Today during an online press conference, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said officials were evaluating data associated with an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases noted over the past 3 weeks.
The Governor said the rise in cases is not unexpected but that before moving forward to another phase of the Roadmap to Recovery, officials would take time to evaluate the data and conduct thorough contact tracing to identify and isolate the sources of infection. The Governor emphasized that the Phase 2 reopening directive he signed in late May was in effect until June 30 for this very reason.
“Recently we’ve experienced some trends that require additional evaluation and analysis,” Sisolak said. “These include an upward trend in the number of new daily cases in the last three weeks. Yes, our testing has increased significantly. And while our cumulative positivity rate is holding steady, or continues to decline, with today’s cumulative positivity rate at 5.2 percent, the 7 day average percentage of positive results is increasing.
“Today we saw a lower number of cases than has been reported over the last few days, however, it is too early to tell if the previous increase or yesterday’s decrease is due to a change in trend.
“To summarize, we need to make sure we allow ourselves the ability and time to continue evaluating our situation.”
Hospital utilization is one of the key factors in determining whether the state can further loosen COVID-19 prevention measures. Sisolak acknowledged an increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations but that a definitive upward trend had not been determined.
“There has been a consistent increase in confirmed hospitalizations since June 5. The Nevada Hospital Association indicates that we are still in the plateau range between 372 and 340, confirmed and suspected cases in hospitals statewide,” Sisolak said.
According to the Governor, the increase in cases has yet to negatively impact the capacity of the state’s hospitals.
This Friday marks 2 weeks since Phase 2 officially began. This Thursday will mark two weeks since gaming properties in Nevada were able to reopen under social distancing guidelines set forth by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
“I said I would evaluate two to three weeks’ worth of data in making decisions on moving forward or if necessary, pausing to determine if Nevada is still moving in the right direction.
“Before expanding our reopening and entering Phase 3, we must continue to allow ourselves the time to evaluate this new medical information, along with the impact of reopening to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect ourselves and the capacity of our healthcare system to respond to the virus.”
Early detection, tracing and investigation of positive cases has proven to be an effective strategy in combating the spread of COVID-19. According to the Governor, this weekend, the state tripled its contact tracing capacity. Sisolak said contact tracers are working “12 hours a day, seven days a week,” contacting people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and asking who they may have come in close contact with and following up with those contacts to ensure the line of infection can be identified and isolated.
“I know there are a lot of theories or ideas behind what’s driving the increase in cases. Whether it comes from reopening businesses, increasing the limits on the size of public gatherings, the recent protests, or reopening of gaming, we need to allow our expanded contact tracing system time to assess where these new cases may have originated,” Sisolak said.
Some areas of the state have reported higher numbers of infection than the state average. Washoe County has seen spikes in the number of new cases since starting the Phase 2 reopening. Governor Sisolak reminded local leaders that under the Roadmap to Recovery, they could impose stricter safety guidelines should they deem them necessary.
“Recently, some of our local leaders and health officials have expressed concern about increasing case numbers in or around their specific communities. I want to remind these local leaders, you may use the existing authority set forth in my reopening emergency directives to implement stricter standards than those that have been set forth by the state if you feel it’s in the best interest of your area.
“I will stand by and support each locality that makes a decision to tighten restrictions and keep residents healthy. We can maintain the statewide shared goal of keeping Nevadans and visitors safe while we restart our economy, and we can protect our communities that need it the most.”
Governor Siolak said that he would call a special session of the State Legislature to deal with the many issues associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic before the end of the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and a career public media journalist. Support his work.