After Washoe County experienced months of decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases each day, county health officials say the number of cases is now leveling out.
“As far as COVID-19 transmission in our community, while it’s been declining since the peak that we had at the end of November, we’re now plateauing and leveling off from that decline,” Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said.
The 7-day moving average currently sits at 42 new cases of COVID-19 daily, a number that has fluctuated between 34 and 48 since February 15.
According to Dick, the increases in occupancy limits and loosened restrictions from Gov. Steve Sisolak’s most recent COVID-19 recovery plan have likely contributed to people relaxing on health and safety measures.
“There’s good news that’s out there is that we do have the lower number of cases from that high level that we had during the surge and we have the good news of the vaccine,” Dick said. “I think human tendency is to see those good things happening and to let our guard down and relax a little bit in the precautions that we’re taking.”
Still, Dick pointed out that there is reason for optimism as Washoe County is currently meeting only one of the three criteria set by Sisolak that indicate elevated disease transmission for COVID-19.
The criteria include, per 100,000 people, executing less than 100 tests per day, a case rate above 200 and a test positivity rate above 8%.
The county is well above the 14-day average of 100 tests per day per with an average of 212 tests per 100,000 people. Washoe County is also well under the 14-day average goal of test positivity below 8%; currently, 5% of tests in the county come back positive per 100,000 people.
“That low positivity rate I think is especially important to us because we’re seeing low test positivity at the same time that we’re seeing a reduced demand for testing,” Dick said.
The testing effort has slowed as Washoe County ran about 1,000 tests per day last week, according to Dick. This down from about 1,300 tests per day from the previous week.
Even with fewer tests being administered across the county, Dick said the positivity rate continuing to drop is a solid indicator that disease transmission has diminished.
“In spite of running a lower number of tests, we’re also seeing the positivity rate decline,” he said. “That means that we’ve done an effective job of reducing the disease transmission that’s occurring in the community.”
To officially be removed from the elevated disease transmission category, the final criteria requires the county’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people to drop below an average of 200.
At 281 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people as of March 9, Washoe is trending in the right direction. On Feb. 7, the county was seeing 740 cases per 100,000.
Washoe County health officials expect the state to move to the next phase of the reopening plan beginning on March 15.
Beginning that day, public gatherings can go from limits of 100 individuals, or 35% of capacity, up to 250 individuals, or 50% of fire capacity. This will allow restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms and other businesses to increase their capacity.
Dick warned that people need to remain vigilant in continuing to practice basic health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s very important that we continue to take the precautions of wearing a mask watching our distance and washing our hands as we reopen,” Dick said. “…When we reopen, we are at risk of having a sudden increase in number of cases occurring as people are interacting, so we need to be very cautious.”
According to the current directive from Sisolak, the plan is to transition COVID-19 decision-making responsibilities to local authorities on May 1.
Dick says that county health officials are working with those authorities in Washoe County now to devise a plan before that date.
“We’re working with the cities of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County on what the transition to local government authority that the governor is scheduled for May 1st will look like,” he said. “So we have a workgroup working across those jurisdictions to develop that plan and industry liaison groups that we’ll be meeting with as well.”
As of Tuesday, Washoe County is administering a 14-day moving average of 16,769 vaccines a day.
A total of 140,824 total doses of the vaccine have been administered as of Tuesday. Over 87,000 Washoe County residents have received at least their first dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or the single shot Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) product.
According to Dick, over 18% of the population has received at least the initial dose of vaccine and over 11% of the population now has been fully vaccinated.
Vaccinations are being scheduled for essential frontline workforce employees in important supply chain roles such as grocery store workers, warehouse workers, manufacturers and truckers.
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Dick said the county is still making progress in vaccinating the general population over the age of 65. Once they move through the current eligible essential workers, county health officials will move on to utility and communications infrastructure jobs.
“We have three very safe and effective vaccines that are available now and it’s going to be very important for people to be vaccinated when they are eligible to receive the vaccine,” Dick said. “We can get a large proportion of our population vaccinated in order to be able to return to more normalcy in the future.”
Follow reporter Terell Wilkins on Twitter, @terelljwilkins, call him at 252-367-8463 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.