COVID-19 is still on the decline

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A face mask on top of a pile of mask. Photo by Kayla Faasse

The COVID-19 seven-day average shows a continued decline, according to the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), but effects of the mask mandate removal in the state are still not in the data. 

As of March 4, the seven-day average was at 69 cases a day, according to SNHD. Just a month ago on Feb. 4, although daily cases were dropping, the seven-day average was at 653 cases a day. Epidemiologist and Associate Professor at UNLV, Brian Labus gave more insight.

“We’ve seen a decline in cases since we had that huge spike about the second week of January,” Labus said. “Things have been on the decline since then and we haven’t seen a change in that pattern or in the reverse direction.” 

The current data does not reflect the effect on the removal 

On Feb. 10, Gov. Steve Sisolak held a press conference in Allegiant stadium where he announced an immediate drop of the mask mandate for Nevada. At the time, this was against some public health officials’ advice. Sisolak said it was his hope that case numbers would continue to decline. 

If cases continue to decline, Labus says there could be other factors that may have contributed to the drop in case numbers. Seeing a continued decrease could be related to the way the disease spreads in the community, said Labus.

Along with case numbers, so did the rest of the variables drop, including vaccination rates.

“Short term, that part doesn’t matter as much, but that is what really affects the long term 

trends,” Labus explained. “What percent of the population is immune? The greater the number, the more we can control COVID.” 

What Labus sees as a challenge is not simply getting people vaccinated once, but getting people to vaccinate on a regular basis could become normal to combat future variants. The need to regularly vaccinate is due to the antibodies from natural infection and vaccination decline over time does not last effectively for more than roughly six months.

“It’s going to be a constant battle to try and keep those numbers as high as possible,” Labus said. 

Another variable that epidemiologists look at is how to keep communities from high transmission. The ability to respond to the disease to evaluate the risk in a community when the disease spreads. 

To calculate the risk of a community also involves an entire view of the vaccination rate and the capacity of hospitals to handle a surge of new cases. 

The vaccination rate in Clark County is at 56%, but by only looking at the vaccination rate in a community is misleading. Labus believes that the likeliness of a community to be immune is dependent on the age of it.

“We have excellent vaccination rates in the oldest groups in our community and the vaccination rates in the youngest people are usually pretty bad,” Labus said. “An older state is going to have higher vaccination rates. If you compare Florida, the oldest state in the country, to Alaska, the younger state, you expect to see differences just based on age alone.” 

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