Nevada COVID-19 positivity rises after month-long decline

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Likely spurred by increased exposures to the coronavirus at social gatherings during the Labor Day weekend, Nevada’s statewide daily positivity rate for COVID-19 is on an upward trend after a steady decline over the past month, health officials say.

A recent surge in Washoe County and smaller gains in new cases are being reported elsewhere in the tourism-dependent state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 13.2%.

“We are seeing the beginnings of some trends that could be tied to the Labor Day or to other public exposures that have occurred in the last two weeks right now,” said Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director.

“I think you can see that in our numbers of new cases every day that’ve come up this week: It’s small increases, but there have been noticeable increases to date,” he said Wednesday.

Nevada’s seven-day moving average for its daily positivity rate climbed to 8.6% on Wednesday. In Clark County it was 11% and in Washoe County 6.9%.

The goal set by the World Health Organization is 5%.

The statewide rate had dipped to 6.6% on Sept. 9 after a fairly steady decline dating to Aug. 24 when it was 11.5%. It remained below 7% through Sept. 15 before rising to 7.3% on Sept. 21.

Prior to that it was above 12% from July 4 to Aug. 15, including an average above 14% from July 5 to Aug. 3. The peak during that stretch was 15.7% on July 9 — the first time it had exceeded 15% since April.

Cage had planned to discuss the situation further at Thursday’s meeting of Nevada’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force but the meeting was canceled.

The seven-day moving average lags five days behind the daily count so likely will continue to climb, at least in Washoe County where the number of cases has “increased significantly” in recent days, County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said Wednesday. New daily cases have grown from the mid-50s last week to nearly 88 this week.

“That’s a week-over-week increase of about 50% of new cases per day we are seeing in Washoe County,” Dick told reporters.

“We attribute a number of these cases to people that were participating in private gatherings over the Labor Day holiday that are now testing positive. We also are aware of cases resulting from students at (the University of Nevada, Reno) that attended private parties that were going on off campus,” he said.

Health officials say it’s too soon to tell if a pair of large political rallies President Donald Trump hosted in Minden on Sept. 12 and in Las Vegas on Sept. 13 have anything to do with the recent increased case load. Thousands of people crowded together closely and very few wore masks.

Julia Peek, Nevada’s deputy administrator of Community Health Services, told reporters during a conference call Wednesday that they are still compiling contact tracing data on the rallies and didn’t have anything to report.

Dick said he is not aware of any confirmation of cases tied to Trump's rally in Minden.

“I think it’s a little early to be seeing results from that yet,” he said. “I think right now we are just seeing the Labor Day impacts that are hitting us.”

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

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Nevada’s 13.2% unemployment rate for the month of August marks a slight improvement from 14.2% in July, but compares to 3.8% in August 2019 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other coronavirus developments Thursday, the Reno Gazette Journal reported the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno and the Sahara in Las Vegas each agreed to pay a $75,000 fine for COVID-19 violations.

The Grand Sierra failed to ask dozens of customers to wear masks in August, Nevada regulators said.

The Sahara was accused of hosting 135 people at a July 23 lunch in a room where a maximum of 50 people were allowed and breaking social distancing rules at craps and blackjack tables June 16.

The hotel-casinos owned by the Meruelo Group “do not admit nor deny” allegations in two complaints regulators filed against them in August, according to the settlement the Nevada Gaming Commission filed. The resorts have acknowledged and corrected conditions detailed in the complaints, the Meruelo Group said.

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Metz, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, reported from Carson City. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.