BY ALEX HOEFT, WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BECCA LOUX AND MAYUMI ELEGADO | Moonshine Ink
Editors’ Note, update June 22, 10:12 a.m.: Shortly after publication of this article, both Washoe and Placer counties saw their largest single-day spike in reported cases of COVID-19, both on June 18. Placer reported 28 new cases that day; Washoe, 83 — but explained in a press release that there was a delay in reporting and those new cases were actually dispersed across two days. This is in addition to Nevada County’s largest single-day spike since the pandemic’s start, with 11 new cases on June 17, as reported below.
This interactive chart shows new cases reported in June in all three counties in the Tahoe/Truckee region that experienced this marked increase last week. Additionally, as of this update: 73 total COVID-19 patients in Washoe County have died and 72 are currently hospitalized; nine patients have died in Placer County with 10 in the hospital at this time; one patient has died in Nevada County (which doesn’t report hospitalization totals).
Hot on the heels of sectors reopening across California has come a significant bump in positive COVID-19 cases.
Some Nevada County healthcare representatives, however, are attributing the boost in numbers to lax personal responsibility rather than businesses opening their doors and an increase in testing availability.
On June 17, the county saw its largest single-day spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, a jump of 11 to put the county’s total known cases to date at 68. Nevada County originally and exclusively reported 10 for the day to Moonshine, but Ryan Gruver, director of health and human services, said the next day that there was one additional case that didn’t make the dashboard. The new cases are pretty evenly split between western and eastern parts of the county.
The rise comes after a flatlined month of May — from April 28 to May 31, Nevada County stayed at 41 total cases. But with June came an uptick, one new case on June 1, up to 6 the next day, and so on.
Gruver isn’t linking the rise in positive cases to the reopening of sectors. Rather, he said, “they’re related to complacency.
“It’s imperative that the community understands and we as individuals understand that just because business sectors are reopening doesn’t mean it’s business as usual,” he continued.
Placer County also saw a record rise in cases: June 16 and 17 had 21 newly confirmed cases apiece, both the highest number in a single day ever. (To put this spike into context, the highest count in the month previous was on May 30 with 15 cases. June has mostly sat between 10 and 15.) Eastern Placer currently has 32 cases.
Statewide, as of publication, California has 161,099 confirmed COVID-19 cases, resulting in 5,290 deaths. The number of cases increased by 2.6% from June 17. On June 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that face coverings are now required in public spaces because, as the guidelines state, “the risk for COVID-19 remains and the increasing number of Californians who are leaving their homes for work and other needs, increases the risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection.”
The state of Nevada is reopening with a more aggressive schedule than California — most recently allowing casinos to reopen June 4. Yet Washoe County’s largest single-day spike in cases happened on June 11, with 61 announced. Daily new case numbers have dropped since then, with only seven announced on June 17.
Cindy Wilson, director of public health nursing for Nevada County, credits that county’s spike in numbers to increased social interactions: people back at work, people attending more family gatherings, people out and about in community settings, and people traveling more. Yes, there’s more testing availability now, but the testing is simply the medium for translating the reality of reopening, Wilson says.
“The increase in cases is due to the increase of social interactions,” she told Moonshine Ink. “We are able to know about it because of the increased testing. We saw a few weeks with increased testing without increased cases. Then we started the reopening and it has accelerated at a pretty rapid pace — [businesses] being reopened and [they’re] not reopened very long before the next things get to reopen.”
Wilson said the current spike has to do with the time span over the past couple months and increases in outings in general. Recent George Floyd demonstrations have not impacted cases, she said, as far as she knows.
Gruver added that recent cases seem to be trending toward the younger population.
Nevada County doesn’t have “enough cases [of younger people] to make a statistically significant determination,” Gruver said, but he did point out that “the first cases in the 0-17 age range are reflected on our dashboard now.”
The trend is despite Nevada County’s demographic skew toward the elderly, he continued. Because of initial widespread publicity that the coronavirus wasn’t as easily contracted by younger people, or as severe, Gruver said it seems to be the notion in the area that some people in that age range don’t have to worry as much about contracting the virus.
“But you can be a carrier for it,” he finished. “We all have a role to play.”
And the county does want to keep moving forward in reopening, albeit in a safe manner.
“The best way to move forward is to not move backwards,” said Taylor Wolfe, administrative assistant for Nevada County.
Placer County is approaching the rise in cases as likely caused by four different factors rather than a main headliner: increased testing, increased activity, increased gatherings, and cases in vulnerable (i.e. homeless shelters, assisted living facilities, etc.) settings.
“As we gradually reopen in Placer County, an increase in cases was and is expected as activity increases,” said Dr. Aimee Sisson, Placer’s health officer and public health director, in a statement. “In our attestation to the state, we outlined the triggers that would cause us to consider modifying our approach, including the rate of case increases. We continue to monitor that and local health care capacity closely so we can respond quickly to avoid our healthcare system becoming overwhelmed.”
Sisson explained the county is not currently approaching any of those triggers, nor is Placer (or Nevada) above the threshold for concern on a statewide level. However, she does caution that COVID-19 is still a major threat to the Tahoe region and the risks should be taken seriously.
After nearly two months (March 19 to May 7) of a heavily advised statewide stay-at-home directive from Newsom’s office, May 8 signified movement into stage two of the reopening plan, and the June 12 entrance into stage three allowed higher-risk businesses (movie theaters, gyms, lodging) to reopen. There is no set date for entrance into stage four, which will allow concert gatherings and live sport attendance.
Wilson says her main message in light of case spikes is for people to be careful about their social interactions and be wary of taking more risks.
“All of us should stop and say, this is a calculated risk that I’m willing to accept rather than, oh, it’s just a random invitation so sure,” she said. “… I think really assessing the importance of a trip to the grocery store or a visit at somebody’s house or a large family gathering or a special event like a birthday party, because those can have some pretty significant consequences if one person there ends up with COVID. Be calculated about the risks you’re willing to take rather than just casual and non-evaluative.”