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Experts: Too soon to say if Clark County’s COVID-19 surge is peaking

Updated January 19, 2022 - 6:10 pm

Updated COVID-19 data for Clark County on Wednesday provided a glimmer of hope that the local omicron-fueled wave of cases may be at or near its peak, though public health officials cautioned that it’s too soon to tell if a corner has been turned.

“I would like to see those numbers, especially the test positivity rate, go down consistently for a week,” Cassius Lockett, director of disease surveillance and control for the Southern Nevada Health District, said at a midday news briefing. “I would start to feel a lot better.”

The daily data update for the county continued to register high levels in three of four key metrics: new cases, test positivity rate and hospitalizations.

Good signs emerge

But beneath the top-line numbers lay a bit of good news for the county:

■ The 2,956 new coronavirus cases recorded during the preceding day were well below the two-week moving average of 3,426 per day. The average itself registered a substantial drop of nearly 200 cases per day from Tuesday’s update.

■ Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed back-to-back improvements in the seven-day COVID-19 test positivity rate, the first time that measure has moved lower on consecutive days since early December. As of late Wednesday, the rate stood at 39.98 percent, down from 43.39 percent on Monday.

■ Levels of COVID-19 in Las Vegas Valley wastewater are decreasing or leveling off at all of the seven sampling sites used by UNLV and Southern Nevada Water Authority scientists to gauge the presence of the coronavirus, an early signal that case levels are declining as well.

“I’d say it’s a good sign,” said Daniel Gerrity, a microbiologist with the water agency, though he cautioned that “we’re still at levels we hadn’t been at prior to omicron.”

Lockett, the health district official, said that as with other data, he would like to see more evidence from wastewater testing before declaring that a peak has occurred, but he noted that it can provide an early and accurate picture of current conditions in a specific county or area and give solid indications of where the surge is heading.

If we’ve peaked, what happens next?

There have been other one- or two-day dips in various COVID-19 metrics during the current surge, and it’s possible that all three indicators will quickly resume their ascent. But if a peak has been reached, public health experts are hopeful that the surge will quickly recede, as it has in other parts of the world that were hit by the variant early.

“It’s hard to compare … but it does seem that most places, they reach a pretty steep peak very quickly,” Nancy Diao, director of epidemiology for the Washoe County Health District, said at a news briefing.

“It lasts about a week to two weeks, and then it’s a pretty quick drop. So we do expect, at some point, we might be hitting some sort of pattern, but in terms of exactly when, I can’t say.”

Even if case levels begin to decline, the county and state will have a lot of ground lost to the unprecedented surge fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Hospitalizations of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in the county declined slightly on Wednesday, a day after setting a high mark for the pandemic. But with 1,627 COVID-19 patients still hospitalized in the county — down 14 from Tuesday’s update — occupancy rates remain higher than they were during last winter’s surge of the disease.

Data guide: COVID-19’s impact on Nevada

The Nevada Hospital Association also extended a staffing crisis declaration for most hospitals across most of the state and said it had formally requested assistance from Gov. Steve Sisolak to help solve the staffing problems.

Of the county’s other key metrics, the 14-day test positivity rate, which tracks the percentage of people tested who are found to be infected, increased by 0.6 percentage point to 38 percent in Wednesday’s update

The health district also recorded 29 deaths, a total probably inflated by reporting lags surrounding the holiday weekend. The two-week moving average of daily fatalities increased from four to five.

Totals for the county as of Wednesday stood at 439,668 COVID-19 cases and 6,675 deaths.

State and county health agencies often redistribute daily data after it is reported to better reflect the date of death or onset of symptoms, which is why the moving-average trend lines frequently differ from daily reports and are considered better indicators of the direction of the outbreak.

State numbers

■ 5,105 cases over the preceding day, bringing the total to 575,721.

■ 34 deaths, the first reported in four days, bringing the total to 8,688.

■ Two week moving average of daily new cases: 4,248.

■ Two week moving average of daily deaths: seven.

■ 14-day test positivity rate: 35.2, up 0.6 percentage point from Tuesday.

■ Number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the state: 1,872, 161 more than Friday.

■ Percentage of Nevadans 5 and older who are fully vaccinated: 55.36, vs. 54.72 in Clark County.

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan @reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mary Hynes contributed to this report.

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