Vegas-Area Hospitals Working to Manage 'Tsunami' of Omicron Cases as They Remain in Crisis

Nevada hospitals are dealing with what one health official called a "tsunami" of COVID cases due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, with cases and positivity rates reaching pandemic highs in the state.

"We are in an extremely transmissive phase that is beyond anything we have seen before," said Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick, according to the Associated Press. Dick called it a "tsunami ... a tremendous surge."

Officials said this week that the number of hospitalizations is a problem in the state, as well as many healthcare workers contracting the highly transmissible variant, leading to staffing at several hospitals in and around Las Vegas remaining at the worst "crisis" category for the second straight week.

"While, fortunately, we are hearing a lot about how Omicron is not as severe — and thankfully it doesn't seem to be — and many healthy people are recovering, we need to be concerned about the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. They are the ones that are at most risk from Omicron. And it is highly transmissible," Dick said.

"Nearly all the cases that we are experiencing now in our community are Omicron," Dick told reporters Wednesday in Reno. "That's why we are seeing the dramatic, almost vertical, increase in our case curve from day to day."

Nevada COVID Las Vegas Hospitals Omicron
An "I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker with an image of the Nevada state flag is displayed on a sign at the entrance to a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club on Dec. 21, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada is seeing record high numbers of COVID cases and positivity rates due to the surge of the Omicron variant. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nearly 1 in 3 people taking COVID-19 tests outside the home are testing positive as the apparently less-severe but more-contagious Omicron variant fuels the virus that's spreading faster than ever, health officials said Wednesday.

Washoe County's seven-day moving average of 744 new daily cases is 1.5 times higher than the county's previous peak in November 2020, he said.

The seven-day moving average for confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in southern Nevada now exceeds 1,190 for the first time since January 2021, the Nevada Hospital Association said Wednesday.

"There is no indication that hospitalizations have peaked and increases in COVID-19 hospital demand are anticipated for the next several weeks," it said in its weekly update.

Northern Nevada, which historically has lagged behind the south by about two weeks. continues to see modest increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations, rising more than 70 percent over the past two weeks — from 50 on Dec. 28 to 86 on Monday.

The hospital association said there is anecdotal evidence that people are experiencing COVID-19 reinfection in less than four months, including some vaccinated individuals.

"This reinfection rate may contribute to a prolonged hospital staffing challenge if this becomes the Omicron norm," it said.

Schools in Clark County announced a five day "pause" beginning Friday with no classes for students the day before and after the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

In Reno, district officials acknowledged they may eventually have to return to distance learning at some schools if a teacher shortage spurred by absences doesn't subside.

The shortage of testing availability combined with the large number of people taking home tests in recent weeks makes it difficult to estimate true test rates beyond those at sites run by local health districts or other providers such as pharmacies who report statistics to the state.

But the statewide positivity rate has tripled since December — rising steadily from 9.4 percent on Dec. 28 to 30.5 percent as of Tuesday, based on a 14-day lag. In Clark County, it was 33.4 percent on Tuesday.

The highest positivity rate recorded statewide during the previous peak surge was 20.4 percent on Jan. 13, 2021.

By mid-February last year, the statewide positivity rate had dipped into single digits and remained below 6 percent from mid-March through June. It jumped to 10.1 percent on July 13 and remained around 10 percent most of the rest of the year before it began the dramatic, steady increase from 10.2 percent on Dec. 29 to 21.4 percent by Jan. 5, last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.