Updated December 2, 2021 - 6:06 pm
Southern Nevada and other areas of the state labeled at “high” risk of COVID-19 transmission will remain under a state mask mandate through the rest of the year and into early 2022, a state official said Thursday.
“We will continue to have indoor masking, regardless of vaccination status, through the holiday season and into the start of the new year,” DuAne Young, policy adviser to Gov. Steve Sisolak, said at a news briefing. “Right now we’ve made a decision that with this new variant (omicron), with the winter surge, with what we know can happen, we just wanted to put it out there that we will continue masking through the holidays.”
The mask guidelines have long been tied to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To lift the mask mandate, a county must record two consecutive weeks with a seven-day test positivity rate average of under 8 percent and a case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 people. Clark County has mostly stayed in the “high” transmission tier but dropped briefly into the CDC’s “substantial” risk tier this week before returning to “high” risk on Thursday.
Young added that state officials would continue evaluating the mask mandate and other mitigation measures in the state, though he didn’t say whether Sisolak would consider decoupling the mandate from CDC metrics.
Clark County metrics move higher
Meanwhile, Clark County on Thursday reported 693 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths during the previous day as most metrics for the disease inched higher.
Updated figures posted by the Southern Nevada Health District pushed totals for the county to 345,169 cases and 6,213 deaths.
New cases were more than double the two-week moving average of 293 per day, which increased from 279 on Wednesday, according to state data. The two-week moving average of daily fatalities in the county held steady at four per day, well below the deaths reported Thursday.
The number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the county increased by two, to 564, the state data showed.
The county’s 14-day test positivity rate, which tracks the percentage of people tested for COVID-19 who are found to be infected, increased 0.1 percentage point to 6.8 percent.
All four key COVID-19 metrics in the county had been falling steadily since mid- to late August before starting to climb at the start of November.
Levels of the disease in the county remain well below those seen during the summer surge, but the recent increases raised concerns that another spike of the disease caused by the new coronavirus may be starting.
Adding to those concerns is the emergence of the omicron variant, which has not yet been detected in Nevada but is expected to come to the Silver State.
‘Concerned about a surge’
“We should be concerned about a surge about SARS-COV2 in the wintertime … but that was true before omicron,” Dr. Mark Pandori, director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, said at Thursday’s news briefing.
Respiratory viruses also often surge in the winter, he added. Officials are still monitoring the flu and are encouraging Nevadans to get their flu shots as soon as possible.
Dr. Ellie Graeden of Talus Analytics, who is serving as a medical consultant to the state, also acknowledged that COVID metrics are likely to rise as the holiday season kicks into gear and temperatures continue to cool.
“There is still expected to be some increase but not a significant surge,” she said. “Again, though, that’s very dependent on what we do. We need to be continuing our masking. … We need to have vaccinated individuals if we’re going to be getting together with other people. We need to do everything that we can to protect ourselves.”
Data guide: COVID-19’s impact on Nevada
The state, meanwhile, reported 880 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths during the preceding day. Updated figures posted by the state Department of Health and Human Services raised Nevada’s totals to 459,249 cases and 8,032 deaths.
Nevada’s 14-day moving average of new cases increased to 408 per day from 393 on Wednesday. The two-week average for fatalities held at six per day after rising from four at the beginning of the week.
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.
Of the state’s other closely watched metrics, the state’s two-week test positivity rate increased 0.1 percentage point to 7.3 percent, while the number of people in Nevada hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases dropped to 697, three fewer than on Wednesday.
Hospitals face staffing challenges
The Nevada Hospital Association said in its weekly update that hospitalizations have remained mostly flat throughout the state over the past week but that staffing is still at an “alert” level.
“This level of hospital demand is not currently stressing the health care system particularly with the absence of significant flu cases,” the trade group said. “Staffing remains at the alert level with 30 percent of all short-term acute care hospitals reporting staffing shortages. The shortage appears to be more pronounced in the southern region.”
County numbers are included in the statewide totals.
As of Thursday’s report, state data show that 52.56 percent of Nevadans five and older had been fully vaccinated, compared with 51.82 percent in Clark County.
— 5+ population: 3 million.
— Doses administered: 3.64 million.
— Vaccinations initiated: 1.86 million.
— Vaccinations completed: 1.58 million.
— Eligible fully vaccinated: 52.56 percent.
Sources: Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Census Bureau