PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Dr. Mark Pandori from the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone get an updated COVID-19 vaccine this fall, experts don’t foresee a sharp spike in infections on the horizon—although they do predict a modest seasonal jump.

Mark Pandori, a microbiologist at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine, said that because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, we should expect an increase in positive cases this fall and winter like we typically do with other diseases affecting the respiratory system. However, he does not expect a significant increase, as a sharp spike in cases would require a massive genetic change in the virus—such as the one that occurred with the Omicron variant.

At this point, it’s difficult to track the true number of positive cases, because government agencies don’t track at-home test results. Most states stopped reporting infection-rate data when the COVID 19-related public health emergency ended on May 11, 2023. However, indicators show local infections have been slowly rising. The website Covid Act Now reports that at the end of August in Washoe County, 3.8 individuals per 100,000 were hospitalized for COVID. By mid-October, that number had more than doubled to 7.7 per 100,000.

Wastewater analysis also showed that SARS-CoV-2 levels had increased in Washoe County in late September, before decreasing somewhat in the first week of October, Pandori said.

Business as usual

For some local businesses, life appears to be approaching a pre-pandemic normal—with some precautions here and there.

On a recent day at Sports West Athletic Club, some people were working out, while others were visiting over coffee—and nobody was wearing a mask. An employee said this was typical and reported no noticeable recent impacts from COVID-19 on staff or customers.

At Reno Little Theater (full disclosure: I serve on the board), executive director Melissa Taylor said the theater makes a “very strong request” for staff, cast and crew members to report COVID-19 or flu symptoms, or positive COVID tests; anyone who has been ill or tested positive is asked to wear a mask for 10 days. A sign on the theater’s front door asks patrons to return home if they’re feeling ill.

Ticket-refund policies are much more flexible than in pre-COVID days; one group that rents the theater monthly canceled its October performances due to COVID-positive cast members. Additionally, Taylor noted that more audience members are wearing masks now than they were during summer shows.

Updated vaccines recommended

This fall, the CDC recommended that everyone 6 months of age and older receive an updated one-dose COVID-19 vaccine. In October, Northern Nevada Public Health (formerly the Washoe County Health District) began offering the updated vaccine for $22.57; the cost is covered by most insurance plans. Vaccination appointments are also available at many local drug stores. CVS and Walgreens participate in the CDC Bridge Access Program, which provides COVID vaccinations for no charge to those with limited or no coverage.

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