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Contact tracing finds 1,500 cases, indoor venues biggest risk

Updated June 30, 2020 - 5:13 pm

CARSON CITY — Contact tracing in Nevada has identified 1,500 COVID-19 cases this month that might have gone undetected longer and confirms that top risk factors for infection are people visiting indoor venues and not heeding guidelines on social distancing and face coverings, state health officials said Tuesday.

“This is exactly how contact tracing is supposed to work, and it helps us identify possible cases earlier in the process to slow the spread and connect individuals to the care and resources that they need,” Julia Peek, deputy administrator for Community Health Services in the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, told reporters Tuesday on the state’s now-daily COVID-19 response briefing.

Nevada continues to see increases in the daily number of new positive tests, rates of infection among those tested, and hospitalizations. More than half of Nevada’s cumulative total cases — 53 percent of the 18,456 reported from March 5 through Monday, came in June alone. Confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Monday were 62 percent higher than they were on June 1 — 593 compared with 365. Ventilator use was up by two-thirds — 65 from 39, and ICU use up 52 percent — 134 from 88.

Nevada’s cumulative positive test rate was at 5.8 percent at the start of June and dipped to 5.2 percent by mid-month but now stands at 6.7 percent. The seven-day rolling average rate, as low as 5 percent this month, stands at 16 percent for the past seven days.

The state was to release more data, possibly by Wednesday. Peek and Caleb Cage, the state’s COVID-19 response director, reviewed some additional data Tuesday and promised more in the forthcoming report.

COVID-19 infection in June has shifted to a younger demographic, with more than half of all Nevada cases reported among people ages 20-49; 42 percent are Hispanic.

Peek said the state is implementing a “targeted strategy of outreach and enforcement to support counties most impacted by COVID-19.”

The outreach will include a new state hotline, managed by the Department of Business and Industry, to take complaints on businesses that are not complying with directives on reopening, distancing, or wearing facial coverings, as well as increased “unannounced business surveillance” and promoting compliance through business groups.

Also, the COVID-19 prevention “ambassador program” will work with communities hit hardest by infection, such as the Hispanic population.

Peek and Cage said officials were closely watching data on hospitalizations as a potential precursor to a possible surge in deaths from the disease. Serious illness or mortality tends to lag initial diagnosis by three to four weeks.

Even though June cases “are primarily a younger group of people who may have lesser symptoms and may recover with no issues, the issue with them having cases is a potential threat to our vulnerable population,” Peek said.

She added that analysis of the outbreak in Nevada shows a predominance of the European strain of the coronavirus as opposed to the strain that originated in Wuhan, China. Research shows the European strain to be potentially less severe but more infectious, she said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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