A syringe with 0.3 milliliters of the diluted vaccine, ready for injection. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

State health officials announced more COVID-19 related deaths in the final week of 2020 than in any previous week of Wyoming’s struggle with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Those dark tidings were tempered by a continued decline of active COVID-19 case counts over the last two weeks, despite a flood of new cases reported Wednesday. 

The Wyoming Department of Health reported 456 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Dec. 28, the highest single-day tally of the season. The same day, the department announced 32 deaths. The death figure was the largest announced in a single day, before being surpassed on Thursday the 31st with 33. The DOH reports deaths in batches that, in some instances, stretch back weeks.

As of Dec. 31, the Department of Health reported 1,839 known and probable active cases in the state — a 20% drop from week 40, and 84% down from the high of 11,793 on Nov. 24.  

All told, Wyoming has tallied 38,010 lab-confirmed infections and 438 deaths. 

Wyoming’s state prison remains in the grip of its second COVID-19 outbreak. The Wyoming Department of Corrections on Dec. 29 reported 21 cases among inmates and three among staff at the men’s high security prison in Rawlins. The department reported 13 cases among inmates and three among staff at the men’s medium security prison in Torrington.

The apparent slowing of the virus’s previously rapid spread follows Gov. Mark Gordon’s implementation of stricter health orders Dec. 7, including a requirement for face coverings in businesses, healthcare facilities and on public transportation. 

Those orders are currently set to expire Jan. 8. Gordon and Wyoming Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist will evaluate a continuation or change of the orders based on contagion and hospitalization metrics. 

Retiring lawmaker Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) has called for a rally in Cheyenne Jan. 4 to oppose such public health measures. Clem, who is a pastor, had to briefly end in-person services in his church after COVID-19 infected members of the congregation. At least one church member, fellow lawmaker Rep. Roy Edwards (R-Gillette), died from the disease. 

Regionally and nationally, a number of new developments tampered recent optimism following the beginning of vaccine distributions. For one thing, vaccine distribution is occurring much slower than officials predicted. The health department, originally predicting Wyoming would have received more than 27,000 doses by the end of December, reported having received 21,300 vaccines as of Tuesday Dec. 29, and having administered 5,466.

For another, a new coronavirus strain experts believe to be more contagious appeared this week in Colorado and then California. 

The new strain was first detected in Great Britain, scientists say, and could have an increased transmission rate of as much as 70%, according to some models. The strain is not believed to be more deadly and the current vaccines likely will still be effective against it, according to experts. 

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The state is set to get new aid, and dodged a deadline this week to account for all its previous CARES Act money, after President Donald Trump signed a stimulus and spending package he had initially threatened to veto. Wyoming businesses and individuals could see relief money soon, while the unemployed in the state will be eligible for increased weekly benefits. The package also includes billions of dollars to help speed distribution of vaccines.

The new package will not, however, help the state out of dire fiscal straits that are driving cuts to public health. Gordon on Dec. 22 announced the use of $12 million in CARES Act money for a new program to support charitable organizations. The money will be administered by county and tribal governments.

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  1. We grocery shop in Douglas where at the beginning of the outbreak nationally (before the virus had really arrived here) Safeway was requiring masks & social distance (though often disregarded) & limiting numbers in stores, cleaning carts, etc. All that has gone by the wayside even though it is now that we are seeing community spread.

    Mask wearing inside the store is well below 50% according to my observations on New Year’s Day and below that in other stores. The self-checkout area is jammed with people and whole families shopping together.

    The so-called “State-wide mandate” is hardly tyranny much less complied with. What in the world is there to “rally”, whine & burn masks about?

  2. A compelling but very sad case of two Covid deaths in Cody .
    Identical twin brothers 61 years old previously in good health passed away within hours on Christmas Day from sudden onset of Covid . Inseparable their entire lives, right to the very end.

    The obituary for Kurt and Michael Knight prepared by the family is deeply touching, and can be read at the Cody Enterprise website. ( recommend)

    I mention all this only because of a circumstance of some concern. One of the deceased was a Respiratory Therapist at the Cody Regional Health hospital. Which raises questions…

    The number of newly diagnosed Covid cases in Park County – Cody-Powell is surging much quicker, per capita, than other counties across Wyoming . Park County seeing sharp increases as most other counties are tapering off. We’ve been seeing new case diagnoses of a steady 30 per day on average. Never less than~ 10 per day , with the Sunday 1-03 tally at 48 new cases. Cody and surrounds are notiously defiant of facemasks and social distancing.

    – just connecting a few of the Covid dots…