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A members of the Nevada National Guard labels a test at the UNLV School of Medicine COVID-19 drive-thru testing site on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Welcome to the 23rd 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.

These 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 start to tick upward and hospitalizations plateau after weeks of decreases.

Cases and tests

COVID-19 cases in Nevada are once again starting to climb after several weeks of steady decreases.

Over the last seven days, an average of 364 new COVID-19 cases were reported each day, up from 311 the previous week. The low before cases again started to rise was 267 on Sept. 14. Still, the most recent seven-day average is significantly below the high point of 1,176 average new cases reported each day from July 20; it is, however, much higher than the low of 81 new cases on average reported each day on May 11, before cases spiked this summer.

Since March, there have been 77,343 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, meaning that one in 40 people has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Nevada ranks 11th nationally for coronavirus cases per capita, down from 10th last week

In total, 2,546 new cases have been reported over the last seven days, more than the 2,176 new cases reported the week before and the 2,282 cases reported the week before that. At the peak in mid-July, 1,451 new cases were reported in a single day.

State officials, during a press call on Wednesday, attributed the increases at least in part to gatherings over the Labor Day weekend two and a half weeks ago. 

“We are seeing the beginning of some trends that could be tied to the Labor Day or to other public exposures that have occurred in the last two weeks right now,” Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director, said. “I think we can see that in our numbers and new cases every day that have come out this week. It’s small, the increases, but there have been noticeable increases to date.”

Officials have not yet provided data on how many people who have tested positive for COVID-19 may have attended Labor Day weekend gatherings or had “other public exposures,” including at two recent rallies hosted by President Donald Trump in Minden and Henderson.

The daily test positivity rate — that is, the number of new people testing positive each day as a percentage of the number of new people tested — has generally increased over the last week. The seven-day average test positivity rate was 12.25 percent on Thursday, up from 9.2 percent the week before but significantly down from a high point of 26.2 percent in early August. (Those numbers are calculated based on the numbers reported back each day, not the day that people were actually tested.)

Though the state calculates its positivity rate slightly differently, it too shows a slight increase in recent days. The state’s dashboard showed a 7.4 percent average positivity rate as of Tuesday, up from 6.6 percent five days earlier. (The state calculates its positivity rate on a lag and uses the number of positive tests as a percent of total tests, instead of positive people as a percent of total people.)

The state hit a new COVID-19 testing record on Thursday, breaking a million tests conducted since the beginning of the pandemic in March. The average number of new tests being collected over the last seven days is 6,339, fluctuating but slightly up from a recent low point of 5,462 in early September but down from a high of 12,260 in late July.

A total of 674,482 people have been tested for COVID-19 since March. Fewer people have been tested than the total number of individual tests because some people are tested more than once. In other instances, multiple specimens will be collected to be tested from one person.

Deaths

The average number of new COVID-19 deaths reported each day continues to fluctuate but is still generally down from a peak last month.

As of Thursday, the average number of new deaths reported each day over the last seven days was 8, down from 20.7 on Aug. 20. The previous low point before cases started to increase this summer was 1.9 deaths per day, reported on June 28. Deaths tend to lag new cases by about five weeks.

Hospitalizations

The number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 continues to plateau after several weeks of steady declines.

As of Wednesday, the last day for which data is available, there were 468 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with hospitalizations fluctuating between 410 and 490 over the last two weeks. Those numbers are higher than the previous low of 316 on May 30 before hospitalizations surged this summer but lower than the high point of 1,165 on July 31.

The Nevada Hospital Association, in its daily report published Thursday, noted that the plateau over the last two weeks “may be indicative of another transition between waves” and urged “hospitals and the public” to “ remain vigilant during this phase of the disease progression.” 

The hospital association noted that the state previously saw a two-week plateau between June 2 and June 16 between the first wave of COVID-19 this spring and the second wave this summer. However, the association also highlighted the fact that while the second wave “appears to have increased transmission” it also had “decreased severity, based on the ICU admissions data.”

In a separate report published Wednesday, the hospital association noted that the health care infrastructure in Clark County remains in “good” condition with “relative demand of hospital wards, intensive care and ventilator use … all declining.” Infrastructure in Washoe County also remains in “good” condition, according to the hospital association.

As of Wednesday, 72 percent of licensed hospital beds and 62 percent of ICU beds statewide were occupied. Those numbers were 77 percent and 67 percent, respectively, in Clark County and 64 percent and 51 percent, respectively, in Washoe County.

Additionally, though hospitalization data reported by the Southern Nevada Health District appear to show hospitalizations peaking in early September instead of late July, as the hospital association’s data do, a health district spokeswoman attributed the discrepancy to a delay in their reporting.

“Our data comes from case investigations, provider reporting and data from the health information exchange. There is also going to be a delay in our reporting compared to the hospital census data that comes from the hospitals,” health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said in an email. “Census data is useful to the hospitals from a hospital capacity standpoint. However, we are reporting on the number of people who have been hospitalized.”

A total of 6,125 people in Clark County have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, about 9.4 percent of the 65,174 total confirmed cases in the county.

County by county

Two counties, Clark and Lyon, remain at elevated risk for the spread of COVID-19 this week, according to the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force. Elko and Mineral counties dropped off of the state’s list of at-risk counties this week.

According to the task force’s analysis, which was released on Monday, Clark County continues to have a high case rate, 313.8, greater than the 200 cases per 100,000 residents over the last 30 days limit set by the task force. Clark and Lyon counties also both continue to have high test positivity rates, 7.1 and 7.3 percent, respectively, exceeding the 7 percent limit set by the task force, while Lyon also has a low test rate, 88.1 average tests per day per 100,000, less than the 150 required.

Counties are considered at elevated risk of the spread of COVID-19 if they meet two of the three following criteria:

  • The average number of tests per day per 100,000, calculated over a 14-day period. If this number is less than 150, a county could be considered at risk.
  • The case rate per 100,000, calculated by taking the number of cases diagnosed and reported over a 30-day period. If this number is greater than 200, a county could be considered at risk.
  • The case rate per 100,000 and the test positivity rate, calculated over a 14-day period with a seven-day lag. If the case rate is greater than 50 and the test positivity rate is greater than 7.0 percent, a county could be considered at risk.

Nevada’s 15 other counties either meet only one or none of the above criteria, meaning they are not considered at-risk of elevated disease transmission. Washoe County, for instance, has a high case rate, 315.6 cases per 100,000, but has a low enough test positivity rate, 6.9 percent, that it did not make the state’s list this week.

The task force did not meet this week, citing what Cage in a statement described as “significant progress toward mitigating the spread of COVID-19.” It will meet on Thursday to again discuss the ongoing coronavirus situation in each at-risk county.

At its last meeting, the task force voted to reopen bars in Clark and Elko counties effective 11:59 p.m. Sept. 20. All bars are now open statewide.

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