LAS VEGAS — Nevada recorded its deadliest month of the coronavirus pandemic in January but, in a promising sign, the monthly death toll in Washoe County was only about half what it was in December.
Eight additional deaths reported statewide over the weekend boosted Nevada's death toll for the month to 1,132 — more than a quarter of the 4,278 deaths since the pandemic began.
The vast majority have been in Las Vegas and Clark County, the state's most populous county accounting for 77% of the deaths.
And while January brought the second highest monthly total of COVID-19 deaths to date in Washoe County, the 111 deaths were only about half the 211 recorded in December in the Reno-Sparks area.
Statewide, January's total surpassed the previously monthly record of 982 deaths set in December. It also reported 838 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 279,146 cases, health officials said.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas epidemiologist Brian Labus said the current figures are a lagging indicator because the people who died in January were mostly infected between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
"So it doesn't tell us about what's going on now," he told the the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "It tells us about what was going on a while ago."
Labus said data showed that the state is averaging 16 deaths a day over the past two weeks.
Caleb Cage, Nevada's COVID-19 response director, said an increase in deaths associated with the most recent holidays are likely to continue for several more weeks before they start declining.
He also the fatalities in the daily report could be understated because reporting of the death and case figures during weekends often results in lower numbers on Mondays.
"My thoughts are heavy each day when new deaths are reported, as I know that each death represents another Nevadan whose life was cut off far too soon due to the virus," Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said.
The virus death toll statewide started rising last summer and was accelerating fastest from early November to mid-December. Washoe County didn't record its 100th death until July 16. It reached 200 on Nov. 2 before adding another 100 over the next 31 days to top 300 on Dec. 3 and another 100 the next two weeks to reach 404 on Dec. 18.
The steady rise continued the next two weeks to 505 on Jan. 3 with a December total of 211. But the death toll since has slowed dramatically with a total of 111 deaths in January. The county total stood at 601 on Monday dating to the first death last March.
Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said last week that he couldn't explain why Reno-Sparks' numbers appear to be declining faster than those in Las Vegas but noted that Clark County lagged behind Washoe when the biggest spike began in late fall.