CARSON CITY — Nevada reported 71 new deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, surpassing the highest single-day death toll, the 63 reported just last Saturday.
State COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage said the deaths included people who probably contracted the virus in mid-December, suggesting that reverberations from holiday gatherings could still be forthcoming.
“This is the highest increase in deaths that we’ve seen and a stark reminder of how deadly this virus is,” Cage said.
State officials also reported 1,171 new confirmed cases on Wednesday. Since the start of the pandemic, 265,143 people have tested positive and 3,863 have died from the virus.
Although deaths continue to surge, the number of confirmed cases reported daily has stayed low throughout January — a trend that Cage said made him “cautiously optimistic” about the trajectory of the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 63% of those who have died in Nevada have been 70 or older, which is also the state's current cutoff for vaccine eligibility.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that the federal government has allocated 276,775 doses for Nevada — fewer per capita than all but three states.
Nevada Health Bureau Chief Candice McDaniel said only about 116,000 vaccines have been administered, or fewer than half the allocation. Both she and Cage on Wednesday attributed the lag to unpredictable delivery and communication breakdowns among federal agencies.
McDaniel said almost 37,000 more doses have been promised to arrive next week, many of which will go to retail pharmacies partnering with the state to speed up distribution.
Pharmacies in the majority of Nevada counties started accepting vaccine appointments on Tuesday, but eligibility requirements vary as counties move through priority groups at different rates.
McDaniel said state officials had been told that states would be distributed vaccines in numbers proportionate to their populations and were “keenly aware” that Nevada's allocation was smaller than the majority of states.
Speaking just hours after President Joe Biden's inauguration, McDaniel added that Nevada's vaccine coordination team was “hopeful that a little bit more transparency will come through, hopefully in the following weeks.”
Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick echoed concerns about allocations and delivery schedules, but he said in the Reno-Sparks area, vaccine administration is outpacing the rest of the state.
More than 91% of doses the county has received have been distributed. It still could take 12 to 14 weeks to completely vaccinate individuals 70 and older with both doses, Dick said.
In the Las Vegas area, where the majority of the state’s population lives, officials said they too felt hamstrung by not knowing how many vaccines will arrive each week.
“Once we get more stability to that,” Clark County fire and emergency services chief John Steinbeck said, “you’ll see a much smoother process.”
Dr. Fermin Leguen, acting Southern Nevada Health District chief officer, said about 60,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in Clark County.
Under the state's current policy, residents 70 and older are prioritized for the first available doses, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday reported about inconsistencies troubling vaccine distribution.
As jurisdictions throughout the U.S. attempt to get shots into arms more quickly, the Southern Nevada Health District changed its criteria to allow the next eligible tier of frontline workers to receive vaccines.
The agency has not turned away individuals without appointments, including those younger than 70, even as many older residents have reported having trouble making appointments and have yet to be vaccinated in the Las Vegas area, the newspaper reported.
AP writers Scott Sonner and Ken Ritter contributed reporting from Reno and Las Vegas. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.