Week 46: The pandemic in Wyoming from Jan. 23-29

Casper/Natrona County Health Department RN Hana Kim reconstitutes the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine with sodium chloride while preparing the first doses to be administered in Natrona County on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

January 29, 2021 by Katie Klingsporn, WyoFile

Niobrara County in eastern Wyoming became the state’s first county since mid-October to register zero active coronavirus cases this week, a status it still held as of Friday morning. 

Across the state, meanwhile, Teton County remained in the purple “critical” alert level it entered Jan. 21 in the midst of an unprecedented infection surge. Teton clocked in the highest number of active cases in the state at least four days this week, despite being the ninth most populous county in Wyoming. 

In response to the surge, state health officials approved local officials’ requests for new Teton County restrictions, which include 10 p.m. curfews on bars and restaurants and indoor gathering limits of 10 people or 25% of capacity.

While Wyoming has a new daily case rate of 33 per 100,000 people, Teton County’s was 139 per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Contract tracers there are overwhelmed. 

Though Teton County officials have recommended residents don’t gather with anyone outside of their households, Teton County Public Health Officer Travis Riddell said state officials don’t appear to have much “appetite” for allowing Teton County to enact another stay-at-home order, the News&Guide reports. 

Overall, Wyoming’s COVID-19 metrics remained fairly steady this week, with small improvements, suggesting the state may have leveled onto a plateau of sorts since its COVID-19 spike peaked in late November. 

Active cases dropped, to below 1,300 by Friday morning, and hospitalizations decreased to 70 by Thursday, down from 84 last week. The Department of Health reported 25 COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the state’s total to 596. 

Medical professionals identified five new cases of the UK variant of the virus among Teton County residents, Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti told WyoFile in an email. The variant was first detected in Teton County last week. Officials have not identified the variant anywhere else in the state, Deti said.

Eleven of Wyoming’s 23 counties are in the “red” zone for infections, according to a Jan. 24 weekly reportissued by the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force. The White House’s new Data Director Cyrus Shahpar began making those reports public on Wednesday, saying they were “previously hidden.” 

The red-zone counties identified in the report include Natrona, Teton, Sweetwater, Campbell, Uinta, Sheridan, Big Horn, Hot Springs, Platte, Goshen and Johnson.

A graph from Wyoming’s Jan. 24 COVID-19 update. The White House’s new COVID-19 data director has begun releasing to the public the same state reports that the White House COVID-19 task force sends to governors weekly. (screengrab/beta.healthdata.gov)

Nine Wyoming hospitals — 32% of the state’s facilities — have supply shortages, and three are experiencing staff shortages, according to the report.

Though professionals continue to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, reports have surfaced of short supply, long lines and other struggles. 

As of Thursday, health workers had administered 36,654 first doses, the Department of Health reports, including 7,765 in the past week. Just 7,238 second doses had been administered as of Thursday.

The state has received 57,150 total first doses and 25,775 second doses. 

President Joe Biden this week pledged to ensure all 50 states receive doses more quickly through a deal with two drug manufacturers. Biden said states would now have three weeks’ advance notice of how many doses they will receive, The New York Times reports. 

Wyoming’s rollout has been bumpy in some places. In Gillette, hundreds of senior citizens recently lined up outside a senior center on a 30-degree afternoon waiting for a vaccine administered by the Campbell County Public Health, the Gillette News Record reports. Some people grew tired of waiting and left before they were vaccinated, according to the newspaper. 

Because every county is directing its own rollout plan, some residents have found it confusing to ascertain where they stand in line.

All told, Wyoming has tallied 43,884 lab-confirmed infections. That includes just 843 new cases this week, a 40% decrease over last week’s tally.

Meanwhile, there were 1,242 known active cases in the state as of Friday morning, a 30% decrease from last week. 

The state did receive some promising economic news. Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8% in December from 5.1% in November, according to the Department of Workforce Services. This marks the eighth month in a row that the state’s rate has decreased, and it remains lower than the nationwide rate of 6.7%. 

Month-over jobless rates fell in Teton, Natrona, Converse and Campbell counties, with the largest decrease in Teton. 

Compared to December 2019, however, December 2020 saw the unemployment rate rise in 19 counties. The largest increases occurred in energy producing areas, including Natrona, Campbell and Converse counties.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.