By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State
Now that a new, more contagious coronavirus variant has come to Wyoming, health officials are saying there is even more reason to get vaccinated against the virus once the opportunity arises.
Laramie County health officials said during a news conference on Monday at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center that the new variant of the virus isn’t necessarily stronger, but it is more contagious.
“It’s important to remember that the variant isn’t going to change things overall,” said Laramie County Health Officer Dr. Stan Hartman. “It makes it even more important to do the basic things like social distancing and hand washing.”
The Wyoming Health Department announced Saturday that a Teton County man tested positive for the more contagious version of the coronavirus that was first identified in the United Kingdom in late 2020. This variant is associated with an increase in coronavirus infections in the U.K.
Like many other viruses, mutations to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are expected over time. This variant contains multiple mutations and has received attention due to the increased spread of the virus in areas where it has been detected.
Teton County has seen 413 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks and an increase of more than 250 active cases since the beginning of the year. As a result, county health officials are urging residents to take extra precautions and avoid all public gatherings.
“With the identification of the COVID-19 variant along with cases of COVID-19 rapidly rising in our community, we are asking all residents to gather with members of your household only,” Teton County Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said. “Our community is in perhaps the most critical position we have faced yet in the course of this pandemic.”
Wyoming Health Department officials said they were unsurprised to see that the variant had crept into Wyoming.
“It is not unusual for variants to emerge with viruses and that’s been happening during this pandemic with COVID-19,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said. “However, this strain is more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants and that is a serious concern.”
Harrist noted the U.K. variant does not appear to cause symptoms of the virus to be more severe.
“But a variant spreading more easily between people means the number of infections could grow causing more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. “That’s something no one wants.”
She reiterated that Wyoming residents should continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks while in public places.