Nevada plans no immediate changes as COVID-19 cases spike

Rise in cases coincides with increase in gatherings size

Associated Press
October 21, 2020 - 5:04 am
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak speaks during a press conference in the Nevada State Legislature Building in Carson City on June 24, 2020.

© JASON BEAN/RGJ via Imagn Content Services, LLC

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s rate of coronavirus infections is steadily rising again. But state officials are reluctant to blame relaxed guidelines and say there is no reason yet to consider stricter measures.

“We’re not at that point now,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said Tuesday.

“I don’t want to get to that point ... I don’t want to see that happen, so we are working to loosen things up more and get people back to what their new normal is,” he said at a news conference in Las Vegas.

Sisolak and state health officials pointed to national and worldwide trends rather than the easing of state guidelines as the cause of the spikes and said adherence to prevention measures could curb the spread of the virus and prevent reimplementing restrictions.

Nevada’s rate of infections has been increasing since Sisolak relaxed restrictions on the size of public gatherings on Oct. 1. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has since redesignated the state as a “red zone,” after the number of new cases per week per 100,000 residents surpassed 100. 

In the state’s largest counties, the task force report recommended, “both public and private gatherings should be as small as possible and optimally, not extend beyond immediate family.”

The governor acknowledged that the rates of new cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations were trending at an “alarming” rate in Nevada. But he echoed earlier comments from health officials that pointed to broader trends rather than decisions to ease restrictions in Nevada.

“I wouldn’t necessarily tie it directly” to the easing of restrictions, Nevada COVID-19 Director Caleb Cage said Monday. “We are seeing the same climb happen around the country and, in fact, around the world as well.”

Nevada’s 14-day rolling average for the positivity rate — which measures community transmission of the virus — began this week at 9.1% for the third consecutive day.

It hadn’t been as high as 9% since Sept. 4. That’s when the state was in the midst of a two-month downward trend that saw the positivity rate drop from 14.3% on Aug. 1 to less than half that by mid-September — hovering below 7% most of the last two weeks of of September before inching up to 7.1% on Sept. 30.

The World Health Organization has set a goal of 5% for the positivity rate — a level Nevada hasn’t been below since mid-May. The 14-day rolling average lags seven days.

Sisolak’s reluctance to roll back reopening plans puts him at odds with Democratic governors in states including New York, New Mexico and California who have reimplemented restrictions in response to rising coronavirus rates.

Sisolak said Nevada’s trajectory largely depended on residents and their commitment to measures including social distancing and wearing masks. He implored residents to not succumb to “COVID fatigue” if they wanted to prevent the need to tighten restrictions on schools and businesses.

“Unfortunately, this virus doesn’t get fatigued. It’s alive and well. It’s that simple. We can’t get tired because the virus isn’t tired,” he said.

He refrained from naming President Donald Trump directly but referenced Trump’s inconsistent commitment to face-coverings and comments that the pandemic is nearing its end.

“I know that the behavior of certain officials at the highest levels of our government run contrary to the public health experts -- creates a sense that the pandemic is over or questions on whether masks work. It creates division,” Sisolak said.

Nevada’s positivity rate first reached 10% on March 28 and rose to a peak of 14.6% on April 21. It dropped below 10% on May 7 and remained there until it inched back up to 10.1% on June 28. 

In between, it first dropped below 5% on May 14, hit an all-time low of 2.7% on May 25 and remained below 5% until June 14. That’s when the state started to experience its sharpest, extended rise — reaching 10.1% on June 28 and staying above 10% until Sept. 2, including 14% or higher from July 15 through Aug. 2.

North Carolina State University professor Julie Swann, who served as a science advisor for the H1N1 pandemic response to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it wasn’t unlikely that the spike was entirely caused by COVID fatigue and warned controlling the spread of the virus will only become more difficult in the weeks and months to come.

“In some ways, relaxing restrictions is as much a symptom of the fatigue as a cause,” she said in an email to The Associated Press. “We have to get this under control or we will see hundreds of thousands of deaths over the next few months. It will be even harder to control once we hit holidays, from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. Many lives are at stake.”