I-Team: From 0 to 5,000 deaths, a look at a year of COVID-19 in Nevada

Coronavirus

First case reported on March 5, 2020; 300,000 cases reported in year

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — March 5 marks one year since the first case of COVID-19 in Nevada. Twelve months later, coronavirus has infected nearly 300,000 Nevadans, and 5,000 have died.

“A dangerous virus is spreading rapidly in China,” 8 News Now anchor Denise Valdez said during a newscast in late January 2020. COVID-19, which was believed to have been spread at a wet market in Wuhan, China, had killed dozens in the Asian country, as U.S. officials feared it would reach the West.

Coronavirus would reach the U.S. just after Valdez made that report, with the first case reported on Jan. 21 in Washington state. It would be several weeks before Nevada reported its first case.

March 5, 2020: 1 case, 0 deaths

“This is the kind of thing that I look at all the time,” Brian Labus, an epidemiologist at UNLV told the I-Team’s David Charns, marking one year of the pandemic. In addition to studying COVID, Labus advised Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on the state’s response.

“The way this disease was spreading, it was pretty obvious we were going to see it in every community in this country rather quickly,” Labus said.

A line of people waiting to buy supplies amid coronavirus fears snakes through a parking lot at a Costco, Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Las Vegas. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Three days after Nevada reported its first case, health officials reported the state’s first death. By March 18, Sisolak called for a statewide shutdown.

“This is affecting the lives of our citizens. People are dying,” the governor said during a news conference. “It’s incumbent upon the people of this state to take this seriously.”

Businesses, including the famed casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, closed for at least a month. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs as time stood still.

April 1, 2020: 1,279 cases, 45 deaths

With no cure and limited testing, by April, schools had closed, and most businesses were forced to shutter.

In late April, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman appeared on CNN, suggesting Las Vegas become a “control group.”

“How do you know until we have a control group?” the mayor said to Anderson Cooper. “We offered to be a controlled group. I did offer, it was turned down.”

“To think of it like an experiment where we are offering everyone up like a guinea pig is the wrong way to have a mindset about this outbreak,” Labus said.

May 1, 2020: 5,227 cases, 227 deaths

With businesses closed and a shutdown in place, new cases of coronavirus decrease. Businesses begin to reopen, but at limited capacities. Las Vegas legend Roy Horn died from COVID complications at 75.

June 1: 8,688 cases, 445 deaths

Sisolak allows casinos to reopen, but at a limited capacity. It is not until the first week of summer that Sisolak institutes a statewide mask mandate.

“I would have liked to see a mask mandate sooner,” Labus said. “There was a security guard that was killed, and there were people assaulted in stores for trying to enforce a mask mandate. He thought it would be unsafe to put that in. It would put the burden unfairly on businesses and put their lives at risk.”

Graph showing the rise of COVID-19 cases in mid-summer, fall and December. (DHHS)

By July, the White House Coronavirus Task Force had put Clark County in the red zone for transmission. No major developments occur as the valley bakes in the heat. However, data would later show house parties, many held over the July 4 holiday, contributed to the spread of the virus.

Sept. 1, 2020: 69,633 cases, 1,313 deaths

Former President Donald Trump holds two rallies across Nevada.

“Tell your governor to open up your state, by the way,” Trump tells a crowd in Henderson. The indoor rally violated the state’s 50-person capacity limit. The state initially gave the property a fine, but later dropped it.

October brings the start of a fall surge. Cases climb as the weather cools.

Nov. 1, 2020: 101,479 cases, 1,781 deaths

With cases increasing and a test positivity rate inching toward 20%, Sisolak implements Stay At Home 2.0, an initiative to pull back on reopening. The governor asked those who could stay home to do so.

“We are in a rapid trajectory that threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system,” Sisolak said during a November news conference.

With cases still increasing, Sisolak then issued a three-week pause. Capacity limits are pulled back, and earlier restrictions put in place.

FILE – Hospital beds sit inside Renown Regional Medical Center’s parking garage, which has been transformed into an alternative care site for COVID-19 patients in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. Faulting inaction in Washington, governors and state lawmakers are racing to get needed pandemic relief to small businesses, the unemployed, renters and others affected by the widening coronavirus outbreak. In some cases, they are figuring out how to spend the last of a federal relief package passed in the spring as an end-of-year deadline approaches and the current COVID-19 surge threatens their economies once again. (Lucia Starbuck/KUNR Public Radio/Report for America via AP)

December would mark Nevada’s deadliest month. COVID-19 became the leading cause of death, with 3,000 total deaths by the end of 2020.

“Locally and regionally, many of our funeral homes are approaching their full capacity,” Dr. Laura Knight, Washoe County coroner, said during a press call. Funeral homes in Southern Nevada also felt the influx. The Clark County Coroner’s Office and some funeral homes set up portable freezers to handle more bodies.

Dec. 31, 2020: 227,046 total cases, 3,125 deaths

By the beginning of 2021, hospitals appeared on the brink, with some surpassing their ICU bed capacity. Fremont Street pulled back its New Year’s Eve plans, but thousands gathered on an empty Las Vegas Boulevard.

But January also brought the first signs of hope. The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval for two vaccines.

The first vaccine doses arrive in Las Vegas. (SNHD)

“We came just shy of it really breaking hospitals — Northern Nevada came even closer,” Labus said.

After a slow rollout, more than half a million doses had been administered in Nevada by the start of March.

March 5: 5,000 deaths, 300,000 cases

“It caused a pandemic that was documented for the first time minute-by-minute worldwide,” Labus reflects, adding we will be able to look back at how each of us dealt with the past year.

A year of COVID-19 no one will forget.

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