When it comes to the pandemic in Southern Nevada, it’s deja vu all over again.
The current number of deaths and scarcity of ICU space are roughly the same as a year ago, and masks are again the order of the day. One difference today, though, is the increased number of young people falling ill during this surge.
“It seems like we're pretty much in the same spot that we were a year ago, which is very disappointing,” said Devin Raman, a disease investigation and intervention specialist with the Southern Nevada Health District. “We had hoped that with the vaccine rollout, we would be able to get back to normal life, but that hasn't happened yet, unfortunately.”
She said the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant makes up about two-thirds of Southern Nevada cases, adding “it doesn't cause more severe illness, but it's definitely more contagious.”
“Unfortunately, people who are older or have other health conditions, they're just more likely to succumb to the illness than younger, healthier people,” she said, “and the more it's spreading in the community, the more it's going to affect that population.”
The ongoing sure has filled area hospitals, with many running low on intensive care unit beds.
“Right now we are generally running somewhere between 90 and 100 percent occupancy in the ICU,” said Dr. Domenic Martinello, chief medical officer for Southern Hills Hospital.
While the hospital has yet to convert traditional rooms to temporary ICU space, as other hospitals have, “that's not to say that there's not a tremendous amount of strain on the system,” Martinello told State of Nevada. “We had a busier than usual summer with what we would call sort of the standard medical disease mixed in with a large number of COVID patients.”
Nevada is averaging about 1,000 new COVID cases a day recently, up from the low hundreds reported daily in late spring, putting even more demand on healthcare workers, Martinello said.
“So we end up with the whole system being completely overwhelmed at this point. So staff has stretched to the limits,” he said. “They're doing absolutely everything they can and more."
One difference between the current surge and a year ago is the greater degree that young people are becoming ill. UNLV public health expert Brian Labus said the delta variant’s more infectious nature and statistics.
“If there's more spread in the community, we're just going to see a lot more children get infected,” said Labus, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health.
“Also, they’re making up a higher proportion of the total number of cases for a simple reason, we actually did a really good job, vaccinating the oldest people,” he said. “So by removing some of the disease from people 65 or 75, and older, it shifts the average age lower.”
All of the experts said more Nevadans should be vaccinated, with the state lagging much of the nation in the percentage of those vaccinated. In response, a Clark County commissioner has proposed paying people to get their shots.
Saying it’s just in the discussion phase, Commissioner Tick Segerblom suggested taking federal COVID relief funds and offering cash payments to people being vaccinated.
“Maybe this will push some people over the edge, those who have been waffling,” he said, adding that this is an approach suggested by the White House and already being tried in other cities.
“This is a war,” he said. “And in a war, I think you use all your weapons.”
Devin Raman, disease investigation and intervention specialist, Southern Nevada Health District; Brian Labus, epidemiologist, UNLV School of Public Health; Dr. Domenic Martinello, chief medical officer, Southern Hills Hospital; Tick Segerblom, Clark County commissioner
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