVID-19 cases may have shifted during the course of the pandemic.
Who’s a COVID patient, and who isn’t?
University Medical Center spokesman Scott Kerby explained Tuesday that of the 162 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 there, 51 were admitted for COVID-19-related complaints. The others were identified through the hospital’s protocol of testing all admitted patients, he said.
Of 116 adult patients receiving intensive care at UMC, 26 were COVID-19 patients, or about 22 percent. The hospital has a total of 140 adult ICU beds, including surge beds added in response to the recent increase in patient volume, he said.
Ten of 20 beds in the pediatric intensive care unit at UMC Children’s Hospital were occupied, two by children with COVID-19.
While it remains unclear how the omicron surge will translate to hospitalizations and deaths, Tuesday’s updates provided no signs that the rapid growth in new cases is slowing.
The health district reported 4,870 new coronavirus cases during the preceding day, well above the two-week moving average of 3,618. The average was up from 3,316 in Friday’s update.
The health district reported no deaths for the third day in a row on Tuesday, as the two-week moving average of daily fatalities dropped from five to four over the same period. The absence of any reported deaths in the county over the past three days was not unusual, particularly given the holiday, as the health district has reported no fatalities on the weekends since mid-November because of reporting lags.
Updated state figures covering four days helped fill in some blank spots in the county picture, as the local district updated its COVID-19 metrics on Monday while the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services did not as it observed the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
The county’s 14-day test positivity rate, which tracks the percentage of people tested who are found to have COVID-19, increased by 1.8 percentage points to 37.4 percent, according to state data posted Tuesday.
Tuesday’s updates pushed totals for Clark County to 436,712 cases of the disease caused by the new coronavirus and 6,646 deaths.
Updated masking guidance
Meanwhile, the state updated guidance on its face mask mandate for crowded indoor public areas.
While the state tracks most of its COVID-19 metrics using a 14-day moving average, its mask mandate is based on the CDC’s seven-day average.
As of Tuesday morning, the CDC showed an average of 1,424.09 new cases per 100,000 residents in the county over the previous seven days, nearly 400 more than the 1,030.21 reported at this time last week. Both figures are in the “high” risk of transmission category under the CDC system.
The second key COVID-19 metric used to determine when a county can exit the mask mandate is the test positivity rate.
Using the CDC’s seven-day average, the rate stood at 43.39 percent on Tuesday, also in the “high” risk category for that metric. That was up only slightly from the 42.68 percent reported at this time last week.
For a county to exit the state mask mandate for crowded indoor public spaces, it must record back-to-back weeks with a seven-day average case rate under 50 per 100,000 residents and a seven-day test positivity rate below 8 percent — metrics considered as posing a “moderate” or “low” risk of transmission by the CDC.
CDC data showed that the entire state is currently in the “high” transmission tier. That means the entire state will once again be under a mask mandate starting Friday.
The health district also released a new report dated on Thursday regarding so-called breakthrough cases in the county.
The new report showed 11,896 new breakthrough cases — those in which a fully vaccinated individual is infected nonetheless — from the preceding week, bringing totals to 39,101 cases, 896 hospitalizations and 270 deaths.
Despite the growing percentage of breakthrough cases, the report showed that Nevadans are more than 10 times more likely to get COVID-19 if they’re unvaccinated. The case rate for vaccinated individuals stood at 3,243 per 100,000 residents, vs. 33,774 per 100,000 for unvaccinated individuals.
The state Department of Health and Human Services did not report new numbers over the holiday weekend, inflating some figures posted Tuesday.
21,418 cases over four days, bringing the total to 570,616.
27 deaths over four days, bringing the total to 8,654.
Two week moving average of daily new cases: 4,442.
Two week moving average of daily deaths: five.
4-day test positivity rate: 34.6, up 1.8 percentage points from Friday.
Number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the state: 1,872, 161 more than Friday.
Percentage of Nevadans five and older who are fully vaccinated: 55.30, vs. 54.65 in Clark County.
An earlier version of this article had an incorrect date and number for the previous high in hospitalizations in the county.
Clark County’s daily numbers
New cases: 4,870
Test positivity rate: 37.4%
New cases per day,
2-week average: 3,618
New deaths per day,
2-week average: 4
Source: Southern Nevada Health District; state Department of Health and Human Services