Curve may be flattening in Southern Nevada, officials hope peak is ‘sooner rather than later’

in these times
Employees screened people entering the building at the Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas last month. (Photo: Bridget Bennett)

The good news – social distancing is working. The curve may be flattening and the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations is moving farther away in Southern Nevada. 

The bad news – the delayed peak could mean an extended time hunkering down.  

“I don’t want to speak too far ahead,” said Dr. Vit Kraushaar, Medical Investigator for the Southern Nevada Health District, adding SNHD is determining the effectiveness of social distancing and he “doesn’t want to give false or preliminary information.” 

Models place the peak of the disease in Nevada at a number of dates in April. One, from the University of Washington, says the peak use of resources in the state was April 8.  

“Some others project the peak being at a much later date,” said Kraushaar. “It would be nice to hear our peak comes sooner rather than later.” 

Kraushaar said officials are relying on past information to predict the future and that mitigating measures can alter the models by decreasing the height of the peak and delaying it. 

“If we reach that peak and it seems cases are still going up but not that much, we don’t know if it’s because we changed our behavior or the peak was at a later date,” he said.   

“Hospitals (in Southern Nevada) are not seeing the surge seen in other parts of the country. With this virus it’s very unknown,” said Office of Public Health Preparedness manager Jeff Quinn, who warned in the future people could be “flocking” to facilities for care. 

Ethnic minorities in other states are dying of COVID-19 at rates disproportionate to their population.  But health officials in Nevada have yet to release death data based on ethnicity. They say a lack of information and the “sheer number of cases” complicate the effort. 

Health officials say they are taking efforts to ward against systemic under-reporting of fatal cases of COVID-19. 

In cases where people die in their homes, the Clark County coroner is “swabbing the decedent to determine if they are COVID positive before they’ll do an autopsy,” said Misty Robinson, a preparedness planner for the health district. ‘

Testing for COVID-19 remains elusive. 

“The (testing) media are in short supply.  They are on backorder,” said Quinn. “As this is a pandemic, we also have to look at the other states and cities being hit more hard than we are in Southern Nevada. Resources are directed to the cities with greatest needs.”  

More than 11 percent of people tested in Nevada are positive for the disease, according to data provided by the state, but testing is largely limited to the sick. Health officials say the percentage of those infected in the general population is “likely lower.” 

Complicating the limited testing efforts is the fact that results are often inconclusive, officials say, noting a person may be infected, test negative and later test positive, likely because of the amount of virus present at the time. 

Antibody testing is not a priority at SNHD, where officials are concerned about the usefulness and accuracy of the tests that determine whether a person has previously been infected.  

Kraushaar said some antibody tests are displaying “cross activity with another coronavirus,” meaning a previous cold could trigger a positive result.  

“You have a false sense of security that you don’t have to take those precautions and it worries me a little bit,” he said. “We still don’t have a good sense if this offers long term immunity.”

Dana Gentry
Senior Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.