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(WATCH) Health officials struggle with burnout as COVID deaths spike in Natrona County

Healthcare workers at the Wyoming Medical Center Respiratory Screening Clinic wave to first responders from several Natrona County agencies during a brief parade around the WMC campus on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Casper. The parade was organized to show appreciation for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 surge. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

CASPER, Wyo. — The recent explosion of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Wyoming and in Natrona County is straining medical resources, closing businesses, and leading to “burnout” and disillusionment among health care workers, one health official said Friday.

There were 51 patients actively infected with COVID-19 and in isolation at Wyoming Medical Center Thursday, said Natrona County health officer and WMC infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Dowell in a live social media statement Friday morning, September 17.

Another seven patients had been taken out of isolation but were still hospitalized “with COVID-related problems,” he said. According to state health data, this is the most COVID patients seen at WMC since Dec. 3, 2020.

“What’s really tough about this is that almost all [of it] could be avoided. Almost none of those people were vaccinated, and it’s just been a weight breaking my heart.”

Only 37% of Wyoming is fully vaccinated, Dowell said. 

“I’ve watched way north of 20 people in the last few weeks, and none of them needed to die,” Dowell said.

Dowell said that medical professionals, including himself, are feeling mental and emotional burnout and disillusionment from the protracted health crisis and from fielding persistent misinformation.

“People are trying not to get cynical [or] give up … because we’re in medicine to help people and keep them healthy and recover.”

With ICU beds filling up with COVID-19 patients, other critical and elective procedures have to be postponed.

“We have patients with cancer that can’t get their surgery because we don’t have any place to room them,” Dowell said. “We have patients in the [emergency room] forever without having a bed to go into.”

Dowell added that some some businesses in town have had to shut down (“temporarily, but nonetheless”) due to the surge, and that there have been over 500 students infected within the first two weeks of schools opening. 

“This is not okay,” Dowell said, urging the state’s population to change its “mindset” to acknowledge the impact of the crisis on neighbors, families, businesses, and the economy.

“The thing I’ve heard about Wyoming all along is how the people stepped up to the plate when it was needed, and how much we’re here for each other. Yet we have something that will keep these people from dying…”

“Enough of the conspiracy stuff, enough of the excuses; get down there and do the right thing for our state. I’m burning out with this. I’m watching people die, and it’s hurting my soul,” he said.

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.