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Wyoming Schools Plan In-Person Graduation As COVID Loosens Its Grip

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There’s not been a lot that’s happened over the last 14 months in Wyoming that could be considered “normal.” But in the last few weeks, conditions have inched a little closer.

With declines in coronavirus cases and a growing percentage of Wyoming residents obtaining the COVID vaccine, institutions are opening back up and loosening the restrictions that were in place to slow the spread of the illness.

Nursing homes are being allowed to provide short visitation periods, students can enjoy school dances and in-person graduation ceremonies again, and more schools are winning approval to end requirements for mask use.

One of the biggest changes from last year is the planning for in-person graduation ceremonies across the state.

While last year saw students attend virtual events or sit in cars to watch commencement speakers, full, in-person ceremonies are being planned at various schools, including Central Wyoming College, Casper College and Laramie County Community College.

The University of Wyoming will hold in-person commencement ceremonies, but will also offer a “hybrid” option for graduates to be recognized virtually.

Also opening graduation ceremonies to the public is Northwest College, said public information officer Carey Miller.

“We heard from our 2020 graduates that they were sad about not getting to have the same experience,” she explained. “So we decided early on that we wanted to try and give them the best experience that we possibly could — and do in person graduation.”

Miller said state rules will allow up to 500 people in the Cabre Gym, where the ceremony will be held — although there will be some requirements for social distancing and mask use.

As Wyoming relies heavily on tourism, attractions that last year were shuttered or strictly limited are planning to welcome the public with outstretched arms. 

Officials with Cheyenne Frontier Days, which was canceled last year, announced the 10-day rodeo will go on as normal this year without social distancing or mask requirements for concerts, rodeos and other outdoor activities.

This is welcome news for an event that saw an over $3 million loss last year.

Vaccines have gone a long way towards returning the state to pre-pandemic status, according to Kathy Emmons, executive director for the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department

“We don’t want to have to go back to limiting businesses and things like that,” she told Cowboy State Daily earlier this month. “And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure everybody can go back to work and can go out and shop. And you can only do that if you’ve got that protection.”

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Wyoming’s Health Orders Continued; Masks In Schools Must Still Be Worn

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s final two remaining coronavirus health orders will be continued for at least two more weeks, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Wednesday.

, as will rules limiting attendance at large indoor events to 50% of a venue’s capacity and imposing specific mask rules.

The WDH recommended masks in indoor public places when common-sense physical distancing can’t be maintained among people who don’t live in the same household.

Estimates show nearly 25% of Wyoming’s population has been fully vaccinated against coronavirus so far, including 32% of adults 18 and over and more than 55% of adults 65 and over.

Wyoming has around 400 active cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday and has seen just over 700 deaths.

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91 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Monday; 410 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases decreased by 30 on Monday from Friday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 152 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases over the weekend.

At the same time, the state reported 91 new laboratory-confirmed and 31 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 410 active cases.

Laramie’s County’s active cases dropped by 10 but the county continued to have the highest number in the state at 95; Albany County had 59; Sweetwater had 51; Natrona 44; Fremont 32; Uinta 21; Campbell 20; Teton 18; Sublette 15; Sheridan 13; Park 10; Goshen eight; Big Horn and Carbon six; Lincoln four; Hot Springs, Platte and Weston two; Crook and Johnson one, while Converse, Niobrara and Washakie reported no active cases. 

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 57,818 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 56,703 have recovered.

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Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Distribution Again Allowed In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Health is again allowing distribution of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, a spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

The move comes almost two weeks after the department and the federal government recommended a pause in administration of the single-dose vaccine due to reports of women developing blood clots after receiving it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed the vaccine to be used again as of Friday and the Wyoming Department of Health told health care providers on Saturday that they could again distribute the vaccine, WDH spokeswoman Kim Deti confirmed to Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

“Providers have been advised they can resume offering that vaccine. We sent a notice to providers over the weekend,” she said.

She also provided a copy of the notice, which also gave directions to medical providers in the event of patients developing blood clots.

At the time of the pause, Wyoming had administered 9,950 doses of the vaccine and had received a total of 24,400 doses.

There were six reported cases of women between the ages of 18 to 48 across the U.S. developing blood clots within six to 13 days after receiving that particular vaccine.

Individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination are advised to contact their health care provider.

Stitches Acute Care Center, which has urgent care clinic in both Wyoming and Colorado, began offering the vaccine again on Sunday, owner Amy Surdam posted in a message to Twitter.

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58 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Friday; 440 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased on Friday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 79 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 58 new laboratory-confirmed and 25 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 440 active cases.

Laramie County 105 active cases; Albany had 70; Natrona 46; Sweetwater 40; Teton 34; Fremont 26; Campbell 22; Uinta 15; Sheridan 14; Goshen 13; Sublette 12; Carbon 11; Big Horn and Park nine; Johnson, Lincoln and Weston three; Hot Springs and Platte two, and Converse had one. 

Crook, Niobrara and Washakie counties had no active cases as of Friday.

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 57,696 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 56,551 have recovered.

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Teton Is Most Vaccinated County In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Nearly 40% of Teton County is completely vaccinated against the coronavirus, the highest vaccination rate of Wyoming’s counties.

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, 39.7% of the county’s residents have received either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or have been given the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state halted the distribution of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine on April 13, after it was linked to a rare form of blood clotting.

This data showed that not only was Teton County’s overall vaccination rate the highest in the state, but so was its percentage of vaccinated adults age 18 and older (48.8%), and those over the age of 65 (66.8%).

Despite the high vaccination rate, Teton County has chosen to continue its mask mandate into next month.

The county’s total rate was significantly higher than all other counties in the state, none of which had seen more than 30% of their residents vaccinated.

The county with the second-highest rate vaccination rate was Hot Springs, with 27.4% — 34.3% of adults 18 and older receiving the vaccine and 55.3% of adults 65 and older being completely vaccinated.

The county with the lowest overall vaccination rate was Campbell, with only 11.5% of residents being completely vaccinated against the virus. Only 15.6% of adults 18 and older in the county were completely vaccinated (the lowest among this demographic in the entire state), while 37% of adults 65 and older were vaccinated.

Sheridan County had the lowest percentage of adults 65 and older vaccinated against the virus, 36.1%.

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UW, LCCC Explain Reasoning Behind Not Requiring COVID Vaccines

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming is following the lead of other colleges and universities in not requiring students or employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to return to school this fall, a spokesman said Friday.

UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that many colleges and universities across the country have decided against requiring vaccinations as a condition of reopening their campuses.

“While several dozen private institutions are requiring vaccines, very few public universities are at this point, and none of our peer institutions in the Midwest-Mountain West region are,” Baldwin said. “At the same time, we are strongly encouraging everyone in the UW community to be vaccinated, because the vaccines have been shown to be highly effective and safe – and offer the best hope of ending the pandemic.”

However, the university continues to encourage its students and staff to get the vaccination, he added.

More than half of the university’s 2,941 employees, 56.2% — 1,653 — reported receiving at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and 50 reported receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of Friday. Use of the the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was discontinued in April because of links to a rate blood clotting disorder.

While employees aren’t required to be vaccinated, UW is offering incentives for those who get the vaccine. Employees who report having been fully vaccinated are eligible for drawings for prizes such as iPads, AirPods and an Apple Watch, as well as a personal day off.

Baldwin said the information on employee vaccinations is being reported by employees themselves.

“”We’re asking students to do the same, but the numbers are just starting to come in, and we don’t have a good compilation yet,” he said. “I’m not sure when those might start to be available.”

As of Monday, the total number of active coronavirus cases among UW students and employees stood at 27, including 22 students living off-campus, three students living on-campus and two employees.

In spite of the increase in coronavirus cases this month at the university, the infection numbers and percentage of positive test results are far below where they stood at the same point in the fall semester.

The percentage of positive test results was 0.22% last week, the 13th week of the spring semester, compared to a percentage of 2.12% prevalence rate during week 13 of the fall semester.

Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne also will not require vaccinations, said spokeswoman Lisa Trimble.

Trimble said the decision was made because of a low COVID-19 infection rate at the college, as well as the continued use of face masks and observation of social distancing.

She added, however, that the college continued to provide employees and students with information on the vaccines.

“We are working to provide employees and students with information to help them make an informed decision regarding their personal choice to be vaccinated or not and feel that it is important to allow for everyone to have personal responsibility for the choices that they make,” she said. “We will continue to offer online and hybrid courses for those students that prefer to learn from home or are concerned about returning to the traditional classroom setting. These offerings also allow for flexibility in scheduling which is important for some of our students.”

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Gordon: More Review Needed Before Bill Limiting Health Orders Approved

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill designed in part to give the governor more oversight over public health orders may have been prepared and approved too quickly after the worst of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Mark Gordon said.

Gordon on Thursday allowed House Bill 127 to become law without his signature, saying it may not have been completely thought through.

“I still cannot sign this legislation because I think it responds to a particular set of circumstances in a particular time and corrects for perceptions that are raw because of recent experience,” he wrote in a letter to legislative leaders explaining his action. “This bill will continue into law, but with my fervent hope that careful consideration will be given to any future changes to public health authority, and that will occur only after a thorough review of Wyoming’s overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The bill was introduced in response to the public health orders issued in 2020 to slow the spread of coronavirus. Among those were orders closing certain businesses and restricting certain activities.

The closures and restrictions resulted in opposition among some lawmakers, who said the state public health officer, as an appointed official, had too much authority over activities affecting the state’s economy.

The bill would limit the duration of public health orders to 10 days, with approval from the governor required for any extensions.

But Gordon argued a thorough review of the state’s response to the coronavirus should have been completed before such a bill was adopted.

“I did support, and continue to support, the establishment of a task force to complete a review of the state’s pandemic response,” he said. “I maintain this view because any statutory change to the public health authority will impact all subsequent public health responses, not just those specific to COVID-19. The impact of HB 127 will be far reaching for the safety and wellbeing of Wyoming residents beyond just the current pandemic.”

In addition, the perceptions of legislators may have been affected by the fact coronavirus is still affecting the state, he said.

“I appreciate the Legislature’s attention to this matter but am mindful that good policy takes perspective and the proximity to our experience with COVID-19 certainly influences the perspective on policies related to public health orders,” he wrote.

The bill also specifies that the state’s public health officer can be removed from his or her position by the governor and the director of the state Health Department, but Gordon said the issue really did not need to be addressed.

“I submit a portion of this bill solves a problem the governor never had,” his letter said. “I believe the governor already could relieve the state health officer of his/her duties because as governor I can relieve the director of the Wyoming Department of Health should he/she refuse to remove the state health officer at my request. Thus, there always has been an elected official at the end of the chain of command who was ultimately responsible for any state health orders.”

Gordon said he thought the state handled the pandemic well.

“Wyoming has stood strong, weathering declining employment better than the nation as a whole, and with fewer deaths than most of our peers,” he wrote. “We also enjoy a reputation of being relatively free of the virus. We did that, for the most part, by remaining open, albeit with some limitations, when others just closed down.

“Despite a reasoned and thoughtful response to the pandemic, the few restrictions we put in place coupled with our better-than peers-experience, called into question the authority of both the state health officer and the governor,” the letter continued. “These are political times, and politics have certainly affected perspectives and attitudes.”

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72 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Thursday; 436 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by three on Thursday from Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 92 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 72 new laboratory-confirmed and 23 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 436 active cases.

Laramie County had the highest number of active cases, 105; while Albany County had 64; Natrona 48; Sweetwater 38; Teton 37; Campbell 25; Fremont 21; Goshen 17; Sheridan 15; Carbon and Uinta 14; Big Horn 12; Park seven; Sublette five; Lincoln and Platte three; Hot Springs, Johnson and Weston two, and Converse and Crook one.

Niobrara and Washakie counties had no active cases.

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 57,613 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 56,472 have recovered.

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47 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 433 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 57 on Wednesday from Tuesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of five new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 47 new laboratory-confirmed and 15 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 433 active cases.

Laramie county increased by 22 active cases Wednesday to have 101; Albany County increased to 69; Natrona had 41; Sweetwater 38; Teton 34; Campbell 28; Fremont 20; Sheridan 18; Carbon 16; Goshen 13; Uinta 11; Park 10; Big Horn and Sublette eight; Weston five; Crook, Lincoln and Platte three; Johnson two, and Converse and Hot Springs one,

Niobrara and Washakie had no active cases as of 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 57,518 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 56,380 have recovered.

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