Health officials in northern Nevada say current coronavirus trends mirror those that led to some of the worst of the pandemic and foresee the possibility of closing schools or limiting business capacities again if the steep trajectory of new cases doesn’t begin to flatten soon.
Test positivity, a benchmark measure of community spread of the virus, has risen in Nevada from a low of 3.4% in mid-May to 16.3% on Monday.
Driven primarily by the spread of the delta variant, Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said the positivity rate in the Reno-Sparks area has risen from 5% in mid-July to 15.4% on Tuesday.
In Clark County, including Las Vegas, the rate Monday was 17.1%.
The seven-day average of 150 new daily cases in Washoe County is more than six times what it was on July 9, and hospitalizations have quadrupled to the current 120, Dick said.
“I think what we are seeing with the delta variant is alarming,” Dick told reporters Tuesday.
“If you look at the increase in cases that we’ve seen in a little over a month as this has taken off. It looks an awful lot like how we were increasing during October going into November,” he said about the peak surge that reached an average of 481 new daily cases.
“We’re currently are at about a third of the level of our peak during that November surge, so our cases are rising rapidly. And that’s why we must act now and respect one another and the governor’s mask mandate … so we can try to keep those numbers down,” he said.
The Washoe County Health District also confirmed Tuesday the first COVID-19 death of a fully vaccinated person in the Reno-Sparks area, a man in his 80s with multiple underlying conditions.
But Dick emphasized deaths among the vaccinated continue to be extremely rare across the country, the vast majority of vaccinated people do not end up in the hospital and that getting more Nevadans vaccinated is the only way to begin to reverse the dramatic growth in the spread of the virus.
As of Aug. 4, 40 COVID-19 deaths had been reported statewide among the more than 1.5 million Nevadans who have been fully vaccinated, state health officials said.
Dick said the health district is “getting a lot of calls” about businesses failing to require masks indoors. He warned that it will be difficult to avoid a return to restrictions on business capacities or school shutdowns unless more Nevadans get vaccinated and comply with mask mandates.
“Nobody wants to be moving back to a shutdown,” he said.
“These are challenging times to be able to go unscathed through school reopening and everyone returning to classrooms with the level of transmission we have in the community. I anticipate we will have classrooms that we need to close down if cases are occurring there,” he said.
The Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce is watching the latest trends with “definite concern,” Chamber President Ann Silver said Tuesday.
“None of us want another shutdown nor do we want restrictions on capacity. But we also want to make sure employees and customers are safe,” she said. “We encourage our members to comply with the governor’s mask mandate and make sure customers are doing so.”
About 30% of the chamber’s 2,300 members have indicated they are requiring their employees to get vaccines as a condition of employment or for new hires, Silver said.
“Our food and retail workforce in Washoe County is stretched pretty thin already. So if cases keep rising and workers have to take time off to recover, this is certainly going to impact our businesses,” she said.