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A front-line health care worker gets a COVID-19 vaccine at University Medical Center on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Welcome to the 38th 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 the latest COVID-19 trends as the number of new reported cases each day continues to decrease across the state and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine continues.

Cases and test positivity

There was good news for Nevadans this week: The number of new COVID-19 cases reported each day on average statewide is finally below 1,000 for the first time since early November.

As of Thursday, an average of 950 cases were reported each day over the last seven days, down significantly from the peak of this recent surge, 2,736, on Dec. 10. The seven-day average continues to decrease day over day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, there have been 281,791 COVID-19 cases reported statewide. A little less than a fifth of those cases, 48,424, have been diagnosed in the last month, and 2 percent, or 6,648 cases, have been reported in the last week.

One in 11 Nevadans has tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Nevada ranks 16th in the nation for COVID-19 cases per capita, the same as last week.

At the same time, Nevada’s test positivity rate — which looks at the percentage of tests or people coming back positive out of the total tested — remains high. As usual, we’ll look at two different methods of calculating test positivity below, using both individual people and a metric known as testing encounters.

Starting with the number of new reported people who tested positive for COVID-19 out of the total number of new reported people tested each day, the state’s seven-day average test positivity rate was about 28.6 percent as of Thursday, down from a recent high of 45.9 percent on Dec. 13 but still significantly higher than the recent low point before the surge this fall, 9.2 percent on Sept. 17. 

One of the drawbacks, however, of looking at test positivity using individual people is that some people are tested repeatedly. Someone who tested negative four times but tested positive on their fifth time would be counted as a new positive person but not a new person tested. (In other words, they would be counted in the numerator but not the denominator.) That’s why the test positivity rates calculated this way look so high.

Another way of looking at test positivity, as we have noted each week, is to examine test encounters, or the number of individual people tested each day. This method of looking at test positivity excludes duplicate samples collected the same day but accounts for people who are tested repeatedly on different days.

It is not possible to independently calculate the test positivity rate based on test encounters because the state only reports the number of positive cases, not the number of positive test encounters. However, the state does provide this number, calculated as an average over a 14-day period with a seven-day lag. As of Wednesday, that number was 16.5 percent, down from a high of 21.7 percent on Jan. 13. In September, before cases started to increase, the test positivity rate was 6.1 percent.

Whichever calculation you use to look at test positivity, the trends are generally the same. Test positivity had been increasing fairly steadily from September through mid-January and is now decreasing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, about 1.3 million people — about one in 2.3 Nevadans have been tested for COVID-19, and there have been more than 2.5 million individual testing encounters.

Vaccinations

Since vaccinations started in December, 291,601 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nevada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 244,381 first doses and 45,735 second doses.

That means that 6.5 percent of Nevadans have been partially vaccinated with another 1.5 percent fully vaccinated. In total, Nevada has been distributed 424,800 doses of the vaccine by the federal government.

According to the CDC, Nevada is still receiving the second fewest number of doses per capita from the federal government of any state at 13,792 per 100,000 residents. State officials continue to seek clarity from the federal government about why the state is receiving fewer doses on a per population basis than other states.

Despite receiving significantly fewer doses per capita than other states, Nevada has administered the 39th most doses per capita of any state, up from 46th last week. Nevada now ranks 11th in the nation for doses administered as a percentage of doses received, at 68.7 percent, up from 20th last week.

For more on these numbers, check out this explainer published by The Nevada Independent last week.

Among the counties, Carson City has administered the most doses per capita, at 31,667 vaccines administered per 100,000 residents, followed by Mineral at 23,707 and White Pine at 21,200. Clark County ranks 10th at 8,496, while Washoe ranks sixth at 12,486.

For more on the vaccination process in the state, read our vaccine Q&A here.

Deaths

Nevada is still seeing a high number of new deaths reported each day, though they are slightly down from a peak last month.

As of Thursday, 34 deaths were being reported on average each day over the last seven days, down from a high of 45 on Jan. 14. Over the last seven days, 241 new COVID-19 deaths have been reported across the state, including:

  • 191 in Clark County
  • 19 in Nye County
  • 15 in Washoe County
  • 4 each in Carson City and Elko County
  • 3 in Lyon County
  • in Pershing County
  • 1 each in Churchill, Douglas and Mineral counties

In the last month, 1,221 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported statewide, 28 percent of the 4,430 total COVID-19 deaths reported statewide since the beginning of the pandemic.

Pershing County has the number of deaths per capita in Nevada, with 27 deaths per 10,000 residents, followed by Churchill County at 20, Carson City at 19 and Nye County at 18.

Nevada ranks 21st in the nation for deaths per capita, down from 20th last week.

Hospitalizations

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Nevada continue to decrease, though they still remain at a high level.

There were 1,121 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, the last day for which data is available, down from a record 2,025 hospitalizations reported on Dec. 13. The record over the summer was 1,165.

Nevada now has the fifth highest number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 per capita at 37.2 per 100,000, behind Arizona, New York, Georgia and Texas.

Nevada hospitals are currently staffing 7,117 beds, more than the 6,660 they are normally licensed to operate, to keep up with the demand. As of Wednesday, 75 percent of staffed hospital beds and 64 percent of ICU beds were occupied. Those numbers were 79 percent and 70 percent, respectively, in Southern Nevada and 69 percent and 51 percent in Northern Nevada.

County by county

Eleven of the state’s 17 counties are considered at elevated risk for the spread of COVID-19 according to state criteria as of Thursday. Those counties not considered at risk are Mineral, Storey, Pershing, Humboldt, Lander and White Pine counties.

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

  • The average number of tests per day per 100,000, calculated over a 14-day period. If this number is less than 100, 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 8.0 percent, a county could be considered at risk.

Despite not being flagged for elevated disease transmission because it only meets one of the above criteria, Mineral County has the highest case rate in the state at 1,557 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 30 days. Clark County comes in second at 1,450 and Churchill in third at 1,225.

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