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A lab technician at a station at the Nevada State Public Health Lab in Reno, where part of the coronavirus testing process is done on May 9, 2020. (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

Welcome to the 15th installment of “Coronavirus Contextualized,” a recurring feature in which we explore some of the numbers swirling around in the time of coronavirus.

Through these stories, we hope to parse the numbers, including confirmed cases of COVID-19, people tested, number of hospitalizations and deaths, and provide some context to them. You can view the prior editions of “Coronavirus Contextualized” here on our coronavirus page.

Our “Coronavirus Contextualized” stories serve as a written roundup of the COVID-19 trends we kept our eyes on this week, with all graphs and charts living permanently on our COVID-19 data page, where they are updated multiple times a day with the latest numbers. 

We’re continuing to take suggestions for what kind of data, graphs and trends you would like to see analyzed in future versions of this story or included in a future update of our data page. Reach out to [email protected] with any feedback.

Below, we take a look at some of the latest COVID-19 trends in Nevada as cases continue to rise.

‘Red zone’ and ‘yellow zone’ counties

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced last week that seven counties in Nevada were deemed at risk of elevated disease transmission: Clark, Elko, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Nye and Washoe. 

Counties were deemed to be at risk if they met two of three metrics: 

  • fewer than 150 average tests per day per 100,000 residents; 
  • more than 100 cases per 100,000 reported over a two-week period; and 
  • more than 25 cases per 100,000 reported over a two-week period and a test positivity rate of greater than 7 percent.

Humboldt and Nye counties met criteria one; Clark, Elko, Lander, Nye and Washoe counties met criteria two; and Clark, Elko, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Nye and Washoe counties met criteria three. Counties deemed at risk of elevated disease transmission were required last week to shutter bars.

Now, the White House has released its own list deeming which counties it believes to be at risk nationwide. Clark County was considered in the “red zone” while Washoe, Elko, Nye, Carson, Lyon and Churchill counties were in the “yellow zone.”

The White House report recommended that, among other things, red counties limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, close gyms, and create outdoor dining opportunities, while yellow counties were encouraged to limit social gatherings to 25 or fewer, limit gyms to 25 percent occupancy and also promote outdoor dining.

Gatherings in Nevada are limited to 50 people statewide, gyms remain open and dining parties are limited to six people, though restaurants are still able to seat patrons inside.

On Thursday, state officials asked Nevada counties deemed red or yellow by the White House’s report to provide additional actions they have taken or plan to take to implement the federal recommendations.

As of Thursday, Clark County continued to have the most cases per 100,000 residents, 1,188, followed by Lander County at 850 and Washoe County at 826. Statewide, there are 1,055 cases per 100,000 residents.

Hospitalizations

The number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations in Nevada continues to rise, though Wednesday technically saw a small decrease from Tuesday’s total. As of Wednesday, there were 1,033 COVID-19 hospitalizations across Nevada, down 18 from Tuesday, but up 98 from a week ago.

There were also 280 COVID-19 patients in the ICU and 141 on ventilators across Nevada as of Wednesday.

Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director, said during a press call Thursday that COVID-19 patients in the ICU are typically receiving intensive treatment related to COVID-19, while the other COVID-19 hospitalizations could include people who are being treated for another ailment but happen to be COVID positive.

“There may be other people who are COVID positive in the hospital but not receiving intensive treatment for COVID-19 or who are as you suggested being treated for other sicknesses or illnesses,” Cage said.

Additionally, Southern Nevada hospital officials said this week they have taken few to no COVID positive patients from Arizona as speculation mounted that rising cases in the Grand Canyon State were contributing to the rise in hospitalizations in Nevada. For instance, Sunrise Hospital said that COVID-19 patients from Arizona have represented fewer than 2 percent of the total COVID-19 patients the hospital has treated since the beginning of the pandemic.

Cage, during the Thursday press call, said that 10 patients currently in Nevada ICUs are from out of state, though he said anecdotal information suggests that they are coming from hospitals’ catchment areas — meaning that they are residents who would normally be served by those hospitals, likely because they live just over the border in Northern Arizona or Southern California.

The data continue to show that Southern Nevada hospitals are being hit harder than their northern and rural counterparts. As of Wednesday, 89 percent of ICU beds in Southern Nevada were occupied, compared to 69 percent in the north and 38 percent in the rural counties.

As the number of coronavirus cases rises, Southern Nevada hospitals have continued to add additional staffed beds to handle the capacity. At this point last week, there were 4,754 staffed beds in Southern Nevada. On Wednesday, there were 5,058, an increase of 304. By comparison, 3,999 beds were occupied as of Wednesday, compared to 3,868 occupied beds last week, an increase of 131. As a result of those fluctuations, 81 percent of staffed beds were occupied last week, compared to only 79 percent this week.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, during a press conference last week, pointed to the rising number of hospitalizations in his decision to close bars in several counties and impose restrictions on dining.

Hospitalizations are considered one of the most reliable statistics for looking at COVID-19 trends because they aren’t affected by fluctuations in testing.

Testing

The state’s test positivity rate — the number of new positives that are being identified compared to the number of new people tested each day — also appears to be on the rise again. Because that number can fluctuate day over day if more people happen to test positive and fewer people were tested, it’s better to look at the seven-day average for these numbers.

After hitting a high point of 18 percent on July 2, the seven-day average daily test positivity rate decreased over the course of about a week to 11.6 percent on July 9. Since then, the rate has fairly steadily increased to 17.7 percent on Thursday. The numbers represent a significant increase over the 2 to 5 percent seven-day average daily test positivity rates the state was seeing from mid-May to mid-June.

At the same time, the cumulative test positivity rate has also continued to increase. In contrast to the daily test positivity rate, the cumulative rate looks at the total number of positives identified as percentage of the total people tested. As of Thursday, that number was 8.6 percent, up from a low point of 5.2 percent in mid-June. The cumulative test positivity rate peaked at 12.2 percent on April 25.

The recent test positivity rates reveal that the increasing numbers of new cases are not just the result of increased testing and that the state is actually identifying a higher percentage of positive cases as it tests more people.

Case increases and demographics

A total of 32,033 people statewide have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, up from 25,070 last week, or an increase of a little less than 7,000. The data continue to show that young people are driving the spread of the virus.

In the last two weeks, the number of cases among those:

  • Under age 10 increased by 75.5 percent to 888
  • 10-19 increased by 78.4 percent to 2,126
  • 20-29 increased by 83 percent to 6,406
  • 30-39 increased by 78.1 percent to 5,830
  • 40-49 increased by 74.5 percent to 5,055
  • 50-59 increased by 66.5 percent to 4,428
  • 60-69 increased by 54.9 percent to 2,689
  • 70 and up increased by 40.4 percent to 2,173

However, young people have seen smaller percentages of increases this week compared to two weeks ago than they did last week compared to two weeks before that. By contrast, people 50 and up actually saw greater percentage increases this week than they did last week.

Cases among those 70 and up increased by 33.6 percent last week compared to the two weeks before that, compared to a 40.4 percent increase this week, compared to the two weeks prior. By the same measure, the numbers for those 60 to 69 were 50.1 percent last week and 54.9 percent this week, while the numbers for those 50 to 59 were 62.6 percent last week and 66.5 percent this week.

Experts have worried that though young people are unlikely to experience the most severe complications associated with the virus, they have the potential to spread the virus to their older family members.

Deaths continue gradual climb

The number of COVID-19 related deaths has been gradually increasing in Nevada, though Thursday was the first day to show a dip in the seven-day average of new reported deaths.

On Tuesday, the average COVID-19 deaths per day rose to 9.1, nearing the high point of 9.7 deaths per day on April 12. By Thursday, that number had decreased to 7.6.

Public health experts often note that deaths typically lag case spikes, since it takes some time for people to fall ill enough to pass away from the illness.

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