Virus Surge Twice As Bad In Reno As Vegas; Hospitals Filling

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada's hospital association urged residents Wednesday to stay out of emergency rooms except in true emergencies, especially in northern Nevada where a resurgence in COVID-19 cases continues at a rate twice as high as the Las Vegas area.

“Many hospital emergency departments in northern Nevada are at capacity with patients,” said Pat Kelly, president and CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association.

The 30-day average number of daily new cases per 100,000 residents has increased five-fold in the Reno-Sparks area over the past six weeks, from 354 at the beginning of August to 1,621 now, Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said.

The statewide rate is 951. In Clark County including Las Vegas it’s 720, and 1,501 across the rest of state outside Carson City, Washoe and Clark counties.

Confirmed or suspected COVID-19 related hospitalizations statewide stood at 1,090 on Monday, state health officials reported Wednesday. They remained below 500 from March through June before topping 1,000 at the end of July after peaking at 2,636 last Dec. 15.

In Washoe County, they peaked at 349 in December and dropped as low as 29 on July 26 before climbing ever since to the current 199, the state reported Wednesday.

Dick said it reminds him of last fall when “we were climbing to the peak of our surge at the end of November.” Hospital staffing may be even worse now than it was then, he said.

"There’s just so much burnout,” he told reporters Wednesday.

“I can tell you in the health department and in our health care community, this has just been relentless. We are overwhelmed here. We can't keep up with the disease investigations and the contact tracing,” he said.

Test positivity, a measure of the number of people tested who are positive for COVID-19, has decreased to 11.5% statewide after surging to 16.4% in mid-August, and to 8.9% in the Las Vegas area.

The rate remained high, at 20% on Wednesday in and around Reno and nearly 26% in Elko County. The World Health Organization goal is 5% or less to relax coronavirus restrictions.

Dick repeated his weekly plea for the more than one-third of Nevadans who have resisted getting vaccinated against the virus to do so for the good of everyone.

About 63.5% of eligible Nevada residents have received at least one shot of vaccine, and 53.7% are fully vaccinated.

The hospital association urged Nevadans on Wednesday to get vaccinated, wear a mask, avoid getting a COVID-19 test in an emergency room and to use urgent care or their primary care provider as alternatives to emergency rooms. Residents should only use emergency departments if they are “critically ill,” Kelly said.

Dick said that despite increasing evidence the COVID-19 vaccines are safe he's seeing more and more false information in social media about potential harm. He's heard “preposterous” stories about death and other harm from the vaccines.

“I can assure you hospitals are not filling up because people are having reactions from the COVID-19 vaccination. The hospitals are filling up because people aren’t getting vaccinated and they are getting COVID-19 and they are spreading COVID-19 in our community,” Dick said.

He said the Nevada Hospital Association asking residents "to do their part to help avoid with hospital overcrowding” is a sign of how dire the situation is.

In other virus developments, former Republican governor Brian Sandoval — now the president of the University of Nevada, Reno — announced in a campus email that he tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19. Sandoval said he was previously vaccinated and had “mild symptoms” of illness. He said he will work from home for 10 days.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the mandate he endorsed last week to require state employees at health care facilities and prisons to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1 or face administrative leave or reassignment.

Nevada has about 12,000 inmates at 17 prison facilities, where more than 4,500 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 and 49 have died. The vaccination rate among prison employees, meanwhile, has lagged the overall state vaccination rate by about 10%. In July, prison officials said about 42% of staff members had received vaccines — a percentage the governor called “atrocious.”

Corrections officers warned the Board of Health last week that requiring vaccinations would cause mass resignations and staff shortages.

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Associated Press writer Ken Ritter contributed to this report from Las Vegas.