By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is being blamed for a sudden jump in Wyoming coronavirus cases that has seen the number of active cases in the state more than double in the last two weeks.
After falling to fewer than 1,000 in the week leading up to Christmas, Department of Health figures show the number of active cases in the state stood at more than 2,000 as of Thursday.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, credited the arrival of the Omicron variant in Wyoming as the reason for the increase.
“We are currently seeing big jumps in Wyoming’s case counts again, likely due to the Omicron variant. This is again not like the COVID-19 we have become familiar with because it spreads much more easily between people,” she said. “Unfortunately, when a virus transmits between people easily more people become infected.”
As of Thursday, the state had 2,423 active cases of coronavirus, compared to 1,018 two weeks ago, on Dec. 23.
The most dramatic increase has been seen in Teton County, where the active case count went from 138 on Dec. 23 to 542 on Thursday, the highest number of active cases of any county in the state.
Teton County also has the highest number of fully vaccinated residents at 85%. Albany and Hot Springs counties follow at 54% and 49%, respectively.
The increase of cases in Teton County is the result of an influx of tourists, according to Rachael Wheeler, public health response coordinator for Teton County Health Department, who said cases have been on the rise during the holiday season, despite low numbers this fall.
“More people, more problems,” she said.
Given the delay for the genetic sequencing required to identify variants, it’s hard to say how many of these new cases are the Omicron variant, Wheeler said, although officials believe that the variant is likely the dominant strand in Teton County and elsewhere.
Wheeler and the state Department of Health recommended full vaccination — including boosters — for all residents of the state.
Wheeler also cautioned against drawing a causality between the efficacy of the vaccine and the surge in cases among the vaccinated.
The vaccines and boosters are doing what they are intended to do, she noted, which is to reduce the severity of symptoms, prevent hospitalizations and help mitigate the spread of the virus.
“The vaccines are helping people get less sick,” she said. “It lessens symptoms and prevents severe illness, even though we are having breakthrough cases.”
Hospitalizations of COVID patients around the state remain low compared to the peak seen in October, when 249 patients were being treated at Wyoming Hospitals. As of Tuesday, the number stood at 63.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients remain low in Teton County, with six patients currently admitted at St. Johns Medical Center.
However, Wheeler predicted will likely creep up in coming days.
Wyoming’s increase in cases mirrors one being seen nationally, said Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health.
“Many places across the country and in the state are seeing rapidly growing case rates and it will not be surprising to see that happen quickly in other Wyoming counties too,” she said. “There are differences between our communities such as tourism and recreation, local testing practices and facility locations to name a few that come in to play as well.”