Wyoming’s vaccination rate picked up speed this week as COVID-19-related deaths surpassed 500 and active cases continued a recent upward trend.
Pandemic politics continued to spark contention. In Weston County, commissioners dismissed their public health officer after he denied variance requests for state health orders. In Cheyenne, vandals splashed fake blood on the county health department’s exterior. Many lawmakers and citizens participating in Legislature’s opening day in Cheyenne, meanwhile, flouted the state’s mask mandate.
During Tuesday’s legislative kickoff, Gov. Mark Gordon, who issued that mandate with State Health Officer Alexia Harrist, offered his first public remarks about the pandemic since Nov. 13. Through the spring and summer, Gordon held press conferences nearly weekly to discuss COVID-19 developments.
In the months since he went quiet, he and first lady Jennie Gordon both tested positive for the virus and he issued and extended new health orders as state infections spiked dramatically.
Speaking in a video that was live-streamed to lawmakers and the public, Gordon on Tuesday praised the state’s pandemic response.
“We undertook actions to protect public health, but unlike other states we have been able to maintain our way of life and liberty and have striven to keep open businesses and schools,” Gordon said. Wyoming’s allotment of $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding represents the most per capita of any state, he said, and the relief money has been used to prop up a multitude of businesses, hospitals, essential services and communities.
“We find ourselves today on a much more solid footing than many other states,” Gordon said. “I can say that because we’ve produced seven straight months of improvement and at 5.1% we have one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates.”
Gordon also touched on the losses brought by the pandemic — at the time nearly 500 COVID-19-related deaths, as well as nearly 200 suicides during the pandemic. And he spoke of the promise of vaccinations. “I feel confident that this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” he said.
The administration of those vaccinations picked up speed this week following a slow start in December. As of Thursday, 18,803 first doses had been administered, according to the Department of Health. That’s more than double the number that had been given as of last week. Some 3,463 second doses had been administered by Thursday, up from 526 last week.
Meanwhile, known active cases in the state trended upward for a second consecutive week. As of Friday morning, there were 2,052 active cases, a 15% increase from last week.
The DOH reported 33 additional COVID-related deaths for a total of 522.
Virus-related hospitalizations fell with the DOH reporting 89 as of Thursday afternoon.
All told, Wyoming has tallied 41,628 lab-confirmed infections. That includes 2,152 new cases this week, a 47% increase over last week’s tally.
Some communities have been hit especially hard in the new year.
Sweetwater County has recorded nine deaths in recent weeks and a total of 24, according to the Sweetwater County District Board of Health. Most of the recently deceased were residents of Green River.
“These are people we know. This is devastating. These are our friends and people we have known for a long, long time,” Sweetwater County Public Health Officer Dr. Jean Stachon said in a press release.
“We all said good riddance to 2020, but don’t think we left COVID-19 behind,” Stachon said, urging residents to keep their guards up. “Even those lucky enough to be vaccinated won’t see immunity for at least six weeks.”
In Teton County, a post-holiday surge pushed active cases to a record high of 247 Tuesday. Health officials there have been overwhelmed by contact tracing efforts and worry that the hospital will soon be severely strained, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports.
With the University of Wyoming’s spring semester slated to start next week, students are beginning to return to campus.
The college has implemented a “limited contact period” through the end of the month and is asking students to be tested upon returning. Testing and monitoring will continue through the semester, according to UW.
The semester will begin with two days of online instruction Jan. 21-22, according to UW, and face-to-face classes will commence Jan. 25. As of Thursday, the university reported 21 active cases among students and staff.
“Cases are on the rise again in Wyoming and across the country, and it is important we do our part to mitigate that spread,” UW President Ed Seidel said in a press release.