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COVID-19 Rates Up, Hospitals Feeling The Surge

Masks are making a comeback in Las Vegas in the wake of a resurgent pandemic in Nevada and nationally.
John Locher/Associated Press

Masks are making a comeback in Las Vegas in the wake of a resurgent pandemic in Nevada and nationally.

Facing a summer surge of COVID-19 cases, flat vaccination rates, and urging by the federal government, Nevada returns Friday to indoor mask mandates.

UNLV public health expert Brian Labus told State of Nevada that it might look like deja vu, but “we're seeing a new enemy” in the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

“We're going through a lot of the same things we dealt with last year, we're seeing the same patterns,” he said, “and unfortunately, we're seeing the same resistance to the things that we want to put in place to stop this pandemic.”

Labus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the UNLV School of Public Health, said that despite the concerns of some, masks serve as effective tools to stop the spread of the virus.

“Especially with those higher viral loads, it's a way to keep you from putting that virus out into the air around you and infecting all the people around you,” he said, adding that masks also offer protection to wearers. “Even though it's not perfect, even though the virus can still get through it. It's going to reduce your chance of being infected if you're wearing that mask.”

Labus also said he was monitoring whether Las Vegas tourists packed together on the Strip might end up taking the virus home, particularly in its more contagious form.

“You come to Las Vegas, you get infected, you know, the old, what happens here stays here doesn't apply,” he said. “In that case, people are potentially infected by the person sitting next to them at a slot machine or a table game. And they're taking it back to their communities.” 

Labus also said the average Las Vegas visit is shorter than the virus’ incubation period, so visitors rarely fall ill before heading home.

The people who do get sick are typically younger than was the case during the start of the pandemic, said Dr. Domenic Martinello, chief medical officer of Southern Hills Hospital.

“Last year, we were really seeing patients in their 60s, 70s, 80s,”  Martinello said. “This time around our average age has shifted down to the late 40s, which means we have a lot of our patients in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.”

He also said that among the current round of patients, 95 percent had yet to be vaccinated.

Martinello said hospitals are better equipped for the pandemic’s current surge because of the experiences of last year.

“We really beefed up our capacity,” he said. “We have adequate ventilators. We have adequate equipment, personal protective equipment. It's all available, which is different than the last time.”

One area of concern, though, is the fatigue suffered by healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic for almost a year and a half.

“The one thing that we're lacking certainly is the endurance and the manpower because this has been going on for so long,” he said. “Our nurses are tired, our environmental services workers are tired, our cooks are tired, our physicians are tired. It's just been an unrelenting process.”

Martinello said while many COVID-19 cases can be treated at home, “If you start to have severe symptoms, can't eat, can't drink, trouble getting around, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, that's really time to go to the emergency room and get checked out.”

Dr. Domenic Martinello, chief medical officer, Southern Hills Hospital; Brian Labus, epidemiologist, UNLV's School of Public Health

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Kristen Kidman is a former senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.