Las Vegas Epidemiologist Estimates Longevity of Coronavirus

Cleaning School During COVID-19 OutbreakIn the span of one week, the impact of coronavirus in Clark County went from less than 10 cases to over 150 as of last Friday, with two reported deaths.

The city also went from big-name casino operator MGM Resorts closing their buffets temporarily, to announcing the closure of their casinos, to Gov. Sisolak calling for the mandated 30-day closure of all casino-hotels statewide and suggested shutdown of nonessential businesses.

It’s been a national whirlwind these last couple of weeks with the coronavirus making its mark in the states. But Las Vegas is getting hit particularly hard with the closure of the very things it was built on.

While it’s hard to determine the trajectory of the outbreak, Dr. Brian Labus of the UNLV School of Public Health, and former senior epidemiologist Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), offers his expert insight into the matter.

“If at the end of the 30 days the situation has gotten much, much worse, then obviously we’ll have to extend it,” Labus said. “If we get closer to 30 days and everything is better, we’ll look at how to modify it. It’s a place to start, but obviously, because we don’t know how this will play out, it’s hard to say exactly how many days it will be and whether or not it will be enough.”

Outbreak Affects Regions Differently

Dr. Labus has 15 years of experience as SNHD’s leading epidemiologist, and he believes that the COVID-19 outbreak is similar to managing a fire. If we’re unable to put the virus completely out, it could flare back up in the same way that a fire does.

“If Vegas manages to get everything under control, but one of the states around us doesn’t, it could easily restart an outbreak here,” Labus advised. “We have to look nationally and worldwide to decide how best to keep this from flaring back up.”

However the spread of the viruses is unpredictable, to say the least, and they’ve historically been shown to affects regions differently, not just globally but nationally. New York City currently has half of the country’s total reported coronavirus cases at around 17,000 cases, while West Virginia has less than 20 reported cases.

According to Dr. Michael Gardner, vice dean of clinical affairs at UNLV School of Medicine, there isn’t a pandemic from the past that’s spread similarly as COVID-19 has that we’re able to draw a likeness too.

Spanish Flu of 1918 Comparisons

The only virus closest in comparison was the Spanish flu from over nearly 100 years ago that’s said to be the deadliest virus in human history. In fact, it infected almost 27% of the world’s entire population, claiming the lives of between 50 and 100 million people.

It’s an eerily familiar story for Spain, who’s among the hardest-hit countries right now, with 1,720 deaths and counting.

But the world is connected much differently now than it was in 1918 when the Spanish flu was rampant.

“They couldn’t do the testing that we could do now,” Labus said. “The world was also connected differently so you could actually watch the virus in 1918 move across the country from city to city over the course of a couple of weeks. Here, with a well-connected population around the world, it spreads very differently.”

Labus added that an important lesson from the Spanish flu is being adamant about protecting health care workers who are our front line of defense. When the Spanish flu hit, health care workers had a high mortality rate.

Unsure How Recovery from COVID-19 Works

Labus admits that when studying viruses, you’ll be confronted with plenty of unknowns. Part of that unknown territory is how immunity works for those who have recovered from the coronavirus.

“Usually at the very least, you get several months of protection after an illness because if your immune system didn’t work at all, you would never recover,” Labus said. “The problem is right now we don’t know if recovery will provide long-term immunity or not.”

An Uncertain Future

While Labus has been in the field for over 15 years, his honest answer when it comes to COVID-19-related questions is “I don’t know.”

Other experts around the world believe the virus will be around for the next 12 months, even possibly the next two years. They believe it will be circulating until a vaccine is developed, and that could take at least 18 months.

With such predictions, the best advice experts can give is to continue practicing social distancing.

Labus advises the people of Clark County to listen to the governor and do their due diligence to “Stay home for Nevada.”

“We’ve canceled all these events, we’ve told people to work from home, but if you look at the streets, there are still lots of people going about their day-to-day lives,” Labus said. “It’s important to look at these things as not just a risk to yourselves, but a risk to the community.”