LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — According to the Southern Nevada Health District, the number of COVID-19 cases and the test positivity rate in Clark County have both been steadily rising since mid-September. Over the last two weeks, the local COVID-19 transmission rate has reached an alarming 13.2%, the highest health officials have seen since the rate spiked over the summer.
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13 Action News spoke with a few Las Vegas hospital executives to find out what they've been doing to prepare for a potential second wave of the virus in Southern Nevada.
"When I reflect back to mid-March, I think we were all kind of scrambling to address the virus and how to prepare, concerns about the surge and PPE and ventilators, and just not having a vaccination or any defined treatments," said Mason Van Houweling, CEO of University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, painting a grim picture when thinking back to the initial wave of the virus.
"When we first got our COVID patients, all the hospitals were, I think in some respect, unprepared for what we were going to see," said Dan McBride, Chief Medical Officer of the Valley Health System. McBride oversees six hospitals in the Las Vegas Valley, and says they weren't the only ones that weren't prepared for this pandemic.
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But in the almost eight months since the initial surge, our hospitals have learned a lot about the virus and developed more effective methods for treating it, starting with stockpiling personal protective equipment.
"China had perhaps the entire world market on PPE. When they shut down their factories and the distribution got impacted, it made it very difficult for hospitals across the world," said McBride.
"Early on, it was very difficult to get masks and gloves and gowns. We’ve learned not to rely on one or two vendors. We’ve been able to source products throughout the country and the world," said Van Houweling.
Expanded and instant testing technology has helped hospital staff identify and isolate COVID-positive patients before or as soon as they arrive at the hospital.
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"We are finding a lot of the population that are COVID-positive just didn’t know it. About a third of our patients that are in the hospital for COVID, we were able to identify through our testing. They weren’t there because of respiratory illness. They were there for something else," said Van Houweling.
For patients suffering from severe symptoms, doctors are relying less on ventilators to help them breath. Instead, they're putting patients in the prone position and using new F.D.A.-approved therapeutics, when appropriate.
"Hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir , Regeneron is on its way, which is two monoclonal antibodies that really stops the virus and protects those cells that are not infected. We see early intervention with Remdesivir really slows down the symptoms. So, I think that’s what helping the hospitalization rate and also the death rate, ultimately," said Van Houweling.
Centennial Hills Hospital just happens to be expanding. A new $95 million bed tower project wasn't originally intended to treat COVID-19 patients, but it will help by raising the expected bed capacity from 262 beds to about 340 by early next year.
"Whether it’s the flu, whether it’s COVID, we feel even more prepared from a facility perspective to service the community," said Sajit Pullarkat, the Chief Executive Officer of Centennial Hills Hospital.
In the case our hospitals get overwhelmed, health officials have put a plan in place to turn the Las Vegas Convention Center into an alternate hospital, adding about 900 beds, if necessary.
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"As the positivity rate grows, we know that translates to more hospitalizations. So, we want to avoid that," said Van Houweling.
Whatever the second wave will look like in Las Vegas, our hospitals say they'll be ready. But ultimately, only the public has the power to keep COVID-19 under control.
"Social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding large crowds, avoiding big holiday get-togethers with your family. As much as we all want to do that, there will be another time to do it when we can do it safely. If we relax on those and disregard those, we may find ourselves in the positions like some of these other states have seen," said McBride.
If you want to help prevent our hospitals from reaching capacity, medical experts also recommend getting your flu shot.