There it was, stripped yesterday across the top of the print-edition Las Vegas Review-Journal front page. “State had high virus deaths,” the headline said, citing a new study published in the esteemed British weekly medical journal The Lancet. The study reckoned that over two years Nevada had the eighth highest per-capita death rate from COVID-19 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
At the New to Las Vegas world headquarters, I am trying to figure out why this suddenly is such big stop-the-presses news in Nevada’s leading newspaper. Maybe because it doesn’t matter as much anymore?
More than two years ago, in the throes of the pandemic, I started writing in this space about how Clark County–home to Las Vegas and more than 70% of Nevada’s population–was continually experiencing higher COVID-19 death rates than the national average. The Las Vegas media dutifully reported the official local data. But I saw little effort to put the numbers in any kind of national context or draw meaningful conclusions–or contrast and compare, as my New Jersey high school teachers used to command. (With so much of the state’s population, Clark County seems like a good representative proxy for all of Nevada, and anyway, this blog isn’t called New To Nevada.)
I’m thinking the other locals didn’t want to scare off the tourists, the only real economic engine here despite years of claimed business diversification. But visitors ended up being scared off for awhile, anyway, perhaps after being officially informed, as I wrote in late 2020, that being out-and-about along the Strip was okay for them but not for Vegans.
On March 15, 2021, I wrote that that Clark County death rate was 7% higher than the national average. On June 28, 2021, I noted Clark County’s low vaccination rate (a factor the Lancet study also cited as crucial) and that the Clark County per capita death rate on the latest business day was 42% higher than the national average.
Nearly a month later, on July 22, 2021, I wrote that on the previous day Clark County, with 0.7% of the national population, had nearly 8% of all COVID-19 deaths nationally, an off-the-charts per-capita rate more than 1,000% higher than the national death pace. From what I saw, crickets on this point in the local media.
Here’s what else I wrote then:
Meanwhile, the area outrageously continues to market itself to the world as a safe tourist destination. “Las Vegas is open and ready to welcome you,” leads the “COVID-19 updates page” right now on the website of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. This is the local scandal-plagued, taxpayer-funded tourism agency that just signed a $500 million contract with the outfit that developed the wildly successful “What happens here, stays here” pitch to flog the town for another six years. A lot of that money, it seems, will go toward a publicity cover-up. When it comes to COVID-19, “What happens here, stays here” isn’t such a good thing.
I’m no epidemiologist. And I didn’t have a team of researchers and big-time funding like the Lancet-published study had from heavyweights like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All I had was a hand-held HP 12-C calculator, with which I did a little division as I compare the locally reported deaths with the national tally and U.S. Census data. (I long have thought deaths were a better trending indicator about what was going on with COVID-19 than reported cases or hospitalizations; so, it seems, did the authors of the study.)
As the pandemic winds down, here are the latest numbers I can find. Since early 2020, the U.S., with a population of 332 million, has had 1,123,613 deaths attributed to COVID-19. That’s one out of ever 295 residents. For Las Vegas/Clark County, with a population of 2.3 million, the COVID-19 fatality count is 9,308. That’s one out of every 247 residents. (A lower number here is bad.) That’s a rate that is 16% worse, and even more horrific than the 13% I calculated in September 2021. Nor does the local count seem to include tourists who might have contracted the illness here but died after returning home, so the true situation might even be more grave.
On top of Nevada’s ongoing problems delivering quality health care (which I also wrote about recently), Clark County has a long history of under-performance during pandemics. Nearly three years ago, a month after the pandemic’s “official” start in Match 2020, I took a look back at how the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 affected the newly formed, thinly populated Clark County. I mainly used news accounts in the weekly Las Vegas Age that I accessed online at the UNLV library system (remember, things were locked down then). The population at the 1920 census was just 4,859. With 40 deaths attributed to the Spanish Flu, that was one fatality for every 121 residents. Nationally, there were 675,000 deaths in a population of 107 million, or one death for every 159. Thus, the Clark County rate was 24% worse than that of the U.S.
So with COVID-19, Las Vegas/Clark County has performed less bad when judged by itself from a century ago, even if not by the country today. I invite comments below on the points I have made above. As I see it, truth delayed is truth denied.