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Casper health dept warns of major workforce shortages as COVID wave spreads

A student and parent walk to class on the first day of school at Lincoln Elementary in September 2021. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper-Natrona County Health Department is warning of potential workforce shortages as children and students likely become quarantined for COVID-19 exposure.

Health experts say quarantines impacted local daycares last month, and warn that with the start of the new school year many expect to see a “dramatic increase in positive cases and exposures.”

The resulting quarantines will force parents to miss work while staying home with their children, said the release.

Other Wyoming counties where school started earlier have faced similar issues. Hot Springs County schools reverted to virtual learning this week due to COVID-19 spread after opening just the previous week.

With the exception of Albany and Teton Counties, as well as the Wind River Reservation, most Wyoming public school districts have rejected mandatory masking and most of the other COVID-19 protocols that were put into place during last year’s session.

“Kids being quarantined at home will have community-wide consequences as parents will be unable to go to work and businesses will be unable to find adequate staffing,” they said, urging parents and businesses to prepare and plan for an impacted workforce.

“Unless the exposed individual is fully vaccinated (which isn’t available to anyone under the age of 12), quarantine protocols are largely the same as they were last school year,” said the release.

“Anyone not fully vaccinated must quarantine at home for 10 days if you were within 6’ of a positive case for more than 15 minutes in the 48 hours prior to the Positive’s first symptoms. If a child is quarantined at home due to exposure but does not show symptoms and does not test positive, other members of the child’s household may resume normal life, including going to work or school. If someone who is fully vaccinated (two weeks since final dose of any shot) is exposed to a positive case, that individual does not need to quarantine, so long as he or she remains asymptomatic.”

 “At the risk of sounding alarmist, we need the community to understand that, depending on the situation, it’s possible that whole classrooms, grade levels, or even entire schools and daycare facilities could be shut down for weeks at a time,” said C-NCHD public information officer Hailey Bloom in the release. 

“Adhering to quarantines is imperative for the health of Casper residents and families,” the release said.

“The Delta variant is substantially more contagious than previous variants, and younger populations, including school-aged children, are showing more significant symptoms that require hospitalizations. Vaccinations remain the most effective protection against COVID-19, and anyone over the age of 12 is eligible to receive one now. It’s up to all of us to protect each other, especially those who can’t be vaccinated.”

The C-NCHD says testing, vaccinations for those eligible, and staying home during illnesses are “critical components” of keeping schools in session.

“Unfortunately, we’d all hoped this school year would be different, but the situation is grim right now,” Bloom 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.