NV expert: Misinformation bigger challenge than virus itself

September 29, 2021 GMT

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases have trended downward in Nevada since a summer peak in mid-July as vaccination rates improve.

But misinformation about the effectiveness of masks and vaccines being spread by a vocal minority poses serious challenges to turning the tide on the resurgent pandemic, Washoe County’s health district officer warned Wednesday.

“I would say that the misinformation is perhaps a greater challenge that we face than the COVID-19 virus,” Kevin Dick told reporters in Reno. “We have the vaccine. We can beat the COVID-19 virus. I’m not sure we can beat misinformation.”

The 14-day rolling average for new daily cases statewide has fallen to 694, the lowest since 648 cases were reported July 15 before a surge fueled by the highly contagious delta variant kept the average above 1,000 from mid-August through mid-September, state statistics showed.

Nevada’s test positivity rate is 10.4%, down from 20% Sept. 13. Nearly 65% of Nevada residents age 12 and older have initiated vaccination and 55.6% are fully vaccinated.

Clark County and the Las Vegas area posted the state’s best numbers, with a 7.9% positivity rate and 614 new cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 16.9% and 1,454 in Washoe County, and 18.3% and 1,707 in all counties outside Washoe, Clark and Carson City.

But Dick said the seven-day average for new daily cases has dropped by more than 100 in Washoe County since mid-September to an average of 204.

“It appears we may have peaked and are coming down off that peak,” he said.

Nearly 65% of Washoe County residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 70% have gotten at least the first shot. In Clark County, with 2.3 million of the state’s 3 million residents, those figures are 55% and 65.6%.

The rest of Nevada, outside Washoe, Clark and Carson City, reports 44% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 48.5% have initiated vaccination.

Improving vaccination rates may indicate the number of naysayers is shrinking, Dick said.

“But they are quite vocal and quite aggressive in how they’re continuing to try to spread the falsehoods and convince people to not do the safe and effective thing,” he said. “They are refusing to wear masks” and “making frankly outrageous claims and comments.”

Dick said two studies recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make clear that masks are highly effective at reducing transmission of COVID-19.

One study that surveyed schools nationwide found that transmission rates in schools with universal masking were less than half those of schools without mask mandates. Another conducted in Arizona found that the odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak were 3.5 times higher in schools with no mask requirement than in those with a mask requirement implemented when school started.

Dick said some critics point to packaging on masks that say they don’t eliminate the chance of infection.

“Eliminating the chance of infection is completely different than severely reducing the chance of infection. The masks’ benefit is in hugely reducing the chance of infection,” he said.

Likewise, the science shows that while a small percentage of vaccinated people become infected, the vaccine prevents them from “being hospitalized and dying and if people do get a breakthrough case, for the most part they are much less severe cases,” he said.

Dicks said he continues to hear critics exaggerate potential side effects, including some who refer to the vaccines as “the death shot.”

“We are not seeing anybody dying from getting vaccinated here in Washoe County. We are seeing many dying because they are not vaccinated,” he said.

Dick said the latest falsehood being spread is that the availability of Pfizer’s booster shot “means the vaccine isn’t working.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. We have many vaccines and it is quite normal that there be a booster dose administered because we know from our past history with vaccines and the science behind them that there is waning immunity that occurs and that people can be greatly benefited from getting a booster,” he said.

Dick said some argue it’s a personal choice to get vaccinated. But if they choose not too, “I would hope that they make that a personal choice and try to convince others not to get vaccinated by spreading misinformation instead of looking at the science.”