By SAM METZ AP/Report for America
RENO, Nev. (AP) — The number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Nevada has spiked to its highest since the start of the pandemic, as an autumn surge continues to rewrite the record book in the state.
Health officials reported on Wednesday that 1,246 confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Nevada, more than twice as many as three weeks ago. And unlike in July, when Nevada logged its previous record high, hospitals are now confronting competing demands like the flu, pushing them near the brink of their capacity; 79% of staffed hospital beds in the state are currently occupied.
“To be blunt, our state is surging and continues to surge,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said.
A week after Sisolak said he was confident that Nevada could reverse trends and contain the coronavirus if individuals committed to a “Stay at Home 2.0” mentality, he said the number of new cases reported each day and spiking positivity rates worried him.
Nevada reported 1,665 coronavirus cases and three deaths on Wednesday, bringing the statewide totals to 125,459 cases and 1,947 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. The test positivity rate, as measured by a 14-day rolling average, is 15.6%.
Sisolak, who tested positive for the virus on Friday, said he continued to isolate at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City and work remotely while he recovers. He said he had not decided whether to tighten restrictions in light of the continued surge but planned to make an announcement “very soon.”
Both the Nevada Hospital Association and Nevada COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage said strategies in place are not successfully slowing the spread of the virus.
In Reno, the Renown Regional Medical Center has set up two floors of supplemental hospital beds in a parking structure. The garage currently houses 27 patients but will have enough beds to accommodate more than 1,400 patients, Dr. Paul Sierzenski said.
Sierzenski, Renown’s Chief Medical Officer for acute care, said the surge had strained both hospital staff and the community but stressed that Renown is prepared if more patients require hospital care. The parking garage is heated, pressurized for adequate airflow and set up for patients who don’t require long-term hospital care, he said.
“We are targeting patients who hopefully only need to be in that space for a short period of time,” Sierzenski said.
Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick worries that Thanksgiving could widen the surge.
“If you bring anybody from outside of your your immediate household into a gathering, that poses that potential for disease transmission,” he told reporters. “If people are continuing with those gathering plans, that will lead to additional cases and further strain our medical system.”
Given Washoe County’s 16.9% test positivity rate, as measured by a 14-day rolling average, Dick said celebrating Thanksgiving in a group setting was likely more dangerous than wearing a mask at a large political rally during times when transmission was less likely.
When President Donald Trump held a September rally in Minden, Nevada’s positivity rate was 6.8%.
“With the positivity rates that we have now, nobody knows whether potentially they have COVID-19,” Dick said. “You can be contagious before you develop symptoms, and when you’re in those gatherings, people are taking off their masks, they’re eating, they’re drinking, they’re laughing and joking.”
Amid the surge, Washoe County has struggled to keep pace with testing demand. Dick said the county did not have the capacity to test asymptomatic residents and was returning test results to residents in six to eight days due to delays in the state laboratory. Asymptomatic residents can still be tested at non-county run facilities, including drug stores.
If the virus continues to spread, Dick said Sisolak should retighten guidelines, particularly on group gatherings.
“If we’re not seeing any significant trends in a reduced spread of disease, then I think he needs to pursue additional mitigation measures,” he said.
This story has been corrected to refer to a Trump rally in September, not August.
Sam 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.