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Coronavirus spreading like wildfire, Nevada health officials say

Updated November 12, 2020 - 4:50 pm

Nevada on Thursday reported 1,469 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths as the statewide coronavirus infection surge continued to spread, in the words of state and local health officials, like an out of control wildfire.

Updated figures from the state Department of Health and Services raised state totals since the onset of the disease to 114,880 cases and 1,880 deaths, with rates of transmission now erasing the progress made to contain the virus in late summer and rivaling the worst days of the pandemic.

“We are back where we were and we do not have control over COVID,” state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said Thursday at the weekly meeting of the state’s COVID mitigation task force.

With the exception of Monday, Nevada has reported more than 1,000 cases every day for the past nine days, according to state data. Prior to Oct. 24, there was a nearly two-month span during which the state did not report more than 1,000 new cases.

Daily case reports have been climbing since mid-September, when the state’s positivity rate also began increasing. The rate, which is calculated by the Review-Journal as the number of total cases divided by the people who have been tested, reached 13.28 percent on Thursday, an increase of 0.08 percentage points.

Death totals lag

The number of deaths in the state did not increase at the same time, but death totals tend to lag a month or more behind new cases. However, the first week of November saw a dramatic increase from the previous week with 73 total deaths — the most since 79 deaths were reported the week of Sept. 13 to Sept. 19.

Both county and state health districts redistribute data on new cases and total fatalities after their daily reports in an attempt to show when someone died or started showing symptoms, as some cases come from delayed reporting.

The state health department calculates a positivity rate over a two-week period, and it reached 14.3 percent on Thursday, a 0.5 percentage point increase. The department began reporting the rate in mid-October, when it stood at less than 10 percent.

The rate is calculated using total “testing encounters,” which usually produces lower percentages than the Review-Journal’s cumulative rate because the figure includes people who received multiple tests at different points during the pandemic.

Clark County on Thursday reported 974 additional cases, and three new fatalities.

The updated figures posted to the Southern Nevada Health District’s website rose totals in the county to 91,859 cases and 1,593 deaths.

Elko County criticized

At its meeting Thursday, the state task force reviewed COVID mitigation plans submitted by eight counties, with several coming under scrutiny for insufficient enforcement effort. Elko County in particular came under criticism.

Nevada National Guard Lt. Col. Brett Compston, a task force member, said his recent tour of businesses in the area left him “quite scared. Probably the most scared I’ve been in the last eight months we’ve been doing this.”

Task force Chair Caleb Cage, acknowledging efforts by Elko County officials to comply with state mandates on reporting and compliance, nonetheless called out inconsistent effort at the local level, saying the lack of “clear coherent messaging from elected officials at the local government level is not acceptable and it’s only going to have a long term negative effect on Elko County.”

Though total case numbers are higher in Clark County, the state’s most populous, Cage said data presented Thursday showed that the “center of the current surge we’re seeing in the state of Nevada is in Washoe County.” Washoe on Thursday topped 4,400 active cases for first time with 433 new cases reported, both new records from just the day before.

County Health Officer Kevin Dick said Washoe is seeing 3.5 times as many cases now compared to the beginning of October. Normalized for population, the number is 140 percent of the peak Clark County experienced in July and it has overwhelmed the county’s contact tracing effort.

“We basically have a COVID-19 wildfire that’s occurring,” Dick said. “And the idea of contact tracing, where we’re going after individual trees that are on fire, is not an effective strategy in that situation.”

As of Thursday, 12 of the state’s 17 counties, including Clark and Washoe, were in the elevated risk category for infection spread, according to the Nevada Health Response website.

Nationwide, the virus is blamed for more than 240,000 deaths and over 10.4 million confirmed infections. Deaths per day in the U.S. have soared more than 40 percent over the past two weeks, from an average of about 790 to more than 1,100 as of Wednesday, the highest level in three months.

Newly confirmed cases per day in the U.S. have rocketed more than 70 percent over the past two weeks, reaching an average of about 127,000 — the highest on record. And the number of people currently hospitalized with the virus hit an all-time high of more than 65,000.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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