CASPER, Wyo. — Infectious disease specialist and Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell voiced concerns on the spread of COVID-19 in the community as Natrona County schools prepare to reopen on Wednesday for the new season.
In a video update posted on the Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease’s Facebook page, Dowell said, “We have a very active amount of disease in this county: we have 42 [COVID-19] patients in the hospital, we have employees out, and some of our testing sites are showing 25 to 30 percent of people tested are positive.”
“That’s crazy,” he added.
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He focused on schools in Natrona County, which open tomorrow, and expressed concern at the lack of mask and other health protocols, as well as low community-wide vaccination rates.
“I wish that the schools would mask the kids and the employees to cut down the transmission rate, and keep kids from the risk of developing longer-term health problems from COVID, or spreading it to their unvaccinated families,” he said. “It’s been weighing on my mind.”
“The goal is to keep kids in school,” he continued, “and that’s the easiest way to do it because kids will do well socially whether they have a mask on or not, but they don’t do socially well when they’re quarantined at home.”
“Do I expect problems in the next few weeks with school opening? I hope not, but I think it will be a problem.”
Dowell also once again urged people to get vaccinated.
“The rumor out there is that many people who are hospitalized have been vaccinated is — how do I want to say it — bogus,” he said. “The vast majority of people hospitalized have not been vaccinated at all.”
He said vaccinated people who are hospitalized with COVID tend to be considerably older and suffering with other health issues that are exacerbated by the virus. “Almost to-the-person, people who are vaccinated are not hospitalized.”
Dowell’s video on Tuesday was posted shortly after the Wyoming Department of Health announced an additional 23 COVID-19-related deaths.
The Wyoming Medical Center announced earlier this month that it would reopen its drive-up respiratory clinics, and on Monday the Casper-Natrona County Health Department said it likely broke records for the number of COVID-19 tests administered in one day.
Additionally, on Tuesday the Hot Springs County School District announced it would immediately move to virtual learning due to COVID-19 just days after opening for the year.
While the Natrona County School District rejected COVID-19 restrictions such as masking, the Albany County School District, Teton County School District, and schools on the Wind River Reservation will all require masking by students and faculty inside buildings. Most other school districts have rejected mask mandates, and Governor Mark Gordon announced there would be no mandates issued by the state.
“I don’t want to see anybody die, I don’t want to see anybody sick,” said Dowell in the update. “I want our schools to stay open and our kids to stay healthy.”
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.