Vegas hospitals struggle with staffing amid latest surge

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Staffing levels at Las Vegas-area hospitals remain in the worst “crisis” category for the second week in a row as Nevada’s COVID-19 positivity test rate soars to new heights and schools scramble to respond to the state’s worst coronavirus surge to date.

Nearly 1 in 3 people taking COVID-19 tests outside the home are testing positive as the apparently less-severe but more-contagious omicron variant fuels the virus that’s spreading faster than ever, health officials said Wednesday.

“We are in an extremely transmissive phase that is beyond anything we have seen before,” said Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick, who called it a “tsunami … a tremendous surge.”

“Nearly all the cases that we are experiencing now in our community are omicron,” Dick told reporters Wednesday in Reno. “That’s why we are seeing the dramatic, almost vertical, increase in our case curve from day to day.”

Washoe County’s seven-day moving average of 744 new daily cases is 1.5 times higher than the county’s previous peak in November 2020, he said.

“While, fortunately, we are hearing a lot about how omicron is not as severe — and thankfully it doesn’t seem to be — and many healthy people are recovering, we need to be concerned about the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. They are the ones that are at most risk from omicron. And it is highly transmissible,” Dick said.

The seven-day moving average for confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in southern Nevada now exceeds 1,190 for the first time since January 2021, the Nevada Hospital Association said Wednesday.

“There is no indication that hospitalizations have peaked and increases in COVID-19 hospital demand are anticipated for the next several weeks,” it said in its weekly update.

Northern Nevada, which historically has lagged behind the south by about two weeks. continues to see modest increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations, rising more than 70% over the past two weeks — from 50 on Dec. 28 to 86 on Monday.

The hospital association said there is anecdotal evidence that people are experiencing COVID-19 reinfection in less than four months, including some vaccinated individuals.

“This reinfection rate may contribute to a prolonged hospital staffing challenge if this becomes the omicron norm,” it said.

Schools in Clark County announced a five day “pause” beginning Friday with no classes for students the day before and after the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

In Carson City, administrators cancelled school on Wednesday for the following two days due to staffing problems stemming from the surge. Students will be off on Thursday and Friday and also return on Tuesday after the holiday.

In Reno, district officials acknowledged they may eventually have to return to distance learning at some schools if a teacher shortage spurred by absences doesn’t subside.

The shortage of testing availability combined with the large number of people taking home tests in recent weeks makes it difficult to estimate true test rates beyond those at sites run by local health districts or other providers such as pharmacies who report statistics to the state.

But the statewide positivity rate has tripled since December — rising steadily from 9.4% on Dec. 28 to 30.5% as of Tuesday, based on a 14-day lag. In Clark County, it was 33.4% on Tuesday.

The highest positivity rate recorded statewide during the previous peak surge was 20.4% on Jan. 13, 2021.

By mid-February last year, the statewide positivity rate had dipped into single digits and remained below 6% from mid-March through June. It jumped to 10.1% on July 13 and remained around 10% most of the rest of the year before it began the dramatic, steady increase from 10.2% on Dec. 29 to 21.4% by Jan. 5, last week.


Associated Press reporter Sam Metz contributed from Carson City, Nevada.

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