Thanks to the Cody Regional Health Long Term Care Center’s new “hugging booth,” which was designed to prevent COVID-19 spread, Carol Cherry was able to hold hands with resident Helen Hurich recently. (Photo by Mark Davis/Powell Tribune/Wyoming News Exchange)

Vaccine demand continued to outstrip supply this week in Wyoming as the state expanded its priority population to include individuals 65 and older, more essential workers and residents with certain health conditions. 

Against this backdrop, the state’s COVID-19 infection numbers improved in most areas, continuing a two-month positive trend. 

In Cheyenne, Gov. Mark Gordon and legislative leadership announced a plan to hold a hybrid in-person and virtual legislative session in the Capitol Building starting March 1. Normally held in January and February, this year’s session was redesigned with a one-day in-person and online kick-off, online-only committee hearings this week and last and an hyrbrid portion set to begin March 1 with new safety precautions. 

“Our priority is keeping people safe and preventing COVID-19 infections while fulfilling the constitutional functions of the Wyoming Legislature,” Gov. Gordon, Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) and Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillete) said in a statement. 

In-person participants will be required to wear masks and social distance, according to a press release, and lawmakers, staff and certain journalists will be eligible for vaccination. The plan entails administering fewer than 100 vaccinations, according to the governor’s office.  

Many participants of the Jan. 12 legislative kick-off in the Capitol did not wear masks or social distance in defiance of the statewide order

Members of the public in attendance, however, will be required to comply with health orders, Gordon’s office said, and the session will also be broadcast online.

The Legislature has much to do; lawmakers are tasked with approving a supplemental budget in the face of plummeting revenues caused by declines in fossil fuel industries and pandemic impacts. The session is slated for a little over a month.

The Wyoming Department of Health on Monday expanded the state’s vaccine priority groups to align with national guidance. That means those 65 and older are now eligible to receive the vaccine, along with frontline essential workers such as teachers and public transit employees and individuals with certain medical conditions like cancer. 

While the eligible populations are expanding, however, “overall vaccine supplies from the federal government remain low,” according to the DOH, which means residents in these categories still aren’t guaranteed a shot immediately. 

The state has received 66,000 total first doses and 32,200 second doses, according to the DOH. 

As of Friday, health workers had administered 54,184 first doses, the DOH reports. Some 13,416 second doses had been administered.

The department admonished residents against traveling to other counties to receive vaccinations, suggesting that people have been driving elsewhere seeking shots. 

“This is already a complicated effort for many reasons such as limited doses, specialized vaccine storage requirements and the need to target priority groups,” Angie Van Houten, DOH community health section chief, said in a release. “When people go to other counties to get shots, it makes things tougher for everyone.”

Despite challenges on the vaccination front, Wyoming’s COVID-19 metrics continued a two-month improvement trend this week.

This graph shows COVID-19-related hospitalizations reported by Wyoming healthcare facilities. As of Thursday, hospitals were treating 47 patients. (Wyoming Department of Health)

Known active cases decreased to 1,069 by Friday morning, down 14% over last week, and hospitalizations dropped to 47, a 32% decrease from 70 last week. The Department of Health reported 28 COVID-19 related deaths, three more than last week, bringing the state’s total to 624. 

All told, Wyoming has tallied 44,848 lab-confirmed infections. That includes 964 new cases this week, a slight increase over last week’s tally.

According to a Jan. 31 weekly report issued by the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, six Wyoming counties are in the “red” zone for infections, down from 11 on Jan. 24. They include Teton, Uinta, Sheridan, Lincoln, Bighorn and Platte. 

Teton led the state in active cases all week, despite being only the ninth most populous county. Nevertheless, its infection numbers have improved enough for local officials Thursday to downgrade it from the purple “critical” level — a new categorization added to address a recent surge there — to the red “high-risk” level. 

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New cases in Teton County over the two weeks ending Feb. 1 decreased by 29% over the previous two weeks, according to a Teton County Health Department press release. Test positivity rates and hospitalizations have also decreased. 

The improvements prompted Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell to revoke a recommendation that residents only gather with members of their households. He also revoked a state health order variance that imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on Teton County bars and restaurants.

Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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  1. A couple statements in the article caught my eye as being somewhat incongruous:

    “Many participants of the Jan. 12 legislative kick-off in the Capitol did not wear masks or social distance in defiance of the statewide order. ”

    “…lawmakers, staff and certain journalists will be eligible for vaccination…”

    Seems to me that those lawmakers who refuse to follow the statewide order should go to the end of the vaccination line.

    That a lawmaker on ‘official duty’ would defy the statewide order is more than disheartening. Perhaps a future article could name names.

    1. Those that have cried that wearing a mask infringes on their civil liberties will be first in line when they become eligible. Possibly, even before they become eligible.