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Nevada hospitalization rates surpass last summer’s surge

August 3, 2021 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — An uptick in coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant and Nevada’s flagging rate of vaccinations has pushed hospitalization rates in the state past levels seen in a surge last summer, well before vaccines were available.

Nevada reported Tuesday that 1,148 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 67 others were suspected to have the illness.

Those are levels last seen in late January but below the peak seen since the pandemic began. That was in December when hospitals were pushed to near capacity, with few people having access to vaccines and many gathering over the holidays. On Dec. 15, Nevada reported 1,857 confirmed COVID-19 patients.

Now, hospitals have more COVID-19 patients than during a previous surge last summer, when 972 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized and 174 were suspected of having the virus.

The Nevada Hospital Association is expected to release new statewide hospital data Wednesday. Amy Shogren, a spokeswoman for the association, said no one was available for an interview Tuesday.

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As of last week, the Nevada Hospital Association said seven hospitals were reporting a surge in cases above licensed bed counts and five had staffing shortages.

There were 231 COVID-19 patients in intensive care last week — about half the peak of 460 seen on Dec. 22. There were 142 people on ventilators, less than half the level seen at the peak the same December day.

Aimee Eaton, a respiratory therapist in Las Vegas, said health care workers are burned out after more than a year of responding to the pandemic and seeing a wave of new cases, mostly among the unvaccinated.

“It is, unfortunately, becoming a new normal for health care workers, and there is going to be a serious shortage of health care workers, with people leaving because you can’t ask someone to essentially go to war every day. It is just crazy,” Eaton said.

She said that when Nevada relaxed most of its pandemic restrictions and infection numbers were low, it felt like there was maybe a month of hopeful normalcy before infections and hospitalizations started spiking again.

“It is beyond frustrating,” Eaton said. “You start running short-staffed. I know our respiratory therapists have been short. We have nurses working mandatory overtime as well. It is like you don’t get a break at all — ever.”

Mason Van Houweling, CEO of University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, said nearly every hospitalized COVID-19 patient his staffers see is unvaccinated and many are facing life-threatening illness and long-term complications. He said in a statement that the hospital has the resources, staffing and capacity to handle a future influx but that the hospital is urging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“At this point, contracting COVID-19 is largely inevitable for those who remain unvaccinated,” he said.

Dr. Joe Corcoran, chief medical officer for HCA Healthcare hospitals in Nevada and California, said the intensive care units at the group’s three facilities in Las Vegas — Sunrise Hospital, MountainView Hospital and Southern Hills Hospital — are all at or near capacity.

At Sunrise Hospital, elective surgeries such as knee and hip replacements are on hold because of the increased patient load.

“Those beds are increasingly filled with patients who are admitted with COVID,” he said.

In addition to urging people to get vaccinated and seeking help from federal officials to get more shots in arms, Gov. Steve Sisolak recently reimposed a mask mandate for much of Nevada. The order applies to people regardless of vaccination status when they’re indoors in 12 of 17 counties, including the areas around Las Vegas and Reno.

People who are unvaccinated are required to wear a mask statewide.

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Associated Press reporter Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.