Official: Holidays may be driving Nevada coronavirus deaths

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John Locher / AP

In this July 10, 2020, file photo, healthcare workers test patients in their cars at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site run by the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Medicine and the Nevada National Guard in Las Vegas.

Thu, Jan 21, 2021 (4:31 p.m.)

A surge of Nevada coronavirus cases following December holidays may have passed, but deaths are still spiking, experts told a panel guiding the state’s COVID-19 response Thursday.

“It’s pretty likely that we’re right in the throes of the peak related to mortality,” chief state biostatistician Kyra Morgan told the COVID-19 task force a day after state health officials reported a new record high number of deaths in one day, 71.

Deaths typically increase in weeks following surges in cases and then hospitalizations, Morgan noted, and the number of new cases being reported in Nevada is declining along with other key measures.

Nevada saw its highest single-day number of confirmed new cases — 3,402 — two weeks after Christmas and one week after New Year's Eve, on Jan. 7.

State health officials on Thursday reported 1,433 additional cases and 47 deaths from the virus since Wednesday. The number of known cases has topped 266,000 since the start of the pandemic in Nevada, and 3,910 deaths have been attributed to the virus.

Most of Nevada's cases and deaths have been in the Las Vegas area, where the Southern Nevada Health District has tallied 204,369 cases and 2,974 deaths since March.

The number of infections is generally believed to be higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Ten Las Vegas-area hospitals are reporting patient occupancy of 90% or more, but the Nevada Hospital Association is reporting the number of patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 has decreased in Clark County from daily peaks of about 1,600 in December and early January to about 1,400 on Wednesday.

Test positivity — a measure of the number of people tested who receive a positive diagnosis — remains high statewide, at 20.5%, Morgan noted.

Nevada’s test positivity has remained near or above 20% since early December. It peaked at 21.6% on Jan. 13. The World Health Organization target is no more than 5%.

“I’m pretty confident we’ve seen the full impact of Christmas at this point,” Morgan told state COVID-19 task force chief Caleb Cage and an appointed panel of hospital, health, business and state administration officials during a weekly virtual meeting.

“It’s likely that we’re still going to see New Year’s Eve cases,” she added, “probably through the end of the month.”

The biggest mass vaccination center in the state, a conference hall at Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas, will close Saturday and Sunday for a planned upgrade to the appointment and check-in process, health officials said.

Officials said the improvements will help check the identification and eligibility of people seeking scarce doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Nevada Health Bureau Chief Candice McDaniel said this week that about 116,000 vaccines have been administered statewide, and the federal government has promised the state almost 37,000 more doses next week.

Many will go to retail pharmacies throughout the state that have started accepting appointments from eligible people to receive vaccines.

People 70 and over are expected to get priority in the current state tiered plan, along with front-line "community support” workers in food, shelter, court, social services and essential public transportation sectors.

Hospital and public health workers, long-term care staff and assisted living residents, and public safety and security employees have been getting inoculations since vaccines were approved in December.

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