LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — State and local health officials are currently reporting an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
While a very small number of those cases are in vaccinated people, experts say we all need to have our guard up. Here in Clark County, there have been 92 confirmed breakthrough cases, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.
HOSPITALS SEEING SPIKE
Breakthrough cases are one of several recent trends local health officials are concerned about. For weeks, 13 Action News has been reporting on the rising number of COVID-19 cases and Southern Nevada's rising test positivity rate. Now, local hospitals are seeing another spike in people having to go to the hospital because of COVID-19, and the overwhelming majority of them are unvaccinated.
13 Action News spoke with Dr. Domenic Martinello today, the Chief Medical Officer at Southern Hills Hospital, where COVID-19 beds have been steadily filling up in recent weeks.
20% OF PATIENTS ARE VACCINATED
Dr. Martinello says more than 80% of the COVID-19 patients at Southern Hills Hospital are not vaccinated, and nearly 100% of the patients in the intensive care unit are not vaccinated. That means 20% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Southern Hills are vaccinated. Dr. Martinello says breakthrough cases are possible, but still very rare.
"It's almost certainly, at least in part, because of the variants. But simply put, we always expect breakthrough cases. I mean, none of the vaccines are 100%. They are all in the 90s, 95%, and that's great, but that means with enough exposures, we absolutely will see breakthrough cases. And it's that point in time where, once the local community levels rise, we expect to see more breakthroughs, only because that's just more exposures. So, if everybody were vaccinated right now, we'd see very few breakthrough cases because the levels would just be so low," said Dr. Martinello.
Dr. Martinello went on to say that, even though vaccinated people can contract COVID-19, it's still worth it to get the vaccine because it provides a lot more protection against severe symptoms and hospitalization.
PATIENTS ARE YOUNGER
Not only is Southern Hills Hospital seeing more COVID-19 patients, but Dr. Martinello says, on average, they're a lot younger than the patients he treated earlier on in the pandemic. He says the average age of COVID-19 patients in the hospital has dropped dramatically, from 53 years old to 41 years old. And 41 is just the average age, meaning there are many COVID-19 patients at Southern Hills Hospital who are younger than 41. Dr. Martinello says the reality is, a lot of elderly people either passed away from COVID-19 or got the vaccine, while younger people have been more hesitant.
"I think during the first phase of COVID that we had a lot of older patients get infected, so your 70, 80, 90 year-olds. And unfortunately, a lot of them did pass from it, so we had a very high death rate at that time in that age range. So a lot of those patients have been moved out of the susceptible population. Now, we have younger people who are unvaccinated going out, and the cities have reopened, travel has been faster than ever, with people traveling in larger numbers than we've ever seen before. And unfortunately, that just sets up a perfect storm of younger, healthier people getting tragically sick from this," said Dr. Martinello.
Martinello believes the vaccination rate is much higher among older people because misinformation about the vaccine spreads much easier among younger people, especially online. That's why he encourages everyone with questions about the vaccine to consult their doctor or a medical professional, not the internet.
For example, Dr. Martinello says we've known for months that if you get COVID-19, you develop some immunity to the virus, but it generally only lasts three to six months, and only protects you from the specific strain of the virus you contracted, and there are now multiple variants. Still, Dr. Martinello says many of his patients tell him they didn't get vaccinated because they thought they were immune to COVID-19 forever after battling it off once. And he warns, you don't want to get COVID-19 a second time.
"There's been very few cases that we've been able to really study with this, but the few cases that we have seen, especially early on in the disease with the patient up in Reno. And we saw the second bout of it was much worse than the first, as the first one had a pretty mild first course and a much more severe second course. And the few patients that we have seen, getting it a second time, it's been pretty devastating," said Dr. Martinello
LOCAL DEATH RATE LOW
Dr. Martinello says the local death rate from COVID-19 remains low, but Southern Hills Hospital is getting closer to critical capacity, a day they've been preparing for since they saw the first wave of patients in 2020. He says the most frustrating part about this current spike is that these cases and hospitalizations are preventable if more people would get vaccinated.
"Deaths from COVID at this point are essentially preventable, it's a choice. And the reason is that the vaccine has been shown to be highly effective. Now, there are patients who will still get mildly sick that are vaccinated, that we expect with any vaccine. What it is preventing is the serious hospitalizations, the critical illness, and death from it. Here in Southern Nevada, the healthcare system is being taxed by this. We have more patients than we've typically seen this time of year, and this is usually our slow season. The hospitals are nearing full capacity, EMS is coming all day every day, and with the unvaccinated patients, a lot of them are getting quite sick, ending up in the hospital, and it's becoming very difficult for not only the physical healthcare institutions, but the healthcare workers to keep up with this. They're picking up extra shifts, taking on additional patients, and it's exhausting and this pace can only carry on for so long. And what we need to do is have people go out there and get vaccinated, social distance, wash their hands, mask up when appropriate, and help all of us help all of you," said Dr. Martinello.