Southern Nevada hospitals reassure public despite surge in cases

A healthcare worker outside Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas in July. (Photo: Daniel Clark)

A group of Southern Nevada hospitals sent a unified message Wednesday that their facilities are not overwhelmed despite a rise in coronavirus cases, but they asked locals to remain vigilant.

“Today, Southern Nevada hospitals have more available capacity than we did at the same time last year, before the pandemic began,” the statement said. “While our health care community has the ability to add temporary beds if needed, we have not had to activate any surge plans, as current hospital capacity remains sufficient.”

Executives who signed the note represented University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, Dignity Health, North Vista Hospital and Universal Health Services, which operates the Valley Health System.

The statement came the morning after a Tuesday evening press conference by Gov. Steve Sisolak, who warned Nevadans of potential official action if the state did not remedy its deteriorating coronavirus situation. Sisolak painted a stark portrait, pointing out that Monday marked the highest recorded number of hospitalizations statewide since mid-August.

The state’s test positivity rate averaged 13.8 percent over roughly the last week and a half of October and the first few days of November, according to Nevada Health Response. The World Health Organization in May suggested governments achieve a 5 percent or lower positivity rate before reopening. 

The Nevada Hospital Association reported that, as of Tuesday, there were 796 confirmed cases and 154 suspected cases in hospitals across the state.

Though 64 percent of ICU beds in the northern part of the state were occupied compared to 66 percent in the South, the Southern Nevada hospitals’ statement contrasted with worries over increasingly strained resources in Northern Nevada, particularly in Reno.

Renown Health, operator of Renown Regional Medical Center and Renown South Meadows Medical Center in Reno, has said its facilities are facing demand and capacity issues.

The hospital operator announced Friday that it has activated its Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) to “address the ongoing high census and increasing community COVID-19 test positivity rates.”

During Sisolak’s press conference Tuesday, Renown President and CEO Dr. Tony Slonim described contingency plans for additional space that include expanding hospital operations to a parking garage.

“I don’t take opening a parking garage and putting hospitalized patients in it lightly,” he said, “and that’s where we are likely this week.” 

Renown Regional has also re-deployed a tent outside of its emergency department that can be used as a screening area.

Washoe County reported Wednesday that it had reached 4,141 active cases, an all-time high.

Sisolak has asked Nevadans to avoid public spaces unless necessary for the next two weeks, in what he’s calling “Stay at Home 2.0.” 

Though the suggestion is not an official mandate, Sisolak said the worsening situation of increased cases and hospitalizations could lead to official action in two weeks.

Scientists and doctors have told him “we are on the verge of being overwhelmed,” Sisolak said.

“If we don’t come together at this moment, I will be forced to take stronger action,” he said.

In Southern Nevada, local hospitals continue to hold daily teleconferences and weekly CEO forums to share coronavirus updates, according to the joint statement. 

They are continuing to do elective surgeries and encouraged Nevadans not to delay seeking care.

The governor’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the content of the hospitals’ statement or on how future restrictions might be determined.

Pashtana Usufzy
Pashtana Usufzy is a freelance general features and health reporter based in Las Vegas. She previously worked as a health care reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal and prior to that as a local news reporter at the Las Vegas Sun.