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Sisolak: Mask mandate stays, other mitigation measures off table

Updated January 13, 2022 - 5:48 pm

As the omicron-driven surge of COVID-19 continues throughout Clark County and Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday that the mask mandate will stay in place but no additional mitigation measures are under consideration.

“I’m in the middle of a surge,” he said. “It’s certainly not a time that we’re going to reduce any of the protocols that we have in place. I am hopeful that as we move along here in the next few weeks this will peak, and then plateau, and then start on its way back down. But I do not want our economy to take any steps backwards. I want our kids back in school getting educated.”

Omicron now accounts for 92 percent of cases in Clark County, according to data from the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory.

The variant, which is highly transmissible and has caused a major surge of the disease across the world, also accounts for 89 percent of cases in Nevada, according to the data. The rapid rise in new cases has started to overwhelm hospitals, cause flight cancellations and led the Clark County School District to announce a 5-day pause because of “extreme staffing shortages.”

And it’s still unclear where the county is in the surge. The county’s two-week test positivity rate increased by 1.4 percentage points to 34.8 percent, according to state data. That’s the highest number the county has ever seen, and indicates that more than one out of every three people tested is positive for the coronavirus.

Cassius Lockett, director of disease surveillance and control for the Southern Nevada Health District, said he believes the test positivity rate may actually be higher than the reported number. That’s because many asymptomatic people are still getting tested because of workplace requirements, sick people are not getting tested when they already believe they have COVID and the long wait times are turning people away when they need tests.

“What this means is that the level of disease burden is underestimated,” he said. “So when you’re seeing it become visible, is with large percentages of people out of schools, you’re seeing large percentages out in health care. It’s visible because you’re seeing a lot of people out sick due to COVID in essential services, airline employees are out as well. So we’re seeing this across the board.”

The testing issue led Sisolak to announce Thursday that the state will acquire more than 500,000 at-home tests. Those tests will be distributed across the state through community partners, and are expected to start arriving later this week.

Clark County’s situation

Clark County, meanwhile, reported 5,612 new coronavirus cases and 20 deaths on Thursday, bringing cumulative totals posted by the Southern Nevada Health District to 414,779 cases and 6,608 deaths.

There was a hint of good news in the two-week moving average of daily new cases, which decreased from 3,182 on Wednesday to 3,081 on Thursday. That number had been rising rapidly for weeks.

Related: Sisolak says state has ordered 500K at-home COVID tests

Fatalities were well above the moving average, which held steady at four per day.

The number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the county dropped by four, to 1,459.

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.

Though those averages are in many cases reaching record levels, Sisolak reiterated that he will not consider capacity restrictions or shutdowns.

“I want to do everything I can to keep our folks working as much as possible,” Sisolak said. “So we’re not anticipating any changes.”

The mask mandate is tied to metrics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which uses a seven-day average instead of the state’s preferred 14-day metric.

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.

Clark County is now further away from that marker than it has been at any point since the mandate went back into effect in late July.

As of Thursday afternoon, the CDC showed an average of 1,210 new cases per 100,000 residents in Clark County over the previous seven days, meaning more than one out of every 1oo people in the county has been infected with COVID in the last seven days.

The second key COVID-19 metric used to determine when a county can exit the mask mandate is the seven-day test positivity rate, which stood at 43.08 percent on Thursday.

Related: Need a COVID test? Locations, hours added to meet demand

Statewide numbers

Here are the key numbers for Nevada reported Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services:

—6,845 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 543,102.

—22 new deaths, bringing the total to 8,606.

—14-day daily new case average of 3,661, dropping from 3,730 on Wednesday.

—14-day daily death average of six, increasing from five on Wednesday.

—Test positivity rate of 31.8 percent, 1.3 percentage points higher than on Wednesday.

—1,623 people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, three less than on Wednesday.

—55.12 percent of Nevadans five and older fully vaccinated (54.46 percent in Clark County)

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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