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Wyoming COVID Hospitalizations Drop To Under 200

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s coronavirus-related hospitalizations dropped to fewer than 200 this week, after the state’s hospitals saw the second-highest peak of the pandemic earlier this month.

As of Thursday, Wyoming had 194 COVID patients, according to the state’s hospitalization tracker.

The most patients were at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, with 45. Cheyenne Regional Medical Center followed with 37 patients.

While there may have been somewhat of a downturn in the number of hospitalized patients this week, some intensive care units across the state are still full, such at the South Lincoln Medical Center in Kemmerer, Johnson County Healthcare in Buffalo, Powell Valley Healthcare and SageWest Health Care in Lander.

Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie only had one ICU bed left as of Thursday.

Statewide, there were only 52 ICU beds still available.

Just because someone is in the ICU doesn’t mean they have COVID.

Only 37 of the state’s available ventilators were in use, but as with the ICU, just because someone is on a ventilator doesn’t mean they have COVID.

The average seven-day positivity rate of COVID tests has increased in recent days, hitting 24.01% as of Thursday.

Wyoming Hospital Association president Eric Boley did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Friday. Last month, he told Cowboy State Daily that the best solution to combat the growing hospitalization numbers was for people to get vaccinated.

“We’re facing some real challenges, so wearing masks, washing your hands and social distancing will help,” he said in late August. “There’s a lot skepticism in our state about the solutions, but the truth is, COVID is right on our doorstep. Our hospitals and nursing homes are doing all they can, but we really need the public to help us out.”

At the time, the state’s hospitals were treating 178 COVID patients.

The state saw its second-highest hospitalization peak earlier this month, with 230 patients as of Sept. 7. The state’s highest number of hospitalizations was seen in late November, with around 250 patients.

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Laramie County Community College Implements Mask Mandate For Staff

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Dailyl

Laramie County Community College employees in Cheyenne and Laramie are being required to wear facemasks in college buildings due to a low rate of vaccination among the employees.

LCCC president Dr. Joe Schaffer sent out the mask guidance to LCCC employees on Thursday night, spokeswoman Lisa Trimble told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. The rules require masks when indoors on college property, including inside vehicles when social distancing is not possible.

Schaffer told employees that the requirement would be in place until either the COVID transmission risk levels in Laramie and Albany Counties is downgraded to at least moderate transmission or at least 80% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Of LCCC’s 364 employees, 206 have reported being vaccinated, which comes out to around 57%. The college would need at least 291 employees to verify they have been vaccinated for the requirement to end.

“Even when we meet these thresholds, we will continue to strongly recommend face coverings for all unvaccinated individuals,” Schaffer said.

While a mask requirement for students would be ideal, Schaffer said the college simply did not have the time or resources to enforce one, therefore masks are strongly recommended but not required for students.

Schaffer also said the college would continue to stock COVID testing supplies and make tests widely available to employees and students. Additionally, the college will re-implement surveillance testing of residence hall students who have not provided proof of vaccination.

Student athletes will be required to wear masks and be tested if they are not fully vaccinated when they are not competing.

Shaffer noted that due to the impacts COVID has had on the college’s human and fiscal resources, additional staffing and assistance would likely be required to implement the new rules.

The Cheyenne campus currently has 16 active cases, while the Laramie campus only has one.

Albany County had 150 active COVID cases as of Thursday, while Laramie County had 347.

The University of Wyoming was the first educational system in the state to implement a mask mandate for staff and students, and on Friday, the UW board of trustees voted to indefinitely extend the mandate.

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Wyo Dept Of Health: Outdoor Events Aren’t Focus Of COVID Transmission

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Despite reports of a few new COVID cases among students, the Wyoming Department of Health has no data to support the idea that the season’s first University of Wyoming home football game was a virus “super spreader.”

Department spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that while she has heard of a few COVID cases among students who attended the game on Sept. 4, she had no information to confirm the game was the source of exposure for those people.

“It has been our experience over the course of the pandemic that outdoor events have not been a focus of transmission,” Deti said.

On Sept. 3, the day before the first game, Albany County had 116 active cases. As of Thursday, the county had 150 active cases, an increase of 34 cases, or 29%. This would also coincide with the beginning of the fall semester, as well.

In the two weeks following Cheyenne Frontier Days, which was one of the biggest crowds the event has seen in years, Laramie County saw an increase of 235 active cases, an 84% increase.

However, just because there was not a significant uptick in COVID cases following the football game, Deti reminded residents to be aware of the challenges the pandemic is currently causing.

“We’ll say again that anyone who is feeling ill should stay home unless they are seeking medical attention,” she said. “We do recommend masks in indoor public settings and we recommend free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations for anyone who is eligible.”

The university offered free COVID vaccinations at the football game.

Albany County had the second-highest COVID vaccination rate in Wyoming, with 47.6% of its residents having been vaccinated, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

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University Of Wyoming Indefinitely Extends Mask Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming has extended for an indefinite period of time its requirement that people within its buildings wear facemasks, the university announced on Friday.

The UW Board of Trustees voted Friday to extend the mask policy, as Albany County remains in the Wyoming Department of Health’s “moderate-high transmission levels” category for COVID-19. As of Thursday, the county had 150 active COVID cases.

“Our mask policy has helped us start our traditional fall semester without a major spike in COVID cases,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We appreciate the willingness of our community members to follow this policy in classrooms, labs and high-traffic areas such as the Wyoming Union so that we can continue with in-person learning and activities.”

There currently are 63 active coronavirus cases among UW students and employees.

The policy will be revisited in subsequent board meetings.

Exceptions to the indoor mask requirement include voluntary public events such as athletics and music, theater and dance performances; voluntary social events; and private, by-invitation events that involve rental and/or use of UW spaces on campus.

For classes where the ability to see speakers’ mouths is essential, faculty members have the ability to seek exceptions to the masking policy.

Employees and students who have legitimate medical reasons to not wear masks can seek exceptions as well.

An additional exception approved by the board is for patrons of Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center when participating in recreational activities, sports or fitness, or when a spectator at a voluntary public recreational event. Half Acre patrons will still be required to wear masks when entering and exiting the building, at all customer service desks and in meeting rooms.

UW continues to strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as the reporting of those vaccinations. Those who report vaccinations become eligible for weekly prize drawings.

As of Monday, 4,282 UW students reported being vaccinated.

Of 2,877 total benefited employees, 2,191, 76.2%, reported receiving at least one vaccine dose. Adding in non-benefited employees, 3,457 of the total 6,372 staff and faculty members, 54.3 percent, reported receiving at least one dose.

In an anonymous survey at the start of the semester, 88% of employees and 66% of students said they had been vaccinated.

“We would love to see those numbers continue to increase, as vaccinations truly are the best hope for ending this pandemic,” Seidel said. “The vaccines are proven to be highly safe and effective in preventing infection and serious illness, even for the easily transmissible Delta variant.”

UW continues to conduct weekly random-sample testing of 3% of the on-campus population. The test positivity rate of 1.47% last week was down from 2.89% the week before.

The university was the first educational system in the state to require masks for the fall semester. Local school districts, such as Laramie, Albany and Teton counties, across Wyoming have begun implementing mandates as COVID cases continue to rise.

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UW Law Professor: Biden Vaccine Mandate Is Likely Constitutional

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming law professor explained that President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers is likely constitutional, but for a particular reason.

Michael Duff, a law professor who focuses on labor law, torts, evidence and workers’ compensation law, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that it was difficult to assess whether or not a vaccine mandate created under an emergency temporary standard is constitutional until the precise language is known.

Biden last week announced that federal workers, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people will have to be vaccinated against coronavirus or be tested for the illness weekly. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be responsible for levying fines against companies that do not comply with the mandate.

By providing the option for testing or vaccination, Biden’s mandate may meet constitutional muster, Duff said.

“But if employers have the vaccine or testing option, any rule I can imagine will be constitutional,” Duff said. “Without that safety valve there could be a real problem as to what sanction could be imposed on employers who failed to comply with the mandate. The government could be in a bind in such a situation.”

He added that if the sanctions are not significant, employers may not comply with Biden’s mandate. However, if the sanctions are severe, employers may have hearing rights if they have attempted, without success, to require vaccinations among their employees who still refused to be vaccinated.

“Tricky legal issues would surface if employers felt compelled to fire non-cooperating employees,” Duff said. “Though I think the standard will likely be constitutional with the testing safety valve, my suspicion is that whatever the ETS looks like some employers (or groups) will challenge it in court.”

Duff explained that with an emergency temporary standard, OSHA doesn’t have to go through the full rule-making process to implement the new rules.

“Once issued, an ETS becomes effective and OSHA must begin rulemaking for a permanent standard, with the ETS serving as the proposed standard,” he said. “An ETS is valid until superseded by a permanent standard, which OSHA must promulgate within six months of publishing it in the Federal Register.”

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583 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Thursday; 560 Recoveries; 4,339 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

The number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming increased by 186 on Thursday from Wednesday.

The Wyoming Department of Health received new reports of 560 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 583 new laboratory-confirmed and 163 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 4,339 active cases on Thursday. 

Thirteen counties had more than 100 active cases, with eight reporting more than 200. Natrona County had 754; Campbell 447; Fremont 402; Laramie 347; Sweetwater 328; Sheridan 281; Uinta 256; Park 207; Lincoln 194; Converse 166; Albany and Teton 150; Carbon 93; Goshen 80; Washakie 76; Big Horn 74; Crook 72; Sublette 61; Hot Springs 54; Johnson 41; Platte 40; Weston had 34, and Niobrara had 32.  

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 83,643 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 78,386 have recovered.

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608 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 88 Recoveries, 4,153 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case count increased by 346 from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health received reports Wednedsay of 88 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 608 new laboratory-confirmed and 186 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 4,153 active cases for Wednesday. 

Twelve counties have more than 100 active cases and eight have more than 200. Natrona County had 726; Laramie 386; Campbell had 376; Fremont 347; Sweetwater 299; Sheridan 271; Uinta 263; Park 201; Lincoln 194; Converse 172; Albany 147; Teton 130; Carbon 89; Goshen 85; Crook 76; Washakie 69; Big Horn 68; Hot Springs 55; Sublette 51; Platte 50; Johnson 41; Weston had 34, while Niobrara reported the fewest active cases, with 23. No county reported zero active cases for Wednesday. 

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 82,897 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 77,826 have recovered.

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Driskill: 90% Chance of Special Session To Combat Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said there is a 90% likelihood that the Legislature will hold a special session to address President Joe Biden’s sweeping national vaccine mandate.

Driskill told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he envisioned a two- to three-day session where legislators would focus on strategies to fight the president’s mandate which would, in effect, force thousands of Wyoming workers to receive a COVID vaccine or be fired.

“The Legislature has listened closely to the people of Wyoming,” Driskill said.  “We agree with the people that this is egregious overreach by the Biden administration.  It is worthy of whatever the expense is to fight for Wyoming citizens’ rights.”

Driskill said he was with Gov. Mark Gordon when word of the mandate first surfaced last week and it was like a “shot in the gut” when he heard it.

“It was crushing,” he said. “It is massive overreach for the feds to dictate to private business what their employees have to do.”

Biden last week announced that federal employees, health care workers and employees of companies with more than 100 workers would be required to either get the vaccine or be tested for coronavirus weekly. The rules would be enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which could levy fines against companies that fail to comply with the order.

Driskill said legislative leadership began talking immediately about ways to address the mandate.

“Obviously we are going to sue,” Driskill said. “There is no doubt the governor’s going to join in and sue. But suing takes time and we are working up against hard deadlines here.”

Driskill and Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) said all legal and legislative options must be pursued.

“The president’s mandates touched a nerve of opposition across this state,” Dockstader said. “It’s important the Legislature respond to that concern and thoroughly be prepared with methodically prepared legislation.”

Creative Strategies

Driskill said this is where the Legislature could get creative.

Because state law cannot supersede federal law, Driskill said, more outside-the-box strategies could be employed.

One example would be to follow Colorado’s lead and just ignore the feds, he said.

“Colorado ignored federal laws with pot,” he said alluding to Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana despite federal laws.  “We can obviously take a look at that and say we are not going to do it.”

Another interesting strategy, Driskill said, was to use federal COVID funds to pay for federal fines imposed on businesses that don’t follow the mandate.

“It’s obviously COVID-related,” he said.  “We can use those funds to pay the fines for business.”

Driskill said the state could order state OSHA employees to “stand down” and enforce only the rules the state wants enforced.

The state could help employees who are fired for not following the mandate, he said, by paying for unemployment benefits and assisting with finding other jobs.

Because the federal mandate does allow employees to take weekly COVID tests instead of a vaccination, Driskill said the state could reimburse businesses or employees for the costs of rapid tests.

Driskill also said the state could help to “widen the window” for exemptions to the federal law.

“There’s always been a history that you can’t be challenged if you are using a religious exemption,” he said.  “You can’t challenge it.”

“We need to make sure the feds aren’t onerous in denying those exemptions,” he said.

If The Vaccine Works

Driskill said he’s not opposed to vaccinations.  He’s vaccinated himself.

He thinks vaccinated people shouldn’t be threatened by the unvaccinated “if the vaccine works.”

“I get that you can get the shot and get COVID,” he said. “But overwhelmingly, it’s pretty minor and you aren’t likely to die from it.”  

“So we shouldn’t force things on people when if you’ve got a vaccination, you really shouldn’t be threatened,” he said.

As for the session itself, Driskill said it would likely be conducted via video conferencing instead of in-person as the cost savings would be significant.

The governor’s office did not tip its hand on whether or when the governor might call a session although some have speculated he would make an announcement this week.

His spokesman, Michael Pearlman, said the governor has been “in initial discussions with legislative leadership regarding the potential for a special session.”

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371 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Tuesday; 468 Recoveries; 3,807 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case count increased by 131 on Tuesday from Monday. 

The Wyoming Department of Health said it received reports of 468 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases on Tuesday. 

At the same time, the state reported 371 new laboratory-confirmed and 267 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 3,807 active cases. 

Twelve counties had more than 100 active cases, seven had more than 200. Natrona County led the state in active cases at 652; Laramie had 361; Campbell had 345; Fremont 338; Sweetwater 223; Uinta 275; Sheridan 234; Park 181; Lincoln 167; Converse 155; Teton 130; Albany 119; Carbon 86; Goshen 74; Crook 68; Washakie 60; Big Horn 53; Platte 51; Hot Springs 47; Sublette 40; Johnson 33; Weston had 32, and Niobrara had 23.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 82,463 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 77,738 have recovered.

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39 More Wyoming Deaths Linked To Coronavirus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The deaths of 39 more Wyoming residents have been linked to the coronavirus, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Tuesday.

The department said the deaths, which occurred between June and September, brought the COVID-19 fatality toll in the state to 918 since the illness was first detected in the state in March 2020.

The deaths included six Natrona County residents — one woman and five men — in August and September. All six had been hospitalized for treatment of the illness.

Five Uinta County residents, three men and two women, also all hospitalized, died in August and September.

Other victims included an Albany County man who died in July, an Albany County woman who died in June and a Niobrara County man who died in September.

Three Campbell County residents, two women and one man, died in August and September, as did three Converse County residents, two women and one man.

A Crook County man died in August, while three Fremont County residents — two women and one man — died in September.

Two Goshen County women who died in August and September were among the victims, as were two Hot Springs County women who died in September.

A Laramie County man and woman died in August and September, a Park County woman died in August and two Platte County men died in September.

Three Sheridan County men died in August and September, two Sweetwater County men died in August and September and a Weston County man died in August.

The announcement came as state figures showed Wyoming had 3,807 active coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, an increase of 131 from Monday.

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