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Nevada virus response shifts from emergency to more routine

Virus Outbreak Nevada
AP Photo/John Locher, File
FILE - Tanya Flanagan hands back a nose swab to Kenneth Williams after administering herself a COVID-19 test during a preview of a testing site in North Las Vegas, Nev., on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The next phase of Nevada’s COVID-19 response will focus less on everyday cases and more on those most vulnerable and hospital staff shortages, which have been exacerbated by an influx of patients who put off treatment during the pandemic, state officials said Thursday.

With new infections and hospitalizations falling sharply to their lowest levels since last June, health officials say they’re changing the way they collect and report coronavirus data “as the state moves from a public health emergency to routine disease surveillance efforts.”

“We have come a long ways since our first cases,” state epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock told reporters Thursday.

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”We have systems in place to support public health in our communities and we now have many tools” to combat COVID-19, she said, including vaccinations and therapeutics.

Nevada’s 14-day average for new daily cases fell to 135 on Wednesday, down from a pandemic-peak of 5,908 on Jan. 15 and the lowest statewide average since early June 2021. Hospitalizations that approached 2,000 in January have dropped to 247, the lowest since 250 last June.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ new emphasis will include “minimizing potential for strain on the health care system” and “protecting the most vulnerable through vaccines, therapeutics, and prevention.”

In addition to moving from daily to weekly reporting of COVID-19 statistics beginning next week, state officials said they’re dropping regular reporting of positivity rates that are increasingly skewed due to widespread use of home-testing that goes unreported.

Other changes include the removal of the county tracker on the state COVID-19 Dashboard site and an end to detailed investigations of all positive cases so as to devote more resources to “our high-risk populations,” the response team said.

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The Nevada Hospital Association said this week hospitalizations “continue to decline and are anticipated to return to the baseline appreciated before the Delta wave.”

“Hospitals report a return to normalcy with visiting hours being reestablished and medically necessary procedures and surgeries being routinely performed,” it said.

Flu is not placing any demand on hospital infrastructure and no equipment shortages are reported. But “staffing remains a significant concern throughout the healthcare continuum, contributing to hospitals’ continued difficulty transferring patients out to lower, more appropriate levels of care,” the association’s weekly report said.

DuAne Young, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s policy director, said they’re closely monitoring hospital staffing strains and continuing discussions with hospital officials and medical professionals about ways to expedite relief.

“We have seen that many people have delayed medical care over the last two years. So we are seeing an onslaught of medical issues that people have not gotten taken care of,” Young told reporters.

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Health officials emphasized they still expect to see COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We’re just kind of normalizing ourselves to the idea that COVID is becoming endemic, and by definition that means it will persist in our communities at some level,” state biostatistician Kyra Morgan said.

But “within that, we have the tools we need to contain it to where it is not causing serious strain on our health care system, serious mortalities that are really affecting everyone’s lives,” she said.