Washoe County health officials said Monday that they think it’s likely that they’ve passed the peak of cases, but that it’s going to take many more staff members and much more testing to handle the additional spread of the coronavirus that’s likely to come once the economy starts reopening.
Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said at a virtual press conference his agency is working with others in the public health community to assess the testing capacity it will need once nonessential businesses are allowed to operate again.
“I think we know that what we have available now is not sufficient,” he said. “I could tell you that would mean that we would have to at least double, maybe triple or more, that capacity of the testing that we’re doing.”
Dick said the National Guard had started assisting with a drive-thru testing site in Washoe County that is evaluating more than 200 people a day. He said the district continues to receive an “adequate” supply of test collection kits from the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory and has also implemented some rapid test machines at hospitals and clinics, but has a limited supply of testing cartridges.
Dick said the Los Alamos National Laboratory now estimates there is an 82 percent chance that the region has reached its peak in cases, and if not, the peak is likely to come this week or next. At this point, about 20 percent of the ventilators in Washoe County are in use.
“Being at the peak means that we have the most active cases occurring during this timeframe right now. And that’s why it’s very important that people are following all of the direction for social distancing to attempt to reduce the spread of the disease,” Dick said. “That’s what we will need for us to come down off of that peak and have lower numbers of cases in the future.”
He said he was concerned about the disease spreading further as a result of protesters gathering over the weekend in large groups, including many in Carson City demonstrating against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s business closure directives who were not wearing masks and were standing close together.
“While you may not agree with the actions that have been taken with some of the business closures, if you can at least help protect other people from getting sick, that’s what I would ask everybody to do,” Dick said.
The authority is also looking ahead to steps that will help prevent the spread of the disease as closure directives ease.
Dick said that he communicated to the governor’s office on Friday that he thinks some of the recommendations about social distancing at grocery stores and wearing masks should be made mandatory. Dick said that came after discussions with members of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce who had expressed concerns about people at essential businesses not wearing masks.
Asked about enforcement of those recommendations, Dick said health district staff have not been out in the field much doing inspections of food establishments because they’ve been so busy responding to queries in the call center, following up with people about their test results and collecting samples to test.
“We’re overwhelmed with this situation and don’t expect the health district to be the entity that’s out there enforcing all of the directives at all the businesses that are in the community,” Dick said.
Another need will be for people to reach out to those who have had contact with people confirmed to have COVID-19 and let them know of possible exposure. Based on predictions from Johns Hopkins University that estimate a need for about 100,000 “contact investigators” nationwide, Washoe County would need about 140 people to do that job — and the entire health district right now has less than 160 full-time employees.
“There’s a huge task ahead of us, and we’re working to start to plan and figure out how we’re going to establish that,” he said. “CDC is talking about sending out … more of their people in the field, but I don’t think CDC is going to solve this problem for us.”