Wyo Health Officer Concerned But Not Surprised At COVID Increase; Monitoring Monkeypox

With Wyoming's COVID count increasing, Wyoming Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said she wasn't surprised by it but was concerned. She also said the department is monitoring the monkeypox virus.

Ellen Fike

June 15, 20224 min read

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Wyoming’s active COVID cases have started to creep up again and the state’s health officer is not too surprised at the uptick in numbers, she told Cowboy State Daily this week.

Dr. Alexia Harrist pointed out that Teton County had one of the two highest active case counts in the state as of Wednesday, even though it also has the highest ratio of vaccinated residents in the state. However, she also noted that Teton County is an active tourist location, meaning the virus is more likely to spread.

“Throughout the course of this pandemic, almost two and a half years now, we’ve seen periods of time with relatively low numbers of cases and then an increase,” Harrist said on Tuesday. “It was really just not surprising that after a relatively long period of time that now we’re seeing some increases.”

While Teton and Laramie counties have the highest number of active cases, 71 each, Harrist said it was possible that a lack of testing access could mean that there are more COVID cases in Wyoming, they just have not been reported.

In addition, the availability of free, at-home COVID tests could mean that people are finding out they have the virus and just taking steps on their own to isolate without reporting anything to their local health departments.

More than 90% of Teton County’s population is vaccinated against COVID, while just under 50% of Laramie County’s population is vaccinated. Around 46% of the entire state is vaccinated against the virus.

The vaccinations have made a difference in coronavirus spikes, Harrist said, because they prevented hospital visits and deaths from COVID.

“We know that vaccines do have effectiveness at preventing transmission and infection, but where they really shine and where they’re really effective is preventing severe illness and death,” Harrist said. “We saw that during the Omicron wave, where Teton County had a very high number of cases, but did not have the reported hospitalizations and deaths that we saw elsewhere. Teton County has the lowest death rate from COVID of any county in Wyoming.”

Harrist said Wyoming residents should take the increase in cases seriously, though, as now there is a higher risk of infection, particularly for people with underlying medical conditions who may not have received both the main doses of the vaccination and one to two boosters.

“More cases mean more people can be exposed and then more people can be infected,” she said. “The boosters, right now, are the best way to give your immunity that chance to be able to fight off the virus.”

Besides the increase in COVID cases, Harrist has also been on the watch for monkeypox, which has been slowly creeping into the United States over the last several weeks.

The illness generally causes a rash, fever and swollen lymph nodes and can lead to death in about 10% of the cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There have been no confirmed cases in Wyoming, but Harrist said the department has notified all of the state’s health care providers on what symptoms to look for and how to collect samples, should the occasion arise.

The state’s public health laboratory is also ready to conduct monkeypox testing when needed, she said.

“Nationally, there have been more cases appearing, so there is some ongoing risk, particularly among people who might travel out of the country,” Harrist said.

Around 65 cases have been confirmed in the United States as of this week, according to Fox News. While many of the cases have been found among gay and bisexual men, anyone who has traveled out of the country, especially to certain countries in Africa.

“I can’t say whether or not the virus will end up in Wyoming, but as we continue to see cases rise nationally, it certainly is possible,” Harrist said.

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Ellen Fike