Nevada’s average COVID-19 infection rate climbing steadily
RENO — Nevada’s rate of coronavirus infections is steadily rising again. But state officials are reluctant to blame relaxed guidelines and say there is no reason yet to consider stricter measures as they point to rates increasing across the country and the world.
Gov. Steve Sisolak scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon to provide an update on the status of COVID-19 statewide. The rate of infections has been increasing since he eased restrictions on the size of public gatherings on Oct. 1.
“We are seeing a number of factors that could be contributing to this. I wouldn’t necessarily tie it directly” to the easing of restrictions, Nevada COVID-19 Director Caleb Cage said Monday. “We are seeing the same climb happen around the country and in fact around the world as well.”
The state’s 14-day rolling average for the positivity rate — which measures community transmission of the virus — began this week at 9.1% for the third consecutive day.
It hadn’t been as high as 9% since Sept. 4 when the state was in the midst of a two-month downward trend that saw the positivity rate drop from 14.3% on Aug. 1 to less than half that by mid-September — hovering below 7% most of the last two weeks of of September before inching up to 7.1% on Sept. 30.
Sisolak, a Democrat, raised the limit on the size of allowable public gatherings from 50 to 250 on Oct. 1, and the positivity rate has been climbing ever since.
The World Health Organization has set a goal of 5% for the positivity rate — a level Nevada hasn’t been below since mid-May. The 14-day rolling average lags seven days so it’s sometimes difficult to draw direct connections between policy changes and new infections.
Cage said Monday state health officials were working to better understand what — if any — role the easing of restrictions has played in the latest spike in cases.
“When we have more opportunity for larger groups of people to get together, you have a higher risk of community spread. So we recognize of course there would be anticipated some increase. Right now, we’re trying to determine whether or not that increase is going to be as rapid or climb as high as it has in the past,” he said.
Julia Peek, deputy administrator of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said it’s difficult to assess the causes and the seriousness of various swings in case numbers until the individual cycle has run its course.
“One thing we are seeing is that just across the nation but particularly Nevada as well is a level of COVID fatigue — where people get a level of comfort around friends or co-workers and then the infection if present spreads very easily,” Peek said Monday.
“It is individual behavior that will cause a wave or not,” she said.
Peek pointed to a variety of settings where infection spreads, from residential social gatherings to carpools, in largely dismissing the relaxation of limits on large gatherings as a driving force.
Nevada’ positivity rate first reached 10% on March 28 and rose to a peak of 14.6% on April 21. It dropped below 10% on May 7 and remained there until it inched back up to 10.1% on June 28.
In between, it first dropped below 5% on May 14, hit an all-time low of 2.7% on May 25 and remained below 5% until June 14. That’s when the state started to experience its sharpest, extended rise — reaching 10.1% on June 28 and staying above 10% until Sept. 2, including 14% or higher from July 15 through Aug. 2.
Cage said Monday the latest rise in the positivity rate “is in fact a slower climb” that previous increases. He said state health officials’ expectation is that wearing masks and social distancing will help minimize the spread.