Nevada gearing up for coronavirus, whether wave comes or not

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada health officials are moving toward opening several hundred temporary hospital beds within days to handle a potential surge of coronavirus patients, while acknowledging they may be preparing for a wave that never comes.

Some critics argue the public threat has been overblown, including the mayor of Las Vegas, who on Wednesday called for the immediate reopening of Nevada’s casinos and other shuttered non-essential businesses.

“For heaven’s sake,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said. “Being closed is killing us already, and killing Las Vegas, our industry, our convention and tourism business that we have all worked so hard to build.”

“This shutdown has become one of total insanity,” she said.

But Gov. Steve Sisolak said late Tuesday he was nowhere near reopening parts of Nevada’s idled economy. Sisolak didn’t immediately respond to Goodman’s comments.

“This is not going to be a political decision for as to when to open,” Sisolak said Tuesday. “We’re going to take it slow and steady and listen to the doctors.”

Projections of when and how hard a surge of COVID-19 patients may hit vary widely, with one University of Washington model suggesting the peak may already have passed. While other models indicate the worst still could be weeks or months away, experts said they are encouraged by latest trends.

“The sacrifices we are making with our social distancing strategies are helping to flatten the curve and preventing our surge scenarios from being as bad as they were a week or two ago,” Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said Wednesday.

“We are cautiously optimistic right now, and I think the week ahead of us is going to be important,” he said. “There is no assurance the models are correct.”

Goodman said the number of people who she said have died statewide from the virus represents less than one-half of 1% of the state’s more than 3 million people. Yet she said the entire state has been brought to its knees.

Meanwhile, state health officials reported that more than 3,200 people have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 respiratory illness, and 131 have died. Most people with the virus experience symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

District health officials in Las Vegas and Reno defended continuing plans to add overflow hospital beds.

Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno has a makeshift facility on three floors of a parking garage with up to 1,400 beds if needed.

One floor with 700 beds is furnished and ready, and the other half could be ready in three days if needed, officials said. But Renown’s existing 800-bed hospital remains under capacity, so the garage could prove unnecessary.

As many as 500 temporary beds are expected to open within a week at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, with room to expand to 700 or more.

“We are continuing to look at the data to see if we need to build out fully, partially or maybe nothing,” Washoe County Joint Response Team spokesman Adam Mayberry said. ”Right now, the data is still showing we need this site, but likely not full capacity.”

The Nevada National Guard could help open a Las Vegas Convention Center field hospital within four days if a decision is made to use the sprawling expo hall, officials in Las Vegas said Tuesday. The plan would start with 300 beds, then add another 150, then up to 900 more if needed.

In its first two nights, 12 people were brought to a pop-up tent complex that opened Monday in Las Vegas to provide quarantine or isolation but not hospitalization for as many as 500 homeless coronavirus patients. The regional health district is building a 40-bed temporary hospital next to its office.

Clark County Commission Chairman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said public measures to prevent people from face-to-face contact may be working. Steve Hill, chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said officials hope not to have to use the convention hall at all.

On Tuesday, 340 coronavirus patients were hospitalized statewide, Sisolak said. They made up about 10% of the total patients in licensed, staffed, acute-care beds in the state, which now have an overall occupancy rate of 59%. An estimated 69% of the beds in intensive care units are occupied.

Sisolak warned when he closed casinos and other non-essential businesses March 20 that all the state’s approximately 5,000 beds soon could be full with virus patients.

By March 25, the Nevada Hospital Association estimated 84% of all beds and 76% of intensive care unit beds were filled. Two days later, those figures dropped to 67% and 72%, respectively.

Since April 6, hospital bed occupation rates have remained at about six out of 10 beds overall, and seven of 10 ICU beds, according to the association.

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