Washoe County has record-high number of virus cases
RENO — Coronavirus infections have reached another record high in the Reno-Sparks area, where the Washoe County health district officer continues to raise concerns that the limit on the size of public gatherings is too lenient.
The county topped the 1,500 mark for active cases on Wednesday, an all-time high. The sheriff’s office also announced the county jail was being locked down after 11 jail inmates and five employees tested positive for COVID-19 following the failure of two inmates to report their high-temperature fevers during routine temperature checks.
“We are continuing to surge,” Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said as the county’s seven-day rolling average for new cases rose to 127, or 29.5 new cases per 100,000 people, also a record.
“It is more risky to be out and about in our community than it has been to date,” he told reporters.
The White House task force has raised Washoe County into the red, high-risk level because of the increasing number of cases identified as well as the high positivity rate that has reached 8.6%. The Harvard Global Health Institute and Brown University also put the county in the high-risk red zone.
Dick said he’s pleased that Washoe County has decided not to allow more than 250 people at unregulated public gatherings, he continues to believe that level is too high.
“It does concern me that we have gatherings of up to 250 people occurring, and without any (site specific) approval required.” he said.
“Once, though, that directive is made, it is difficult to put the horse back in the barn,” he said. “The governor has allowed for local governments to establish more restrictive measures than that 250. But there hasn’t been an appetite from the cities and the county to move forward with something like that.”
“That said, with the level of disease transmission we have, it is not advisable to be having gatherings of that size.”
Dick acknowledged his opinion comes from a public health perspective and “there is also obviously other pressures in regard to the economy and people’s desire to be open.”
“I think people are just relaxing behaviors. They’re thinking that if they are with friends, it is OK to go ahead and take off the masks and hang out together. Unfortunately what we are seeing is that those are activities that are leading to spread of disease,” he said.
Cases continue to climb on all fronts — gatherings, parties and celebrations; workplace settings; K-12 schools; UNR; places like grocery stores and “when people are just out and about.”
Dick noted that the original White House recommendations suggest gatherings in counties at the orange risk level be limited to fewer than 25 and counties in the red-risk level have gatherings with 10 or fewer.
He added that while the governor’s directive allows groups up to 250 at public gatherings in a controlled and regulated environment like at a casino or convention center, it limits private gatherings to 10 people or fewer indoors and 25 or fewer outdoors.
Sheriff Darin Balaam said they tested 276 inmates and 16 employees in a 48-hour period. His office is working with the health district to sanitize the building and identify where the inmates had been.
The facility has implemented multiple mandates, including requiring all staff and inmates to wear masks and suspending all visiting, transports and programs with exceptions to emergency transports outside the facility.
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.