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Fear of post-holiday COVID surge fading in Nevada

Updated January 21, 2021 - 6:27 pm

Fear of a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases is fading, with Nevada officials saying Thursday there are signs that the disease has begun to trend downward in the state.

A couple of weeks ago, state biostatistician Kyra Morgan had estimated that new cases and hospitalizations might continue to rise until mid-February in the aftermath of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, holidays that promote mingling and bring crowds to Las Vegas.

But she revised that estimate, saying, “It really is possible that we’re kind of at the worst point right now and maybe we’ll see some relief in the future.”

Officials are seeing “what appear to be the early stages of decline kind of across the board in a lot of our key measures,” she said.

“We have some stability — potentially even a little bit of decline — but we’re still at a really, really high rate (of disease) and so definitely not out of the woods,” Morgan said during an online meeting of the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force.

She noted that her cautiously optimistic assessment was based on the continuance of measures aimed at curbing the spread of disease.

Morgan and other state officials observed that hospitalizations, which have declined in Northern Nevada, have plateaued in Southern Nevada and appear to be dipping.

“The current trend does appear to be that our cases — all factors that we measure — are declining right now,” said Caleb Cage, who directs the state’s COVID-19 response.

Ellie Graeden, an analytics consultant to the state, said that COVID-19 vaccinations that are underway could improve the trend, noting that data shows that even just the first dose of the two-shot vaccine provides significant protection against the virus. Vaccinations began in the state on Dec. 14.

By prioritizing for the vaccine older residents who are at greater risk for complications from the disease, states may see improvements in hospitalization rates and reduce the strain on health care systems, she said.

Improving metrics

Data Thursday showed that 1,640 people in Nevada were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, 87 fewer than the previous day. Although hospitalizations remain at high levels, they have been trending slightly lower since December.

Statewide 71 percent of licensed adult intensive care beds were occupied, 35 percent of them by COVID-19 patients, according to data from the Nevada Hospital Association.

Clark County’s hospitals continue to see higher utilization than those in other parts of the state, with intensive care beds in the region at 77 percent of capacity, according to the hospital association. About 41 percent of ICU beds in Southern Nevada were occupied by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

ICU occupancy in Clark County decreased for the third straight day and is down slightly from peak numbers seen in late 2020. But the rate has not dipped below 75 percent of capacity since early December, according to a Review-Journal analysis.

Nevada on Thursday reported 1,200 new coronavirus cases and 47 additional deaths over the preceding day.

Updated figures posted to the Department of Health and Human Services’ coronavirus website brought totals in the state to 266,343 cases and 3,910 deaths.

The 14-day moving average of daily new cases decreased for the sixth day in a row in the latest data, falling to 1,433. The moving two-week average of daily deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was unchanged at 20.

The two-week positivity rate, which essentially tracks the percentage of people tested who are diagnosed with the disease, fell to 20.3 percent, a 0.2 percentage point decrease from the day prior. It was also the sixth straight day the rate has fallen.

Yet on Wednesday, the state set a new one-day record for deaths, with 71.

Both new cases and the positivity rate are forward-looking indicators, while trend lines in hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag a few weeks behind other metrics and don’t reflect the current state of the pandemic, state officials have said.

Clark County, meanwhile, reported 1,077 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, along with 40 additional deaths, according to data posted to the Southern Nevada Health District’s coronavirus website.

Cumulative totals for the county rose to 204,369 cases and 2,974 deaths.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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