Last week’s sudden surge in COVID-19 cases reminded Pershing County residents their community is not immune to coronavirus. Five positive COVID tests reported in one day by the state set a new record for the county according to County Health Officer Dr. Kamin VanGuilder.

“I’m sorry to inform you all I was notified we have 5 new COVID-19 cases in Pershing County!” she said. “That’s the highest positive count for one day here and brings us to 32 total cases.”

Dr. VanGuilder predicted an uptick in winter when there are more indoor activities. Those infected “can be contagious up to 48 hours before you have any symptoms,” she warned.

As test results were coming in, the number of cases continued to increase last week. Dr. VanGuilder reported 33 confirmed cases on Thursday then reported 37 cases on Friday.

“We have many test results pending so this number may continue to climb,” she said. “PLEASE wear a mask when you’re around anyone you don’t live with (and if you’re sick, wear one if you can’t isolate to 1 room in your home).”

Earlier, a patient with severe symptoms was sent to a Reno hospital for treatment. Pershing General Hospital doesn’t have an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) according to Dr. VanGuilder. 

As of Friday, no Pershing County residents had died due to COVID-19 according to the state.

In her second update on Thursday, Dr VanGuilder said local COVID cases were still climbing and she urged people to stay home for two weeks if possible to help slow down the virus

“Lovelock has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the last week. We need to get things under control and slow the spread NOW. We had done such a good job of keeping the numbers low and we need to resume our vigilance.” 

The county COVID statistics are for county residents only and do not include test results for those who commute from other areas to local mine, prison or other jobs. At the November 4 board of health meeting, Dr. VanGuilder said about 40 percent of those infected with COVID are asymptomatic and may not know they are spreading the virus to more vulnerable co-workers.

More positive tests means more contact tracing, home isolation or quarantine and “quarantine officers might be deployed” to be sure people exposed to the virus stay home for two weeks. A contact tracing service is still available if COVID-19 cases overwhelm local healthcare workers.

“There are a lot of sick people around town and several are scheduled to be evaluated at the clinic this week,” Dr. VanGuilder said in her weekly update. “For those with mild symptoms, please remind people to isolate at home for at least 10 days after onset of symptoms. We will get people seen and tested as needed depending on their clinical course.”

She later stated that more residents than usual have been scheduling appointments at the hospital’s outpatient clinic for health concerns that may or may not be related to COVID-19.

“So far, the newest cases have not required hospitalization,” Dr. VanGuilder added. 

Since PGH does not have an intensive care unit, local COVID patients in need of intensive care will be transferred to larger hospitals but only if ICU beds are still available, she said.

“Unfortunately, hospitals in Reno/Sparks are filling up and may not be able to accept transfers from smaller hospitals. The hard truth is that people who may require critical care (ICU) may not be able to get it. It would be tragic if we (as a state and country) have to start rationing care.” 



HOSPITAL BEDS 

FILLING UP

In her second update on November 12, Dr. VanGuilder warned that Reno-Sparks hospitals were filling up fast and could soon become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients meaning medical care could be rationed. She quoted a November 10 Reno Gazette-Journal news story.

“Crisis protocols are in place to evaluate who may get treatment and who would go without because of factors, such as age, that would make a person less likely to survive.”

“This type of healthcare rationing would be tragic for patients and healthcare personnel but it is a real possibility if case counts continue to rise,” Dr. VanGuilder warned her community. “Do NOT panic. If anyone develops severe symptoms like chest pains, shortness of breath, confusion, symptoms of dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea (or other concerning symptoms), go to the ER for evaluation or call 9-1-1.”

To “slow the spread,” she reminded people to wear masks, wash hands and social distance. She also urged residents to stay home if possible as requested by Governor Steve Sisolak. 

“Please continue to be vigilant, wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid large gatherings,” she said. “Open windows a little bit, improve air circulation, air filtration. Please try to stay well.”

Dr. VanGuilder promised ongoing updates by email and she will respond to questions from the public. She requested that an online portal for health questions be set up on the county website. 

Dr. Van Guilder explained the difference between isolation and quarantine. Both are attempts to stop the spread of infectious disease. Isolation is for those with mild symptoms who are likely infectious. Quarantine is for those exposed to the virus, possibly infectious but asymptomatic.

“Isolation is staying away, trying to stay well, trying not to infect others and making sure that if you get worse, you get care that you need. Quarantine is you are trying to make sure you are away from other people because you can become infected and infectious anytime in 14 days. You could be asymptomatic and still be sharing (the virus) so we ask that you stay away in your own room without other contacts and monitor yourself for illness.”

Mild COVID symptoms include fever, chills, runny nose, fatigue, sore throat or cough. Severe symptoms that need medical care include breathing difficulty, chest pain, bluish lips or face.

As for a vaccine, Dr. VanGuilder said vaccines could arrive sometime this month or next. First responders and healthcare workers who want the vaccine will be the first in line. One vaccine (made by Pfizer) must be kept mostly “ultra cold” to remain viable. It will be distributed to larger counties first then to smaller counties according to the level of demand to avoid waste, she said.

On Friday, Dr. VanGuilder promised a more encouraging message on the situation.

“Hopefully coming soon...winter home entertainment ideas and fun mask suggestions. Please stay vigilant. We can do it!”

On Sunday night, Burke said Pershing County was holding at 37 total COVID cases but explained again why masks, social distancing and other health precautions must continue.

“One major concern for all of Northern Nevada is that Reno hospitals are approaching capacity to deal with COVID cases. Please take all necessary precautions and be careful out there.”

The next monthly meeting of the Pershing County Board of Health is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, December 2, 2020 in the ground floor of the Pershing County Courthouse. The meeting will also be available online via ZOOM at https://us04web.zoom.us/j/7754420102.