The highly contagious delta variant is fueling a resurgence of the pandemic in Nevada, where cases and infection rates are up and vaccinations lag.
The state’s COVID-19 positivity rate has more than doubled over the last month to 7.9 percent, one of the highest rates in the nation. Since early June, the two-week rolling average for new cases has nearly tripled from 132 to 377. And the state just announced it will resume weekly media updates on the status of the pandemic.
“We've seen a rapid increase in delta variant over the course of the month of June,” said Devin Raman, a senior disease investigation and intervention specialist for the Southern Nevada Health District.
“Back in May it comprised about 2 percent of our sequence samples, and now it's about 25 percent So it's rapidly increasing,” she said, adding that hospitalizations are on the increase as well.
The recent crowds and festivities around the Fourth of July could already be contributing to increasing infection numbers, Raman told State of Nevada.
“There's definitely concern because, obviously, people are going to go to parties,” she said. “We're already seeing an increase in cases. It could be from before the Fourth of July holiday, but we are expecting continued increases over the next couple of weeks.”
Looking ahead, Las Vegas is throwing open its doors this weekend with a Garth Brooks concert at Allegiant Stadium and a Conor McGregor fight at T-Mobile Arena, and Raman said the potential exists for the virus to spread on the Strip.
“That’s why we just really want to emphasize people to get their vaccines and if they're not vaccinated, they should be wearing masks,” she said.
Still, the daily death count for the state remains in the single digits, where it has been since late May and far below the 40 deaths a day seen in the heat of the pandemic last year.
Professor Brian Labus of the UNLV School of Public Health said the rise of the delta variant shows how fast the COVID-19 mutates. That could create the need for the development of a booster vaccine, which would face the same hurdles as the original rollout did.
“Our ability to respond to that is something that we haven't had before; the challenge will be actually getting people to get vaccinated with another shot of something they didn't want to get in the first place” he said. “So adding a booster dose is going to cause just as many problems as our first vaccine campaign.”
Only 42.5 percent of Nevadans are fully vaccinated, putting the state in the bottom third nationally for vaccination rates.
Many in the Hispanic community have yet to get vaccinated because of language barriers and mistrust of authorities, and those concerns are being addressed at the grassroots level. The voting rights group Mi Familia Vota is using the one-on-one techniques it usually employs to get people to the polls.
“They want to have a conversation about it. They don't want to feel like we're pushing them to do this,” said Cecia Alvarado, the group’s Nevada state director. “The outcome has been very positive, and I've just been there to help them navigate through the process.”
Brian Labus, epidemiologist and assistant professor, UNLV School of Public Health; Devin Raman, senior disease investigation and intervention specialist, Southern Nevada Health District; Cecia Alvarado, Nevada state director, Mi Familia Vota;
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