"The problem we have is that the mitigation policy that most successfully stemmed the tide in Nevada was our complete shutdown. And for the White House to send that recommendation without including a big check for Nevadans is out of touch and offensive. A shutdown is unrealistic without additional support."
-Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D), December 13, 2020
Let's start by playing back the past few months here in Nevada.
8/31. "Stop, Swab, and Go" testing drive begins in Clark County through September 18, with a goal of performing 60,000 coronavirus tests.
9/16. The 7-day average test positivity rate in Nevada dips under 10% (probably with a little help from the testing drive) for the first time since June; this would be short-lived. For reference, the top end of the WHO-recommended goal for test positivity is 5 percent.
This is also about the point where case counts bottomed out.
9/17. Bars in Las Vegas to reopen. Nevada governor Steve Sisolak (D) announces that bars, pubs, breweries, distilleries, wineries, taverns and bar areas within restaurants in Clark County and Elko County will be allowed to reopen effective Sunday, September 20 at 11:59 p.m., joining all other counties in Nevada; Sisolak had ordered bars in seven counties to close effective July 10 at 11:59 p.m. Bars in Washoe and Nye Counties were allowed to reopen September 16 at 11:59 p.m.
9/24. Sweden Prime Minister Stefan Lofven reiterates intent to keep 50-person limit on gatherings in place, saying "What we do right now, we will enjoy later. What we do wrong, we will suffer later."
9/29. MGM Resorts International (MGM 0.39%) announces "Convene With Confidence" – a comprehensive health and safety plan for meetings and conventions making use of rapid testing to create mini event bubbles – ahead of governor's announcement raising the limit on gathering size.
9/29: Limit on gatherings raised. Governor Sisolak announces that the limits on gatherings would be raised from 50 people to 250 people (or 50% capacity, whichever is smaller) in order to allow shows, events, meetings, and conventions to return – most notably to the Las Vegas Strip.
10/1. Wynn Resorts (WYNN 0.88%) CEO Matt Maddox pens op-ed in The Nevada Independent detailing plans to implement rapid-testing enabled bubbles for events, shows, meetings, and conventions.
10/6. See Las Vegas: Bubble City.
10/8. The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) previews a new update to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. The update includes a new graphical interface and new data points, but also a change to the method for calculating what the state wants to present as the test positivity rate (more on this in a minute); this is the second such change to this calculation in two months.
10/13. Wynn announces it will close Encore casino and hotel in Las Vegas midweek, citing slow demand.
10/16. Per Megan Messerly of The Nevada Independent, the 7-day average test positivity rate under the original method passes 20% for the first time since the beginning of August. New cases and the test positivity rate have been on the rise for several weeks, with hospitalizations also starting to climb, particularly in Washoe County.
There are only two possibilities here:— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 16, 2020
1. Nevada is on the coronavirus cutting edge, and the world should be studying how we are planning to have conventions with a 20% test positivity rate, or
2. We are on the cusp of things being very bad here if we continue to do nothing. https://t.co/vHz868qkly
10/22. Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick says that hospitals in Washoe County are "fairly near capacity" in terms of actual staffed beds, as opposed to licensed beds tracked by the Nevada Hospital Association.
10/22. Nevada COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage says "hospitalizations remain relatively steady" despite the spike in case numbers and test positivity rate in the state.
Of course, Cage said the same thing in June when hospitalizations more than doubled in two weeks https://t.co/FqjzwQRGqR— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 22, 2020
10/23. Washoe County Health District urges "extreme caution when out and about" after reporting 350 cases in a single day; the previous record was 179.
10/24. Nevada reports 1,000+ cases for the first time since August.
10/26. Las Vegas Sands (LVS -0.80%) confirms it is exploring the sale of its Las Vegas Strip properties.
This is reality. We can say we want conventions all we want — and expand limits on gatherings past what even Sweden would do — but we can't make people want to have conventions the way we want them to, or make make people show up for conventions the way we want them to. https://t.co/0BLeW2O5q2— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 27, 2020
10/26. Governor Sisolak holds his third COVID-related press conference in a week. Sisolak discusses the state's plans to roll out vaccines, while also taking the opportunity to highlight worsening COVID conditions in the state...and also his plan to increase capacity restrictions to 50 percent for conventions by January 1, 2021.
Lol, so:— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 27, 2020
1. We're spiking, and we know that we will likely see a spike in hospitalizations.
2. Some parts of the country are seeing "dangerous, record-breaking levels" of hospitalizations.
3. It would be irresponsible to minimize the risk.
4. Let's have conventions. https://t.co/hbrGdybOrI pic.twitter.com/yMmQ3TnBYj
10/28. Circa opens in downtown Las Vegas.
The Strip will always be the focal point of Las Vegas, but it is downtown Las Vegas that will drive Las Vegas visitation growth into the future. When this story is written, @CircaLasVegas will be understood to be the most important casino opening in Las Vegas since Bellagio. pic.twitter.com/zsDtkoNKYn— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 27, 2020
10/28. As COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to climb, Governor Sisolak holds his fourth COVID-related press conference in nine days to detail the nationwide spike in cases and hospitalizations, and to tell Nevadans that the state is increasingly on the brink of disaster if nothing is done to stop the trajectory. No action taken.
So this is four COVID pressers in nine days to say NV is on the brink if we continue to do nothing, and so let's continue to do nothing. https://t.co/FkKGopAe85— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 28, 2020
10/29. Governor Sisolak announces the resignation of Sandra Douglass Morgan as chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
I'm sure the top regulator on the planet simply found something better to do at what might be the most critical point in the history of the industry. This should scare everybody. https://t.co/RmzUA7bUSe— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) October 30, 2020
11/2. Wynn's Encore Boston Harbor closes hotel and reduces its daily operating hours to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. as Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) imposes new restrictions on operating hours requiring the state's three casinos to close between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
11/3. MGM Resorts to close hotel at Park MGM midweek.
11/4. The United States tops 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a day for the first time.
11/5. Nevada COVID-19 hospitalizations climb above 700 for the first time since late August.
11/6. Nevada sets a new record with 1,562 new reported COVID-19 cases.
11/7. Nevada sets a new record with 1,824 reported COVID-19 cases.
11/9. Nevada reaches a new all-time high for 7-day average daily cases. The Nevada Hospital Association reports 891 total confirmed/suspected COVID hospitalizations, the highest recorded number of hospitalizations since mid-August.
11/9. Pfizer (PFE 1.10%) reports COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective.
11/10: Nevada "Stay at Home 2.0." With cases and hospitalizations mounting, Sisolak announces "Stay at Home 2.0," amounting to little more than a stern acknowledgment that things are getting bad and a strongly worded suggestion to voluntarily stay home as much as possible and avoid gatherings. Sisolak warns again that stronger action would be taken if conditions did not improve in two weeks.
Gov. Sisolak is visibly frustrated with our current situation: "I'm not asking for the world, Fourteen days is all I'm asking for."— Michael Scott Davidson (@DavidsonLVRJ) November 11, 2020
"I'm not bluffing. I'm not playing a game... we are in a very crucial place right now." https://t.co/G1JHfvR6Rm
Great capper to the presser by @RileySnyder, who pointed out that the gov is asking Nevadans to stay home but saying it's fine for tourists to come. In that one moment, Riley captured the near-impossibility of balancing keeping the economy going and keeping Nevadans safe.— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) November 11, 2020
This is not a problem that can be solved by locals while the Strip is wide open like this. So in a couple of weeks when nothing has improved, Sisolak will continue to blame locals and start shutting things down, while the casinos remain open until absolutely impossible. https://t.co/JNzeLtTcRH— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) November 11, 2020
Sidebar: Modus Operandi
A couple of things to note here. First, up to this point, the governor's – and thus the state's – modus operandi has been to pretend that visitors (and also the casinos) have no impact on the spread of the virus here, and instead have tried to direct effectively the entirety of the blame for the spread of the virus onto the local businesses and the people who live in Nevada. Over the summer, the game was to point at local businesses for failures of mask compliance (i.e. to imply that cases were rising because some businesses weren't enforcing masks or social distancing effectively); and in this new iteration, the game has been to blame locals for failure to social distance and wear masks and have gatherings (which on their own merit are otherwise reasonable complaints) – in essence to pretend that locals are entirely to blame for the surge in cases while completely dis-acknowledging the role that visitors play on the spread of the virus.
To be clear, we've known since before the beginning of the pandemic that the spread of viruses is directly tied to the movement of people. Hence why the countries (Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, etc.) and states (Hawaii for example) that have been most successful at containing the virus are those that have been able to lock down their borders, stop the movement of people, and keep visitors away.
A quick reminder that Nevada health officials, found Las Vegas Strip hotel-casinos topped reported locations of possible COVID-19 exposures in June, July and August.— Michael Scott Davidson (@DavidsonLVRJ) November 10, 2020
Once the reports were made public, they stopped being produced. https://t.co/lsqN9NsCl1 https://t.co/rLtCy2u2Jn
Over the summer, where the rest of the world might have shut down bars, gyms, indoor dining, and casinos as cases were surging (see S.O.S.: Las Vegas and the Deteriorating State of Nevada), Sisolak closed bars first; but as conditions continued to worsen, he did not close gyms or indoor dining, and probably because he could not justify closing them without also closing casinos (and probably also because most dining in casinos is indoors).
And so, the obvious motivation for continually pointing the finger at locals – while pretending that visitors don't carry viruses and that viruses don't spread in casinos – is to potentially justify a future where local businesses are shut down (or restricted, as we are about to see) while the casinos stay open.
And the second thing to note is that – as we've known since the beginning of the pandemic – it takes 2-3 weeks to see the impact of any mitigation measures with regard to this particular virus. As such, even if "Stay At Home 2.0" had any merit, there was no reason to expect conditions to improve in two weeks no matter what locals did to stay at home.
And unless the state is actually stupid and not just being Cagey, clearly the governor knew this when he made the call for "Stay At Home 2.0."
As became clear over the summer, every move (or non-move) the governor has made since reopening has been designed to prolong the timeline and avoid taking action in order to keep casinos open, while simply letting the virus spread and conditions worsen.
11/11. Heightened restrictions in Colorado to include closure of table games in Black Hawk and Central City in Colorado; table games had just restarted in Gilpin County in September, after the casinos reopened in June without them.
11/11. As part of heightened restrictions in New Jersey, casinos must stop serving food and drinks after 10 p.m.
11/11. New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announces new restrictions capping private gatherings at 10 people, with gyms and also restaurants and bars serving alcohol required to close at 10 p.m. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed concern on Twitter noting the city's test positivity rate had climbed to 2.52% – a rate not seen since early June.
11/11. Sweden bans the sale of alcohol past 10 p.m.
11/11. Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick says the county is seeing an "alarming" level of COVID-19 transmission, with new cases being recorded at 3.5x the levels of early October. Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno reopens emergency care center in its parking garage as hospitalizations push capacity limits in Reno.
Nevada COVID-19 updates for 11/11:— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) November 11, 2020
🧪 Test positivity is UP: 7-day avg is 26.28%, or 13.8% using state method
🏥 Hospitalizations are UP: 950, highest since Aug. 12
😷 Cases are UP: New record 7-day avg of 1,328 new cases/day Tues
📅 13 days to improve before new restrictions pic.twitter.com/6xBXB7wLYa
11/12. Nevada state biostatistician Kyra Morgan: "We have officially passed our previous worst point in the pandemic."
11/13. Governor Sisolak tests positive for COVID-19.
11/13. Washington, Oregon, and California – three of the five Western States Pact states minus Nevada and Colorado – issue travel advisories recommending self-quarantines for anyone entering or returning home to these states.
There's a non-zero chance we will stay open no matter how many people die https://t.co/opigIsnO0o— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) November 13, 2020
11/14. Nevada records 2,269 new COVID cases, breaking 2,000 cases for the first time.
11/15. The state of Washington announces four-week restrictions including a ban on gatherings with people outside one's household (with some exceptions), as well as a halt to indoor service at bars and restaurants, and also indoor gym operations.
11/15. Michigan announces a three-week statewide "pause" including the closure of casinos, a stop to indoor dining at bars and restaurants, and a ban on group fitness classes though gyms would remain open.
11/16. Rivers Casino in Philadelphia to close as part of citywide shutdown.
11/16. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) places 28 counties – accounting for 94% of the state's population – into the state's most restrictive tier as the state experienced "the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet."
11/16. Sweden reduces limits on gatherings to 8 people.
11/16. Moderna (MRNA 0.50%) says their COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5% effective.
11/17. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced new mitigation measures including the shut down of the state's casinos and video lottery terminal (VLT) locations.
11/18. Nevada sets new record for hospitalizations with 1,246.
Nevada COVID-19 updates for 11/18:— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) November 18, 2020
🧪 Test positivity is UP: 7-day avg is 34.2%, or 15.6% using state method
🏥 Hospitalizations are UP: 1,246, setting a new record
😷 Cases are UP: 1,638 new cases/day on avg (+48)
📅 6 days to improve before new restrictions pic.twitter.com/J2ku4oArjg
11/19. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issues a limited month-long stay-at-home order, where non-essential work and gatherings would stop from 10pm-5am in counties in the purple tier (high-risk of transmission).
11/19. Hawaii Governor David Ige (D) announced that anyone flying into Hawaii would be required to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure; the state had just implemented a new program October 15 allowing visitors to bypass the state's mandatory 14-day quarantine with a negative test within 72 hours prior to arrival.
11/20. MGM Resorts to close midweek hotel operations at Mirage and Mandalay Bay.
Nevada COVID-19 updates for 11/22:— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) November 22, 2020
🧪 Test positivity is up: 7-day avg is 37.5%, or 16.5% using test encounters
🏥 Hospitalizations are not reported on Sunday
😷 Cases are up: 1,902 new cases/day on avg (+71), a new record
📅 2 (or 0?) days to improve before new restrictions pic.twitter.com/7586mPGG7I
11/22. Nevada "STATEWIDE PAUSE." Governor Sisolak announces new restrictions under a "STATEWIDE PAUSE" limiting capacity on casino floors, restaurants, bars, and gyms to 25% for at least three weeks. The limit on public gatherings is lowered back to 50 people (or 25% of capacity, whichever is less) from 250. Private gatherings are limited to 10 people. Restaurants will be required to take reservations.
This is the absolute disaster scenario. We really are just going to do absolutely nothing and let the virus run its course in Las Vegas, where we get hit by a new wave of covid-carrying visitors every weekend.— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) November 23, 2020
What should be understood is that the capacity restrictions under Operation "STATEWIDE PAUSE" were the opening standards that responsible states used with a test positivity rate of more like 2-3%, rather than 20-30%+. And so again, unless the state is actually stupid, then the state knows that these restrictions will do nothing to stop the trajectory of the virus.
Moreover, these restrictions likely disproportionately affect small businesses, particularly given that there are no capacity enforcement mechanisms on the casino floors – and there are still no capacity restrictions on hotels – and the Strip and downtown Las Vegas casinos in particular have been mostly empty at this stage of the pandemic anyway, especially midweek.
11/24. Nevada reports a record 2,853 cases.
Nevada COVID-19 updates for 11/28:— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) November 28, 2020
🧪 Test positivity is up: 7-day avg is 32.8%, or 16.8% using test encounters
🏥 Hospitalizations are up: 1,460 (+4), a record
😷 Cases are up: 2,429 new cases/day on avg (+67), a record
📅 17 days until reevaluation of "statewide pause" pic.twitter.com/BhGRWFMlVg
11/30. 16 of 17 counties in Nevada are flagged for elevated disease transmission based on high cases per 100,000 and excessive test positivity rates.
Sixteen of 17 counties in Nevada are now flagged for elevated disease transmission. (The only exception is Storey County.) The counties with the highest case rates in order are: Carson City, Mineral, Churchill, Washoe and White Pine. pic.twitter.com/66MKHJMqkC— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) November 30, 2020
12/3. Nevada sets a record with 48 new COVID deaths; the previous record was 38.
12/3. Nevada has the second-highest COVID hospitalizations per capita, behind only South Dakota.
While the state seems to be angling for the "end of winter" disaster scenario, I still believe there has to be a breaking point — whether it is hospital beds in the Convention Center or whatever — where the governor finally acknowledges the impact of unscreened visitors.— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) December 4, 2020
12/5. Nevada sets a record with 3,194 new cases.
12/7. LVS to close Palazzo hotel tower suites (but not the casino floor) through December 23.
12/10. Nevada has the highest COVID hospitalizations per capita in the nation.
Nevada COVID-19 updates for 12/11:— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) December 11, 2020
🧪 Test positivity remains high: 7-day avg is 42.7%, or 21.9% using test encounters
🏥 Hospitalizations are up: 1,854 (+30), a record
😷 Cases are up: 2,736 new cases/day on avg (+15), a record
📅 4 days until reevaluation of "statewide pause" pic.twitter.com/Dg7zX6lMow
Wow Nevada got a special color https://t.co/N7qhndS9OP— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) December 14, 2020
12/13. Operation "STATEWIDE PAUSE" extended by a month until January 15. Governor Sisolak also announces a new moratorium on evictions through the end of March. Sisolak acknowledges that the complete shutdown of the Spring was the most effective mitigation tactic, but says that doing so without federal support to pay people to stay home is not feasible given the weak financial position of the state, and also the state's reliance on tax revenue generated from gaming.
Though he did not address the visitor specifically, this was the first time since reopening that Sisolak has acknowledged that casinos perhaps should not be open right now, and probably would not be if we were getting federal support in the form of a stimulus package that is months overdue.
He finally said it out loud. Closing the casinos is fiscally impossible without a federal bailout. https://t.co/DBnrpupzdp— John Mehaffey (@John_Mehaffey) December 14, 2020
Whatever the max # of Pinocchios is, this gets it. There is absolutely no reason for us not to have visitor restrictions of any kind except that maybe a couple — at most a handful — of casino operators are against it.— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) December 14, 2020
Leaving Nevada completely exposed is completely indefensible. https://t.co/GcSJmwSbLV
12/14. First doses of COVID-19 vaccine are administered in Nevada.
12/16. Nevada sets record with 57 new deaths.
You are literally just letting this happen, so https://t.co/7pcDQ0Qp4P— Jeff Hwang (@RivalSchoolX) December 16, 2020
12/21. MGM Resorts announces Mirage to close casino midweek starting January 4.
The death data are also still playing catch up with the case data, which we've been expecting to see. The seven-day average of new deaths reported each day was 34.6 yesterday. That means on average ~35 people are dying from COVID each day in Nevada. pic.twitter.com/s4MLwX8HTs— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) December 21, 2020
Visitor Restrictions: The Absolute Bare Minimum Requirement
As we've discussed ad nauseum since May (see Las Vegas Strip: On Border Controls and The Subsistence Strategy), we should have implemented visitor restrictions prior to reopening the casinos. The idea that if we're going to have visitors that we should at least try to keep the diseased ones away would not seem to be a difficult concept to grasp. Had we done so from the start, we would look more like other states with visitor restrictions like Hawaii (2.97% test positivity rate per Johns Hopkins University as of Monday), Maine (5.65%), New York (5.38%), or Massachusetts (5.39%), rather than the present situation.
And so if you're the governor and you want to at least pretend like you give a lick about the people who live here, implementing visitor restrictions and at least attempting to screen out infected people should be the absolute bare minimum requirement for keeping casinos open.
As I wrote at the beginning of October (See Las Vegas: Bubble City), the simplest solution is to require a negative COVID-19 test in order to check in to a Las Vegas hotel, a solution implemented in Maine and Monaco.
It would go something like this:
- The visitor shows up with either a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination (as is now relevant), or takes a rapid COVID-19 test on site prior to check in.
- Upon check-in, you get a wristband, and you don't get past the hotel elevators without one.
- If you take the rapid test and fail, you go to a quarantine hotel for a different kind of vacation (Eastside Cannery is still closed; can you imagine the kind of parties?).
- The mask requirement remains, and social distancing measures stay in place, as testing is not 100% foolproof and we are only screening the visitors checking into hotels.
The question is not whether Nevada – and particularly Las Vegas, Reno, and Tahoe – should have visitor restrictions (we 100% should want to keep infected visitors away), or whether there is a practical and enforceable method to do so (there is).
The question that should concern absolutely everybody is why the governor refuses to do it.
And as it stands, it makes no sense that the governor would sooner shut down the entire gaming industry again come January 15 before implementing visitor restrictions first. Which could just mean that the governor has no intention of shutting down the gaming industry at all.
Gaming the Test Positivity Rate
In early October, the state updated its daily COVID dashboard with a new graphical interface with fancy new tabs, and also snuck in a new trick: A new method for calculating what they are presenting as the "test positivity rate." And this is not the first time this pandemic the state has changed its test positivity calculation method, but (at least) the second time.
So the first thing you need to know is that when the governor says that our 14-day positivity rate is 20.6% (as if defaulting to a 14-day positivity rate is standard and as if the 20.6% rate is current), that defaulting to a 14-day positivity is completely atypical (defaulting to 7-day averages is almost universally typical), while the number he is presenting as the "current" positivity rate is not actually current (because it's on a lag, as we'll see in a minute). And the second thing you need to know is that new method for calculating test positivity uses a tests/tests method, which by default will spit out a lower number than the people/people method the state originally used (which is probably the motivation for the switch).
NEVADANS: Today, we recorded a record high 14-day positivity rate of 20.6% & a record high of 3,194 new cases identified.— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) December 5, 2020
As cases & positivity rates rise, we must all take steps & do our part to slow this spread. Stay home as much as possible, wear your mask & avoid crowds pic.twitter.com/gPbj0DTx4n
What the state is now presenting as the 14-day "test positivity rate" is actually a 14-day average test/test positivity rate with a 7-day lag; the previous method was a 7-day test/test positivity rate with a 5-day lag, while the original method was a 7-day people/people method with no lag.
So when the governor says that "Our 14-day test positivity rate is now 20.6% and we have the second-highest test positivity rate in the nation," this is entirely misleading. Because for starters, the "current" test positivity rate is not "current" at all – the 14-day avg. rate with a 7-day lag means that we are literally looking at a positivity rate from a week ago, with a 14-day average going back three weeks. And the test/test method means that test positivity is likely understated by default.
Which means that when the test positivity rate is on the rise – as it has been for three months now – the test positivity rate will be constantly understated. Which is obviously the point.
There's no GAAP method for reporting test positivity as there is for reporting company earnings, and so there are variations among different entities and states. That said, the 14-day avg. test/test positivity rate with a 7-day lag is a method for calculating test positivity that – at least as far as I can tell – no other state, country, or respectable entity uses. The only reason to default to a 14-day average rather than the more typical 7-day average is so that the number rises slower, and the only reason to use a 7-day lag is to further delay the rise. And while the test/test positivity calculation is defensible (and I would argue preferable), the more likely reason they switched from the people/people method is to be able to present a lower number.
Again, this is at least the second time the state has changed this calculation, and both times occurred while the reported test positivity rate was on the rise. You don't change accounting methods when things are going well.
Up until August, the state presented test positivity using daily and 7-day averages using a people/people method:
Test Positivity = New Cases / New People Tested
Then on August 4, the state switched to a new method based on test encounters (again I'll explain this in a minute), and with a 5-day lag, typically presented as a 7-day average with a 5-day lag:
Test Positivity = (New Positive Tests / New Tests) with a 5-day lag
And then in October, the state decided to skip all pretense of accuracy, and has since presented test positivity exclusively as a 14-day test/test positivity rate with a 7-day lag.
14-Day Avg. Test Positivity = 14-day avg. (New Positive Tests / New Tests) with a 7-day lag
Megan Messerly is the health and politics reporter for The Nevada Independent, and is the keeper of the site's coronavirus data, maps, and graphs that the people in the know rely on; her daily Twitter Nevada COVID updates are a staple around these parts. What Messerly presents as the test positivity rate is the people/people (new cases/new people tested) approach, which makes sense because that is the one the state started with, and is/was more in line with the approach taken by Johns Hopkins University.
Nevada COVID-19 updates for 12/21:— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) December 21, 2020
🧪 Test positivity is down: 7-day avg is 39.3% or 19.7% using test encounters
🏥 Hospitalizations are up: 1,996 (+79)
😷 Cases are down: 2,402 new cases/day on avg (-136)
📅 25 days left in extended "statewide pause" pic.twitter.com/xtnquJZup5
In truth, this method likely overstates test positivity as more people have gotten tested multiple times as the pandemic has worn on. For example, I've been tested four times and tested negative all four times; under this method, I am 0-for-1, because I only count as one new person tested. But if I get tested again and test positive, I will count as a new case but not a new person tested (essentially 1-for-0, because I've already been counted as a person tested). This method makes sense if you want to know what percentage of a population has turned up positive, but less accurate for determining the current state of things.
A test/test method is the approach taken by the CDC and does probably make more sense if you had to pick one approach – particularly at this point of the pandemic – where we really just want to know what percentage of tests at a given point in time (now) are coming back positive. If there is a drawback, it is that this method is easier to game, as you can drive down the test positivity rate simply by testing more people and more frequently (for example, if I get tested four times a month for six months, I show up as 0-for-24 under this method rather than 0-for-1).
Which probably explains the testing drive in September after switching to this method, in order to drive down the (self-reported) test positivity rate just before reopening bars.
That said, while using a test/test approach is both common and perhaps preferable, defaulting a to a 14-day average and adding a 7-day lag are completely atypical. And it's really a matter of intent.
There are really only three reasons to use a non-standard calculation:
- The state came up with a better metric than anyone else is using.
- The state determined that this calculation is more appropriate for our state than other standard calculations of test positivity. Or...
- The state is deliberately distorting reality to suit another purpose.
And I'm skeptical that it's because we have the brightest minds on the planet.
Poker and Plexiglas Dividers: We Are the Lab Test
On December 9, with conditions in Las Vegas getting hairier by the day and a rash of live poker events coming up, poker pro Isaac Haxton – perhaps not quite a household name but certainly one every serious poker player will know – appealed to poker players on Twitter to "Please stop playing live poker" and to stop traveling for poker.
Poker is ramping up in Vegas, with upcoming WSOP and Wynn 10ks. Meanwhile, despite limited testing, 1% of Nevada residents have tested positive for COVID just in the last 2 weeks. Please stop playing live poker. Please, please don't travel for poker.https://t.co/4bKRUIDFDk— Isaac Haxton (@ikepoker) December 9, 2020
There's a point to be made here. It's not like the state of Nevada lab tested Plexiglas dividers and determined that 8-handed poker is safe – the state of Colorado doesn't even think table games are safe at all right now. Rather, we are the lab test, and the only result that matters is not whether or not it is actually safe, but whether people are willing to gamble with their lives.
The reality is that the worst thing you can do right now is be stationary indoors around other people for any period of time. As we've discovered from a study done in South Korea, the known range for COVID transmission is not six feet indoors but up to 20+ feet, while the known time it takes for transmission to occur is not 15 minutes but as little as five. And if dining indoors for an hour or two is the most dangerous possible thing you can do, then sitting at a poker table for 4-, 6-, 12+-hour sessions is infinitely worse.
Now imagine being a dealer.
On the Making of Nevada History
I like to think of myself as something of an entry-level scholar of Nevada history, in so far as I've read much of what's been written about Nevada casino history, which just about covers most of everything written about Nevada history. The names that most everybody remembers and will remember as associated with Nevada history – Hughes, Wynn, Adelson, Kerkorian, Binion, Harrah, Siegel, Sarno, Stupak, Boyd, Gaughan, Fertitta, and probably Stevens and Hsieh, among others – tend to be the builders. Save for probably the Senator Harry Reid and a Goodman or two, politicians in Nevada seem to be mostly forgettable and tend to be lost to history.
Sisolak – as the governor of Nevada during this pandemic who made the bold move of shutting down the entire Nevada casino industry for the first time in its history – is a name that will be remembered. But what we will remember most is not the lives the governor saved by shutting down at the outset of the pandemic; nor is it that the governor was dealt a crappy hand to play with for the duration of the pandemic.
What we will remember most is that Governor Sisolak stopped representing Nevada residents and hung us out to dry the second that casinos reopened.
Las Vegas: COVID Winter
In the eighth episode of the Band of Brothers miniseries, World War II is all but over when Easy Company is tasked to send a patrol across a river in Haguenau to make a trophy prisoner grab. During the mission, Private Eugene Jackson – who volunteered for the patrol in order to get some combat action before the war was over – is killed by his own grenade. The patrol yields two prisoners that weren't needed for any particular purpose; but happy with the results, Lt. Col. Sink instructs Easy Company to send out another patrol the next day to grab more prisoners for no particular purpose.
It's a common theme in our films and literature: The war is over, but the fighting continues and people die unnecessarily – sometimes because not everybody knows the war is over, and other times because upper management is after a trophy or wants to pad their stats.
This is kind of where we are now. The war against COVID-19 is all but over – we have multiple vaccines already starting to be rolled out – but we are still several months away from widespread vaccination, and we still need to make it through the winter first.
We just need to get to the other side without blowing up.
On some level, the individual casino operators can be forgiven for acting (at least in what they think is) in their own best interests, as that is their job. As the saying goes, "Don't hate the player, hate the game."
Or as Ben Hunt says, "#BITFD".
But the governor – as the elected official whose job is supposed to be to represent the interests of the Nevadans who elected him – does not get that same pass.
The reality is that an out-of-control virus in Las Vegas is not good for anybody here. Having the highest COVID hospitalizations per capita is not a welcome signal for visitors to come here, or for conventions to want to be here. What we've shown in unambiguous terms is that the safety of the visitor is absolutely not a priority; and there's certainly no pretending that the health of Nevadans has been the priority.
And frankly, by refusing to acknowledge the impact of visitors and solving that problem by imposing visitor restrictions, the governor has helped the casino operators to shoot themselves in the foot.
As I wrote this summer, what the governor should have done from the very start (prior to reopening) was to put all the cards out on the table, tell it how it is, identify the actual problems and solve them. What he should have said from the start was something like this:
"Look, we have a major problem with regard to both employment and state finances – particularly while Congress is too busy playing politics to put together a much-need stimulus package – and having the casinos open helps solve these problems by keeping people employed and keeping tax revenue coming in. We also understand that the spread of the virus is directly tied to the movement of people, and having visitors poses a great risk. That said, we are implementing a program to screen the visitors in order to help minimize the impact of having visitors at all, while protecting the health of our frontline employees and Nevadans in turn."
Instead, the governor spent the summer blaming local businesses for the spread of the virus (due to "noncompliance"), and the past few months blaming locals for the spread of the virus, while playing games with the data and pretending that visitors don't come with viruses and that viruses don't spread in casinos. He's also made small moves and non-moves to avoid making actual moves, and using 2-week, 3-week, and now a month-long delay (to see if this "works") to further delay any action.
Well, in his December 13 announcement extending the "STATEWIDE PAUSE" by another month, he did finally go halfway and explained our finance problem in order to justify doing nothing. Though in doing so, he also managed to avoid directly addressing the impact of the visitor.
Mr. Governor, you are guilty because you are acting guilty, and you are acting guilty because you know this is bad.
The good news is that we've already shown twice that we can get things under control in Las Vegas if we can keep visitors away, or at least in manageable numbers – we have favorable geography, given that once you get past the Strip and downtown, Las Vegas is almost entirely sprawling suburbia. We did it in the spring after the shutdown; and conditions did start to improve toward the end of the summer once visitors started to stop showing up after the Fourth of July weekend, and as COVID conditions in our source California and Arizona markets improved at the same time.
And the good news is that December and January are typically slow months even without the virus, and more so given both the current state of things, and given that the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) moved to Texas this year; that New Years celebrations here will be slightly subdued; and that the January Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is moving online.
I buy that completely shutting down without support from the federal government is a last resort. And I buy that the stimulus package that appears to be on its way will probably not solve a whole lot of our problems.
That said, Mr. Governor, you need to quit messing around. If we're going to stay open, we need to start screening those visitors so that we can at least have a chance to make through the winter without blowing up.