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Coronavirus

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

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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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Wyo Health Experts Discount Claim That More Vaccines Could Have Saved 70% Of Covid Deaths

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An analysis reporting that the deaths of nearly 940 Wyoming residents from COVID-19 could have been prevented if they had been vaccinated is being questioned by some state health experts.

On Friday, researchers at researchers at Brown School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released an analysis that estimated the number of coronavirus deaths that could have been prevented in each state by vaccination since the COVID vaccine became available at the start of 2021.

According to the report, Wyoming could have experienced 938 fewer deaths — a reduction of almost 70% from the total of 1,376 deaths coronavirus-related deaths the report said the state saw between January of 2021 and April of this year.

The state Department of Health reported the number of deaths between January of 2021 and April at 1,222.

The report raises some quesitons, as there are several factors it does not take into consideration, according to Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti and Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department director Kathy Emmons.

“There were more than 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths confirmed in 2021 and around 200 so far this year,” Deti said. “We absolutely believe than many of those deaths could have likely been prevented had more people in Wyoming made the choice to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but don’t have a specific estimate.”

Emmons agreed some deaths could have been prevented by the vaccine. But the issue with COVID, she said, is that it can set off other health issues.

“Say I have COPD and then I get COVID,” Emmons said. “The COVID exacerbates the COPD and I die, but my system is weakened due to both the COVID and the COPD.”

She added it is possible 938 people could have been saved if they had received the vaccine, it was still hard to confirm the figure, which assumes that everyone who could take the vaccine would get it.

Emmons added that no health official in the state expected Wyoming to be at a 100% vaccination rate, so another challenge with the analysis is that it is based on vaccination rates that state officials knew would never happen.

“There are all of these other conditions that come into place,” she said. “We are still, 100 years later, trying to figure out how many people died from the Spanish flu in 1917. I just don’t think we have the time behind us yet to know the actual numbers.”

The first COVID vaccine dose in Wyoming was administered in December 2020 and the vaccines became widely available in the state in March 2021.

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No COVID Patients At Cheyenne Hospital, First Time In More Than A Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne Regional Medical Hospital began the week with no COVID patients in its wards, something that has not been seen at the medical facility in more than a year.

Officials at the hospital, one of the state’s largest, announced Monday that there were no COVID-related hospitalizations at the facility. According to Wyoming Department of Health figures, this is the first time in more than a year the hospital has had absolutely no COVID patients.

Hospital spokeswoman Kathy Baker told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that it was nice to have reached the milestone, but added it is important to remember those who have died from the virus and their grieving family members.

“We also don’t want to forget about those who have come down with COVID-19 over the past two years and who are still suffering the after-effects,” Baker said.

“And while it’s good to be able to celebrate the milestone that we reached on Monday, we know that COVID-19 is not gone and that there are things people can do to help lessen the severity of the disease and to decrease hospitalizations and deaths if they are exposed to the virus. That is to get fully vaccinated and boosted if they are eligible,” she said.



The peak of COVID for the hospital occurred in September, when 60 patients were receiving treatment. CRMC and Casper’s Wyoming Medical Center have shared the distinction of having largest number of COVID patients since the pandemic started two years ago.

Although Wyoming is seeing low COVID numbers, other areas in the nation have not been so lucky. This week, Philadelphia implemented a new mask mandate after cases spiked by 50%. It is the first major city to reinstate mask requirements.

China is currently dealing with its biggest COVID outbreak in two years. The U.S. has ordered some of its consulate staff to leave the country due to the increase in COVID cases.

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Wyo Health Officer Cautious On Second Covid Booster; “It’s A Personal Decision”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s public health officer is softening her stance on the value of the latest COVID-19 booster shots, urging residents to speak with their doctors before getting a second booster as recommended by federal health officials.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the second COVID booster for people 50 years and older and those with compromised immune systems.

Around 45% of the state is currently fully vaccinated against COVID, almost 264,000 residents. However, there have only been 112,324 booster doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine boosters given and health care providers have said that this third booster significantly decreases the chances of getting COVID or getting very sick from the virus if a person does catch it.

Since the vaccines were made available to the public last year, Dr. Alexia Harrist and the Health Department have strongly recommended Wyoming residents get vaccinated against COVID.

However, with the latest booster recommendation, Harrist is urging those eligible for the shot to discuss the issue with a doctor before getting one.

“Our recommendation is that if a person fits into these categories, they should talk with their health care provider about whether this second booster may make sense for them,” Harrist said. “We strongly recommend people get their first booster, but the second is more of an individual’s decision.”

While there is discussion about the second booster being available for everyone in the future, Harrist said there is not enough data to support that recommendation at this time.

When the first booster shots were made available, Harrist said data reviewed by the Wyoming Department of Health indicates the booster shots make the vaccines more effective at preventing severe illness from coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, Wyoming had 60 active COVID cases across the state.

Wyoming has been one of the lowest vaccinated states in the nation when it comes to COVID, something Harrist and the health department have been working to combat.

Those interested in obtaining the second booster should have no problem finding the vaccine, Harrist said.

“It should already be available in Wyoming,” she said. “Any location that has a supply of Pfizer or Moderna should be able to give the second booster as of now.”

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Wyoming Mask Mandate Lawsuit Dismissed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A federal judge this week dismissed a lawsuit against the state of Wyoming and several school districts over mandates issued during the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal said in her order to dismiss the lawsuit that the plaintiffs in the case, including the parents of several Wyoming students, failed to respond in time to seven motions filed by defendants in the case seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.

“This is the second time that plaintiffs have failed to timely respond to several motions to dismiss, despite this court’s orders reminding them of the briefing deadlines…and warning that the court would consider future motions deemed confessed for lack of timely response, their culpability would seem high,” Freudenthal wrote in her ruling.

The lawsuit at one point included as plaintiffs Grace Smith, the teenager arrested at Laramie High School last fall for trespassing after refusing to wear a mask, and her father. But they were no longer involved with the lawsuit as of January.

The initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 alleged that rules adopted by some school districts requiring students to wear masks while in class, observe social distancing and to quarantine when exposed to coronavirus have been improperly adopted.

The lawsuit asked the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents from coronavirus, that Gov. Mark Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and asks that all such orders should be lifted immediately.

The lawsuit was amended in January, after a December filing by Freudenthal called the original complaint filed on behalf of Grace Smith and others a “confused jumble of factual assertions…extensive citations to articles and other materials of nonparties…and legal arguments.”

Several plaintiffs and defendants have come and gone from the lawsuit in recent months.

Albany County School District No. 1, Sheridan County School District No. 2, Laramie County School District No. 1, Uinta County School District No. 6, Sweetwater County School District No. 2, Goshen County School District No. 1, the Sheridan Police Department, Wyoming Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist and Wyoming Department of Health interim Director Stefan Johansson were all dismissed from the lawsuit between December and January.

Gov. Mark Gordon, who was once involved in the lawsuit, announced Monday that he has begun the process to end Wyoming’s COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, two years after it was put in place.

The declaration will end March 14, two years after COVID was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

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Gordon To End Wyoming’s COVID Emergency Declaration In March

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday that he has begun the process to end Wyoming’s COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, two years after it was put in place.

The declaration will end March 14, two years after COVID was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“As we see our case numbers and hospitalizations receding, it is time to begin the shift to a new phase. This virus will be with us for the foreseeable future and we should manage it appropriately,” Gordon said. “That means being personally responsible for one’s own health and respectful of your family and neighbors. Use the tools we now have available and stay home when you’re sick.”

As Monday, Wyoming had 565 active COVID cases.

Gordon has been coordinating with impacted executive branch agencies and licensing boards to ensure they are prepared to make adjustments where necessary.

Gordon declared an emergency for the state on March 13, 2020, shortly after then-President Donald Trump declared a nationwide emergency.

The declaration allowed the state to be better prepared to activate its National Guard, if necessary, and allowed businesses to take advantage of emergency COVID relief programs.

It also cleared the way for Gordon in December 2020 to issue a statewide mandate the use of facemasks. The order was lifted in March 2021.

Going forward, the Wyoming Department of Health will continue to serve as a resource for COVID information and support, Gordon said.

Most Wyomingites will not be affected by the end of the declaration, Gordon said. The limited scope of impacts include the expiration of the federally-funded SNAP emergency allotment, which will take effect May 1, and the elimination of emergency rule changes to licensure requirements for the Board of Medicine and the Board of Nursing.

“I extend my appreciation to our medical community, first responders, public health officials and National Guard volunteers statewide who have shown their commitment to the people of Wyoming throughout this pandemic,” the Governor said. “As we wind down from the emergency, the public can expect to see some changes in how information is relayed.”

Gordon, the Department of Health, a number of school districts and several other defendants are in the midst of a lawsuit brought forth by a slew of plaintiffs over school mask mandates and Gordon’s emergency health order.

The lawsuit asks the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents from coronavirus, that Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and that all such orders should be lifted immediately.

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316 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Thursday, 1,016 Recoveries; 1,797 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total decreased by 613 on Thursday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 1,016 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 316 new laboratory-confirmed cases and 87 new probable cases, leaving the state with 1,797 active cases for Thursday.

Only one county had more than 300 active cases and five had more than 100. 

Laramie County had 313 cases, Fremont 240; Natrona 233; Sweetwater 170; Campbell 152; Teton 97; Albany 86; Carbon 76; Sheridan 153; Goshen 48; Park 47; Lincoln 43; Washakie 40; Uinta 29; Converse 25; Sublette 23; Platte 22; Big Horn and Weston 20; Crook and Hot Springs 18; Niobrara had 13, while Johnson reported 11.

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 152,206 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 148,742 have recovered.

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Cheyenne Health Official: Nearly 1,000 Kids Got COVID In Last Month

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne health official is encouraging vaccinations and boosters among Wyoming children after seeing nearly 1,000 children in the area catch COVID in the last month.

Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that she was concerned about the high number of COVID cases among children, as the long-term effects of the virus are still unknown.

“Even though people may not have significant effects from COVID right now, and we hope they never do, we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen in the long term,” she said. “I think we’re coming down the other side of the hill on this outbreak, but we just don’t know.”

Emmons pointed to the removal of a mask mandate at Laramie County School District No. 1 last month and a low vaccination rate among children as two of the likely factors as to why cases are going up.

“We don’t have a high percentage of kids in Laramie County that are vaccinated, and that’s going to make a huge difference,” she said. “Unfortunately when they took the masks off in schools, that didn’t help.”

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, only 11.3% of children from ages 5 to 11 in Laramie County are fully vaccinated against COVID, while 39.6% of children from ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. It was not clear if the department included data about booster shots with those numbers, though.

While students in LCSD1 are encouraged to wear masks, they are no longer required to do so. No school district in the state currently has a mask mandate implemented.

According to the LCSD1 COVID dashboard, the district has 386 active cases among students and staff, around 320 of which are students.

On Tuesday, Laramie County had 1,125 active COVID cases.

Emmons also noted this week that vaccinations and boosters would also keep people out of the hospital and experience milder symptoms if they do ultimately catch the virus.

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Defense Secretary Tells Gordon National Guard Members Must Get COVID Vaccine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Secretary of Defense told Gov. Mark Gordon in a letter sent late last week that regardless of any objections at the state level, Wyoming Air and Army National Guard members must be vaccinated against COVID.

Last month, Gordon and several other Republican governors sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, in which they argued that Austin has no authority to discipline members of the National Guard serving in a state capacity.

Austin responded in a letter dated Jan. 27, telling Gordon that he considered the thousands of COVID-related hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths among service members, civilians and their families when making the mandate.

“COVID-19 takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements,” Austin said in the letter to Gordon.

“To ensure that we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Wyoming National Guard,” he said.

Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the governor’s position follows the constitutional premise that the commander-in-chief of a state’s National Guard is the governor of the state.

“Therefore, he maintains command and control over this important force, not the Department of Defense unless activated by the President,” Pearlman said. 

“Secretary of Defense Austin’s response to the governors’ concerns fails to consider and address this important constitutional and legal issue. The governor intends to continue to dialog with the federal authorities to attempt to resolve this critical national issue,” he said.

Last month, Gordon said the federal government does not have command or control of National Guard units.

“The Wyoming National Guard is under my command and control,” Gordon said in mid-December. “These directives are an overreach of the federal government’s authority.”

In the letter to Austin, the governors noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed “that the National Guard is under the command and control of the Governor of each state unless those members are called to active service …”

Austin told Gordon that the concerns raised in the letter did not negate the need for vaccines.

Under the vaccine mandate of the administration of President Joe Biden, National Guard members were given until Dec. 2 to get the vaccine, obtain an exemption from the requirement or be removed from service.

Austin sent identical letters to the other governors who sent the one in December, including Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.

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Casper Health Officer: Wyoming Is “Exploding” With Omicron Cases

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is “exploding” with the Omicron variant of coronavirus, according to Natrona County’s health officer, who urged people to get their booster shots of the vaccine to keep from being infected.

Dr. Mark Dowell took to social media to discuss the Omicron variant of COVID and to encourage more people to get their vaccinations and booster shots.

“The state is exploding with cases,” Dowell said. “We have not peaked yet. There are 150 people statewide in the hospital. This is a very contagious variant.”

Dowell said some testing sites in Casper are reporting back a 40% positivity rate for infections, one of the highest seen since the pandemic began.

“The people that are really getting into trouble with this don’t have good immune systems,” he said. “Nationally, only a third of people have received their booster. That makes no sense. Why go to the trouble of getting the original vaccine series and let your protection go down and not get boosted?”

The health officer said that while he understood people had “COVID fatigue,” it was better than actually getting sick from the virus.

Dowell said he is pushing for the booster because the long-term effects of COVID are still unknown. He added he has seen people with “brain fog” and even neurological issues months after their COVID diagnosis.

Unless the entire community gets immunized against COVID, Dowell warned that more and more variants may continue to pop up, as Delta and Omicron and other variants have so far.

He also suggested that people take advantage of the free COVID testing kits that can be ordered through the U.S. Postal Service.

“I still don’t want this and neither do you,” he said. “Let’s hope that by the end of February, all of this is calming down rapidly.”

Cowboy State Daily was unable to connect with Dowell in person by publication time.

As of Tuesday, Wyoming had 5,255 active COVID cases, a decline of 285 from Monday.

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Laramie County Health Director Says Booster Keeps People Out of Hospital For Covid

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Getting a booster dose of the COVID vaccine seems to make all the difference when it comes to COVID infections and related hospitalizations, according to the Laramie County Health Department’s executive director.

As was the case last week, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center has more vaccinated people hospitalized than non-vaccinated. However, county Health Department Director Kathy Emmons questioned if patients designated as being “fully vaccinated” had received a booster shot.

“There is a difference between people who have gotten the vaccine and those who have gotten the vaccine and booster,” Emmons said.

Of the 43 patients hospitalized Monday at CRMC, 26 were considered fully vaccinated. However, only three of those vaccinated had received the booster shot, hospital spokeswoman Kathy Baker told Cowboy State Daily.

“Only three of the Covid positive patients that we are currently treating have received their booster shot,” she said. “And the ages of the patients at CRMC who are COVID positive range from 21 to 91 years, so people of all ages are still being hospitalized because of the virus.”

Of the three patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit, two were fully vaccinated, and one was not.

Additionally, of the three deaths the hospital saw over the last week of the month, two were fully vaccinated and one was not.

However, no one was on a ventilator, vaccinated or not.

Echoing comments by Wyoming State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, Emmons said with the Omicron variant, patients tend to be sick for shorter periods of time and seem to experience much milder symptoms, especially if they are fully vaccinated and boosted.

“It appears that the people who are hospitalized now are much different than those who were hospitalized three months ago, because with the Delta variant, people would be in the hospital for quite a long time,” Emmons said. “They were there for weeks, if not months, and would be on ventilators. But it is important to note that now, we’re seeing a lot of positive cases, but they’re nowhere near as sick as with the Delta variant.”

Anecdotally and statistically, Emmons said that people are less likely to catch COVID if they have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot. She noted that it is possible for someone to have received all doses of the vaccine and still catch the virus, but they are becoming infected at lesser rates than people who have received all of their vaccine doses, but not a booster.

“We strongly encourage people to get their vaccinations and to not forget that booster,” she said.

As of Monday, 165 patients across the state were hospitalized due to COVID.

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Barrasso, Lummis Applaud Withdrawal Of Failed Biden Vaccine Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Both U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis praised this week’s decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to withdraw the federal vaccine mandate for employees of large companies.

Both senators have been vocal in opposition to the mandate proposed by President Joe Biden, saying individuals should be able to choose their own health care. Barrasso has regularly said he is “pro-vaccine, but anti-mandate.”

“It’s about time the Biden administration officially withdrew its overreaching OSHA vaccine mandate on private businesses. As the Supreme Court recently ruled, this mandate is unconstitutional. Thousands of Wyoming workers can now make their own health care decisions without the fear of losing their job,” Barrasso said. “Now the administration must do the same for millions of health care workers. Health care facilities across the nation are short staffed. We shouldn’t make it even harder for hospitals, clinics and nursing homes to get people the care they need.” 

OSHA said Tuesday it will withdraw the requirement that workers at companies with 100 or more employees either get vaccinated or be regularly tested for coronavirus. The news came in a statement on the agency’s website.

Lummis also cited the right of an individual to choose his or her health care in hailing OSHA’s decision.

“Businesses across Wyoming are working hard to recover from the pandemic and from rising inflation. This mandate would have forced employers to step into the relationship between a patient and their doctor,” Lummis said. “I am vaccinated, and I encourage everyone to discuss the vaccine with their doctor, but it is ultimately a personal decision, and employers shouldn’t be forced to make that decision for their employees. It is irresponsible for the federal government to further burden Wyoming businesses with job-killing mandates.”

Earlier this year, Barrasso and Lummis joined 44 of their fellow senators and 136 representatives in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support a block of the mandate on private businesses.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court halted the implementation of the federal vaccine mandate as it applied to workers at large companies.

Wyoming had joined in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the mandate and Gov. Mark Gordon said he was “delighted” to hear of the court’s decision.

President Joe Biden announced in September that he would require federal employees , health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people to get the coronavirus vaccine.

In response, Wyoming filed three lawsuits seeking to block the mandate for employees of large companies, health care workers and federal contractors and their employees.

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Most Cheyenne Hospital COVID Patients Are Vaccinated; Harrist Says Vaccine Is Still Effective

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Most of the people being treated for coronavirus in one of Wyoming’s largest hospital this week have been vaccinated against the illness.

But Dr. Alexa Harrist, the state’s public health officer, said it would be a mistake to judge the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine from data collected over so short a period of time.

“It’s most important to look at data trends over time, especially from large national data, large studies that are really designed to look at this question of vaccine effectiveness in preventing severe illness and death,” she told Cowboy State Daily.

This week, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center reported 16 patients of the 26 hospitalized for treatment of coronavirus were fully vaccinated. Seven were not vaccinated at all, while three patients were either partially vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown.

But Harrist cautioned anyone looking at those numbers against making broad conclusions about the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“If you look at what CRMC put out for the weeks beforehand, those numbers looked a lot different,” Harrist told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.



Other hospitals around the state are not reporting number similar to CRMC’s.

At Casper’s Wyoming Medical Center, Mandy Cepeda, the hospital’s director of marketing and public relations, said more than 80% of the hospital’s sickest coronavirus patients are unvaccinated.

“In general, we are seeing very similar demographics to what we saw in the surge last fall,” she said.

Karen Clarke, community relations director for Campbell County Health, said of the patients treated at the Gillette hospital in January for coronavirus, only 10.3% had been fully vaccinated.

Harrist said data reviewed by the Wyoming Department of Health officials indicates that while people who have been vaccinated against COVID can become infected, the vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness, especially among those who are fully vaccinated and have taken the booster shot.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID are being hospitalized a much lower rate than those who have not been vaccinated.

Harrist did say the state has seen more COVID infections than ever before in recent weeks, but added the data shows a smaller percentage of hospitalized coronavirus patients need extra care, such as time in the intensive care unit or help breathing from a ventilator.

“We are going to see hospitalizations and we are concerned about hospital capacity, but we may be less likely to see those severe outcomes,” she said. “We know we are much less likely to see those severe outcomes if people are up to date on their vaccinations.”

Department officials had expected a large increase in coronavirus cases with the arrival of the Omicron variant, Harrist said, however, data shows the Omicron variant tends to result in a shorter illness when compared to other variants.

The result is instability in COVID numbers such as the increase of 2,213 active cases seen the weekend of Jan. 14-18 and, just two weeks later, a single-day decline in active cases of more than 4,000.

Harrist added that symptoms among omicron patients vary, but people should still look for the typical COVID signs: fever, muscle aches, a loss of taste and smell and congestion. If a person is experiencing these symptoms, they are encouraged to get tested for COVID and talk with their health care provider.

Wendy Corr, Jennifer Kocher and Jim Angell contributed to this report.

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1,029 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Thursday; 1,127 Recoveries; 7,346 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total increased by 223 on Thursday. 

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 1,127 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 1,029 new laboratory-confirmed and 321 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 7,346 active cases for Thursday.

Two counties had more than 1,000 active cases, nine had more than 3000 and 15 had more than 100. Laramie County had 1,401; Natrona 1,145; Teton 720; Fremont 716; Albany 518; Campbell 453; Sweetwater 409; Sheridan 358; Uinta 326; Lincoln 206; Park 166; Carbon 154; Johnson 151; Goshen 120; Converse 111; Sublette 72; Washakie 67; Crook 65; Platte 62; Weston 69; Hot Springs 29; Big Horn had 26, while Niobrara reported 11.

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 133,495 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 124,548 have recovered.

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1,041 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Wednesday; 1,110 Recoveries; 7,123 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus increased by 482 on Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 1,110 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases Wednesday. 

At the same time, the state reported 1,041 new laboratory-confirmed and 551 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 7,123 active cases for Wednesday.

Two counties had more than 1,000 active cases, 10 had more than 300 and 14 had more than 100. Laramie County had 1,423 active cases; Natrona 1,120; Teton 734; Fremont 624; Albany 500; Sweetwater 423; Campbell 403; Sheridan 354; Uinta 324; Lincoln 214; Park 152; Carbon 150; Johnson 134; Converse 103; Goshen 99; Sublette 70; Crook 62; Platte 60; Weston 54; Washakie 52; Hot Springs 28; Big Horn had 22, while Niobrara reported 12.

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 132,145 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 123,421 have recovered.

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Deaths Of Another 13 Wyoming Residents Tied To Coronavirus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of Wyoming deaths blamed on the coronavirus since it was first detected in the state has increased to 1,601, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Tuesday.

The department announced that the deaths of 13 more Wyoming residents in November, December and January had been linked to the coronavirus.

Among the fatalities were three Laramie County residents, two women and one man, and three Natrona County men.

Other victims included a Campbell County man, two Fremont County women, a Hot Springs County woman, a Park County woman and a Sweetwater County man and woman.

The deaths were announced on the same day Health Department figures showed the number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming reached 6,641 on Tuesday, increasing by almost 50% from Friday and exceeding 5,000 for the first time since December 2020.

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3,097 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Tuesday; 1,859 Recoveries; 6,641 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus increased by 2,213 over the holiday weekend.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 1,859 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases from Saturday to Tuesday. 

At the same time, the state reported 3,097 new laboratory-confirmed and 988 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 6,641 active cases for Tuesday.

This is the first time since December of 2020 that the state’s number of active cases has exceeded 5,000.Two counties had more than 1,000 active cases Tuesday, nine had more than 300 and 13 had more than 100. 

Laramie County’s total of active cases increased by 544 over the weekend to total 1,368; Natrona County’s active case tally increased by 408 to 1,003; Teton had 860; Fremont 553; Albany 431; Sweetwater 392; Campbell 364; Sheridan 318; Uinta 317; Lincoln 179; Carbon and Park 134; Johnson 120; Goshen 90; Comverse 62; Sublette 60; Crook 55; Platte 51; Washakie 48; Weston 40; Hot Springs 30; Big Horn had 24, while Niobrara reported eight.

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 130,553 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 122,311 have recovered.

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946 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Thursday; 966 Recoveries; 3,540 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus increased by 277 on Thursday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 966 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases Thursday. 

At the same time, the state reported 946 new laboratory-confirmed and 297 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 3,540 active cases for Thursday.

Six counties had more than 200 active cases and nine had more than 100. Laramie County had 665; Teton 480; Natrona 460; Albany 339; Fremont 251; Uinta 246; Campbell 190; Sweetwater 186; Sheridan 157; Lincoln 91; Park 86; Carbon 82; Johnson 53; Converse 48; Goshen 37; Sublette 34; Washakie 28; Platte 27; Crook 23; Weston 20; Hot Springs 19; Big Horn had 12, while Niobrara reported six.

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 124,986 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 119,858 have recovered.

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743 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Wednesday; 1,014 Recoveries; 3,263 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total decreased by 25 on Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 1,014 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases Wednesday. 

At the same time, the state reported 743 new laboratory-confirmed and 246 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 3,263 active cases for Wednesday.

Six counties had more than 200 active cases and nine had more than 100. Laramie County had the highest number of active cases at 604; Teton 463; Natrona 429; Albany 296; Uinta 239; Fremont 236; Campbell 195; Sheridan 149; Sweetwater 135; Park 94; Carbon 83; Lincoln 80;  Converse 49; Johnson 42; Sublette 29; Washakie 27; Goshen 25; Crook and Platte 19; Weston 18; Big Horn 14; Hot Springs had 12, while Niobrara reported six.

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 123,743 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 118,892 have recovered.

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Wyoming Assistant U.S. Attorney Challenges Vaccine Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An assistant U.S. Attorney in Wyoming is suing President Joe Biden and a group of other federal officials over the requirement for federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Margaret Vierbuchen, a 25-year employee of the federal government, is asking the U.S. District Court in Wyoming to block federal agencies from demanding that she and other federal employees get the COVID vaccine or face the loss of their jobs.

“No law passed by Congress .. authorizes such a sweeping intrusion into the lives and medical decisions of America’s federal civil servants,” the lawsuit said. “Nor does the Constitution give the president such monarchial power.”

Biden announced in September that he would require federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people to get the coronavirus vaccine. The mandates for health care workers and large employers are being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 4, Vierbuchen, who has spent the last six years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Wyoming and New Mexico, caught the coronavirus and recovered from it, giving her antibodies against the illness.

The lawsuit said Vierbuchen is refusing to get the vaccination, which has resulted in threats of the loss of her job.

“For her failure to obey the president’s illegal command, the defendants have threatened that she will lose her job and, contrary to federal law, they will strip away the retirement benefits she has earned through her service,” it said.

The lawsuit said Vierbuchen has also been forced to submit to intrusive COVID-19 tests and has had access to her workplace restricted because she refuses the vaccination.

The lawsuit said Biden’s order “exceeds the lawful authority of his office” and violates Vierbuchen’s due process rights, right to privacy and her right to be free of unwanted and unnecessary medication.

The lawsuit, which also names as defendants the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the directors of the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget, argued Biden had no authority to impose a vaccine mandate.

“Never has the executive branch claimed authority to compel all federal civilian employees to submit to the forcible injection of medication against their will,” it said. 

Congress has never given the president the authority to issue such a mandate for civil servants, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also argued that federal employees do not give up their constitutional freedoms because they are employed by the federal government.

“Federal employees do not lose their personal autonomy over medical decisions by agreeing to serve the people of the United States,” it said. “Nor do executive branch officials have dictatorial authority over the lives and livelihoods of those they supervise.”

The lawsuit asks the court to find that Biden’s mandate is unenforceable and that its implementation has violated Vierbuchen’s constitutional rights.

The lawsuit also asks the court to block officials from requiring Vierbuchen “and others similarly situated” to comply with the mandate.

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Wyoming’s COVID-Related Deaths Rise To 1,588

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of deaths linked to the coronavirus since it was first detected in Wyoming has climbed to 1,588, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The department announced Tuesday that another 16 deaths that occurred in December and January have been tied to COVID.

The deaths included three Carbon County residents, two men and a woman, a Big Horn County man and woman and a Fremont County man and woman.

Other victims included a Hot Springs County man, a Laramie County woman, two Natrona County men, a Park County man, a Sweetwater County man and woman and a Washakie County man and woman.

The announcement of the deaths came on the same day the department’s figures showed the number of active coronavirus cases in the state climbed by 203 to total 3,288.

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Cheyenne School District To Discontinue Mask Mandate Despite Rising COVID Cases

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The largest school district in Wyoming will rescind its mask mandate for students and staff later this month despite rising active COVID cases across the state and nation.

The Laramie County School District No. 1 board of trustees on Monday night voted to discontinue the mandate on Jan. 21. The action was narrowly approved, with trustees Brittany Ashby, Christy Klaassen, Alicia Smith and Tim Bolin voting to approve the change to the district’s coronavirus response plan and Marguerite Herman, Rose Ann Million Rinne and Rick Wiederspahn voting against it.

“It’s time we lift the September addendum to the Smart Start plan,” attorney and former congressional candidate Darin Smith told the trustees. “It’s now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can keep our schools open, have low to no risk for our kids and staff, all without the mask mandate. The rest of the state has already proven it.”

Once the mandate ends, students and staff will be encouraged, but not required, to wear a mask while in school.

As of Tuesday, 35 active COVID cases had been identified among LCSD1 students and staff, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.

Darin Smith, who is married to trustee Alicia Smith, emailed LCSD1 community members over the weekend to encourage them to email trustees — identifying those believed to be in support of or opposed to the mask mandate — and attend the meeting to voice their thoughts about the mandate.

Smith’s email also identified the board members who were running for re-election this year, although he mistakenly identified Herman as seeking re-election. Herman has announced she will retire from the board this year.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several parents criticized the trustees for implementing the mask mandate and adopting quarantine rules for students to follow after exposure to COVID.

The public comment portion of the meeting lasted more than an hour on Monday night. Comments were similar to those heard when the mask mandate was adopted last fall, with some referring to school officials as “criminals” and “child abusers.”

The school district implemented the mandate at the start of the fall semester when the Delta variant of the coronavirus was of concern. Now, the omicron variant, which is less mild, is the dominant strain in state. The Cheyenne hospital was also at capacity due to an increase in COVID patients at the time.

As of Monday, Laramie County had 555 active COVID cases, the second-highest in the state, behind Teton County with 618, which is also the most vaccinated county in Wyoming.

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1,364 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Monday; 1,504 Recoveries; 3,085 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total increased by over the weekend.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 1,504 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases from Saturday through Monday. 

At the same time, the state reported 1,364 new laboratory-confirmed and 298 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 3,085 active cases for Monday.

Five counties have more than 200 active cases and nine have more than 100. Teton County had 618; Laramie 555; Natrona 363; Albany 340; Uinta 226; Campbell 164; Fremont 146; Sweetwater 138; Sheridan 132; Lincoln 72; Park 70; Carbon 58; Johnson 45; Converse and Goshen 34; Crook 18; Washakie 17; Platte and Sublette 16; Weston nine; Big Horn had eight, while Niobrara and Hot Springs reported three.

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 121,519 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 116,862 have recovered.

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UW Reverses Decision To Mass Test Everyone For COVID Due To Worries Of Further Spread

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant have prompted University of Wyoming officials to reverse their decision to test everyone who would be spending time on campus during the upcoming spring semester.

University officials said Monday, they will instead allow for voluntary COVID testing by students and staff.

University officials said they were concerned the risk of a mass testing event such as the one proposed earlier leading to a greater spread of the disease would outweigh any benefits from the testing.

“We are concerned about COVID spreading on campus, with or without the one-time testing of everyone,” UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “That’s why we’re continuing our weekly random-sample testing, indoor mask requirement (until at least Feb. 16) and strong encouragement of vaccinations and boosters. At the same time, we’re encouraged by the fact that Omicron appears to be causing less severe illness, and there is reason for optimism that the Omicron wave will pass relatively quickly.”

Instead of requiring all students and employees to be test for COVID this week in advance of the spring semester scheduled to begin Jan. 18, the university will offer voluntary testing for members of the campus community. There are plans to resume weekly random sample tests of 3% of the campus community.

“There’s already good reason to believe that the virus, particularly the Omicron variant, is widespread in our community. Positivity rates are now growing rapidly, and the risk of creating an environment for further transmission at a mass testing event likely would offset information we would gain from it,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We’re making this late change in plans in response to the rapidly changing landscape caused by Omicron, which is highly transmissible but appears to cause less severe illness than previous versions of COVID-19.”

As of Thursday, there were 82 active cases of COVID-19 among the UW community: 22 employees, 15 on-campus students and 45 off-campus students. As of Friday, Albany County had 280 active COVID cases.

“Based upon what we’re seeing around the country and the state, it is no longer practical to think that we’re going to contain the Omicron variant in our community,” Seidel said. “What we can do is encourage people to take actions to protect their personal health, and that of their families and friends, by mitigating the spread to the extent possible and reducing the chance of severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

University officials will continue to emphasize the UW’s current mask requirement for most indoor spaces and encourage vaccination and boosters.

“While it appears the semester will start with a lot of COVID, with a shift toward milder symptoms or even asymptomatic infections, experts say there’s reason for optimism that we will emerge from pandemic conditions sooner than later,” Seidel said.

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No More Mask Mandates In Wyoming Beginning Jan. 1 After Cities Let Orders Expire

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

No city or town in Wyoming will have a mask mandate in effect beginning in the new year after Jackson will let its requirement expire at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31.

Jackson’s mask order went into effect in late August, after the Delta variant of the coronavirus became the dominant strain in Wyoming. The next week, the Teton County Board of Commissioners extended the mandate until Dec. 31.

“Even though Teton County still remains in the Red/high risk level there are multiple developments that have occurred that allow us to feel more comfortable with the mask order expiring,” Teton County health officer Dr. Travis Riddell said. “These include authorization of booster (vaccination) doses for individuals 16 and up, enough time for 5 to 11 years old to receive the authorized COVID-19 vaccine and become fully vaccinated, reduction in the number of hospitalizations among Teton County residents, authorization of the first pre-exposure prophylaxis of COVID-19 for individuals with weakened immune systems, and the likely upcoming authorization of additional antiviral medications to treat mild and moderate cases of COVID-19.”

As of Tuesday, Teton County had 57 active cases. When county and Jackson town officials implemented the mask mandate, it had 166.

St. John’s Hospital in Jackson had two COVID patients hospitalized as of Tuesday.

Teton County also has the highest vaccination rate in Wyoming by far, with more than 85% of its population having been vaccinated against the virus.

Teton was the first of Wyoming’s 23 counties to implement a mask order once the statewide mask mandate expired in mid-March. Teton County kept its mask order in place longer than any other county in the state, letting it expire in early May and putting it back in effect in late August.

While some school districts around the state have adopted ask mandates for students, no counties have put another order in place since the statewide order expired.

In August, the Carbon County Republican Party called the Teton County’s second mandate “unconstitutional.”

“Will you comply with another unconstitutional mask mandate or illegal shutdown of select ‘unessential work-a-day’ private businesses? Let us know where you stand Wyoming, and be prepared to STAND UP!” party officials said at the time.

The first case of the omicron variant in Wyoming was found last week in Albany County.

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First Case Of Omicron Variant Found In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has now seen its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Friday.

Lab sequencing has confirmed an Albany County adult who recently traveled domestically is infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Confirmation is pending for a second Albany County adult presumed to also be infected with the omicron variant. Both cases were initially identified by a University of Wyoming laboratory with WDH involved with confirmation.

“With the quick spread of this variant across the nation, including within some of our neighbor states, we are not surprised with this result and expect there are other cases within Wyoming that haven’t yet been identified,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH.

Harrist said there is much still to learn about omicron and its potential impact over time, but she is concerned about how easily and quickly the variant appears to be transmitted between people.

“We continued to encourage vaccination, including recommended booster doses, as the best and most effective strategy to counter COVID-19,” Harrist said.

As of Thursday, Wyoming had 99 hospitalized COVID patients, 37 of which were at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, according to the Wyoming hospitalization tracker. Laramie’s Ivinson Memorial Hospital was treating three coronavirus patients.

As of Monday, 42.6% of Wyoming’s population was vaccinated against COVID. Just over half of Albany County’s population, 52.8%, was vaccinated.

The omicron variant has been reported in 38 states, according to Centers for Disease Control data. Though reported Omicron cases have so far been mild, experts advise that every precaution should be taken to prevent infection, CBS News reported.

In Orlando, Florida, Omicron was found in nearly 100% of the wastewater samples taken this week, CBS also reported.

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Organization Asks To Join Mask Mandate Lawsuit As Albany County Schools Look For Dismissal

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming nonprofit organization has asked a U.S. District Court to let it join a lawsuit over mask requirements in place in some school districts across the state.

The motion to intervene filed by Families for Healthy Communities was filed just days before another school district, Albany County School District No. 1, joined several others in asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

At issue is a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, including Grace Smith, the Laramie High School student who was arrested on a charge of trespass recently for refusing to wear a face mask inside the high school. The lawsuit filed against the state and several school districts asks the court to find the mask mandates in place in several school districts unconstitutional.

Families for Healthy Communities, a Wyoming nonprofit membership organization, filed a motion to intervene and join the lawsuit on Dec. 9. In its motion, Families for Health Communities said it wanted a say in the lawsuit becuse it has an interest in protecting the health of its student members and their families from COVID through masking, which would be impaired if the lawsuit succeeds in eliminating mask requirements in schools.

“Families’ members support face mask requirements in school…more stringent than (Wyoming Health Department) guidelines, to protect their health and that of their fellow students, teachers, staff and of their families and community,” the motion read.

Families’ lawyers argued that the state and school districts involved in the lawsuit could not adequately represent the nonprofit’s interests, because “governments are prone to making shifts in policy.”

“It is no secret that (the state and school districts) are under significant pressure to eliminate their COVID-19 response policies,” the motion said.

Meanwhile, the Albany County district filed its motion asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit on Thursday.

“(The people filing the lawsuit) fail to allege any invasion of legally-protected interest that constitutes an injury-in-fact,” the motion said. “The vast majority of … allegations do not concern any actions done by ACSD respondents.”

The initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 alleges that rules adopted by some districts requiring students to wear masks while in class, observe social distancing and to quarantine when exposed to coronavirus have been improperly adopted.

In addition to Smith and her father, the lawsuit names as plaintiffs the parents of other students from schools across the state.

The 128-page lawsuit alleges Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Department of Health, state Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, six school districts and county health officers in five counties imposed various coronavirus-related restrictions and requirements even though they lacked the authority to do so. The school districts are in Sheridan, Albany, Laramie, Goshen, Sweetwater and Uinta counties.

The lawsuit asks the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents from coronavirus, that Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and that all such orders should be lifted immediately.

Within the last month, Sheridan County School District No. 2, Laramie County School District No. 1 and the Wyoming Department of Health have all filed motions to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

The court has not yet made a decision on the motions.

Smith was arrested at Laramie High School in October for trespassing. She had been suspended due to her refusal to wear a mask, as the Albany County School District 1 has a mask mandate in place, and would not leave school grounds after being repeatedly told to do so.

She has since withdrawn from the high school to attend her junior year online, but has not ruled out returning to Laramie High for her senior year.

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97 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Thursday; 91 Recoveries; 1,091 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus increased by 28 on Thursday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 91 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 97 new laboratory-confirmed and 22 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 1,091 active cases for Thursday.

Three counties had more than 100 active cases and one had more than 200. Laramie County had 244 active cases; Natrona 123; Uinta 121; Campbell and Carbon 89; Fremont 84; Park 57; Sweetwater 49; Teton 39; Sheridan 33; Albany 28; Weston 27; Goshen 21; Platte 14; Johnson 13; Lincoln 12; Crook nine; Converse and Hot Springs six; Washakie five; Big Horn had three, while Niobrara reported two active cases. 

No county reported zero 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 113,478 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 110,885 have recovered.

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111 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Wednesday; 98 Recoveries; 1,063 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total increased by 28 on Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports Wednesday of 98 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 111 new laboratory-confirmed and 15 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 1,063 active cases for Wednesday.

Three counties had more than 100 active cases and one had more than 200. Laramie County had 233 active cases Wednesday; Uinta 121; Natrona 116; Carbon 88; Fremont 83; Campbell 79; Park and Sweetwater 56; Teton 33; Sheridan 32; Weston 31; Albany 27; Goshen 20; Sublette 18; Johnson, Lincoln and Platte 13; Washakie seven; Converse and Crook six; Hot Springs five; Big Horn had four, while Niobrara reported three 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 113,359 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 110,794 have recovered.

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103 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Tuesday; 113 Recoveries; 1,035 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total increased by 13 on Tuesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 113 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 103 new laboratory-confirmed and 53 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 1,035 active cases for Tuesday.

Three counties had more than 100 active cases, with one having more than 200.Laramie County had 238; Natrona 124; Uinta 114; Campbell 78; Fremont 75; Carbon 73; Sweetwater 55; Park 53; Teton 35; Weston 27; Goshen and Sheridan 24; Albany 22; Sublette 18; Lincoln and Platte 15; Johnson 11; Converse seven; Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie six; Crook had five, while Niobrara reported four 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 113,233 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 110,696 have recovered.

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Gordon Condemns Punishment Against National Guard Who Don’t Get Vaxed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has joined four other Republican governors in challenging the federal government’s ability to enforce a vaccine mandate on National Guard members.

In the letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the governors argued that disciplinary directives to National Guard members serving in a state capacity “are beyond (the Secretary’s) constitutional and statutory authority.”

Under the vaccine mandate of the administration of President Joe Biden, National Guard members were given until Dec. 2 to get the vaccine, obtain an exemption from the requirement or be removed from service.

But Gordon said the federal government does not have command or control of National Guard units.

“Under Title 32 duty status, the Wyoming National Guard is under my command and control,” Gordon said Tuesday. “These directives are an overreach of the federal government’s authority.”

In the letter to Austin, the governors noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed “that the National Guard is under the command and control of the Governor of each state unless those members are called to active service under Title 10.”

The letter asks Austin to reconsider directives that dictate whether training can occur, set punishment requirements and require separation from a state’s National Guard for any Guard member refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated.

Joining Gordon in signing the letter were Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.

Late last month, a federal judge ordered a halt to the enforcement and implementation of the vaccine mandate for health care workers in Wyoming and other states.

Wyoming, as part of a coalition with nine other states, argued that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not have authority to issue the mandate and that the vaccine requirement would impact the ability of health care facilities to effectively care for patients.

President Joe Biden earlier this year announced his plan to require vaccinations for federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies that employ more than 100.

Last month, Gordon signed HB1002, which prohibits state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate. However, it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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Wyoming’s COVID-Related Deaths Increase To 1,502

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of Wyoming residents whose deaths have been tied to coronavirus has grown to 1,502, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Tuesday.

The department said 30 deaths that occurred in October, November and December have all been linked to the illness.

Four Campbell County residents, two men and two women, were among the fatalities, as were four Laramie County residents, three women and one man.

Natrona County also saw four deaths related to coronavirus, three men and one woman, while three Park County residents, two women and a man, also died.

The deaths of three Sweetwater County residents, a woman and two men, were also tied to coronavirus. Other fatalities included an Albany County woman, a Carbon County man, a Converse County man, a Crook County man, a Fremont County man and woman, a Goshen County woman and a Johnson County woman.

The deaths of two Lincoln County residents, a man and a woman, were also tied to coronavirus, as was the death of a Sheridan County man and a Washakie County woman.

The announcement came on the same day state figures showed the number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming increased by 13 to total 1,035.

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161 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Over Weekend; 474 Recoveries; 1,022 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily. 

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total decreased by 259 over the weekend.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 474 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases between Friday and Monday. At the same time, the state reported 161 new laboratory-confirmed and 54 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 1,022 active cases for Monday.

Three counties had more than 100 active cases and one had more than 200. Laramie County had 249; Natrona 122; Uinta 119; Campbell 82; Carbon 68; Fremont 63; Sweetwater 55; Park 53; Teton 31; Weston 24; Albany 23; Sheridan 22; Goshen 20; Sublette 17; Lincoln 15; Platte 14; Converse and Johnson nine; Big Horn and Washakie seven; Crook and Hot Springs had five, while Niobrara reported three 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 113,077 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 110,583 have recovered.

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Cheyenne Hospital Boarding Patients In ER Due To High Number Of COVID Infections

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne’s hospital continues to see a high number of COVID patients since the summer, forcing some emergency patients to be boarded in its emergency room for a time.

Kathy Baker, spokeswoman for Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said some patients seeking care from the hospital have had to stay in the care rooms of its emergency room for up to a couple of days.

“We have been busy, but that doesn’t mean people should avoid coming to the hospital for an emergency like a heart attack or stroke,” she said. “We have had to board some patients in the emergency department and that could be anywhere from one to two hours or even a couple days.”

There were around 13 patients who were being boarded in the emergency department as of this week, Baker said. While staying in the ER, patients receive the same standard of care as in the hospital’s other rooms.

Baker told Cowboy State Daily that the hospital had 49 COVID patients as of Friday, the majority of whom were unvaccinated against the virus. While the hospital has seen some cases of coronavirus among patients vaccinated against the illness, more of the cases are found among unvaccinated patients.

CRMC has by far the most COVID patients in the state, exceeding by more than 20 the number of patients being treated at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper.

Most of the patients are either from Cheyenne or Laramie County, which currently has the highest case rate of active COVID cases in the state.

As of Thursday, Laramie County had 324 active COVID cases. Natrona County had the second highest number of cases, with 217.

Baker could not really speak to why the Cheyenne hospital has been so busy with COVID patients compared to the rest of the state, but noted that the hospital’s chief nursing officer, pointing to vaccinations among the hospitals COVID patients, concluded that vaccines do work.

“The lack of masking and social distancing, it’s all making for more cases going around,” Baker said.

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, around 43.5% of Laramie County residents are vaccinated.

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130 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Thursday; 159 Recoveries; 1,426 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus increased by 21 on Thursday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 159 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 130 new laboratory-confirmed and 50 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 1,426 active cases for Thursday.

Five counties had more than 100 active cases, with two having more than 200. Laramie County had 324; Natrona 217; Carbon 134; Campbell 113; Uinta 112; Fremont 76; Sweetwater 73;  Park 71; Sheridan 52; Teton 38; Albany 36; Goshen and Lincoln 28; Platte 22; Converse 19; Weston 18; Johnson 17; Sublette and Washakie 11; Big Horn nine; Crook had seven; while Niobrara and Hot Springs reported five 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 112,731 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 109,833 have recovered.

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Barrasso, Lummis Will Vote To Cancel Biden Vaccine Mandate

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis announced on Wednesday that they will vote against President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for private companies employing more than 100 people.

The Senate was to vote Wednesday on a Republican proposal to strip funding for enforcement of Biden’s mandate that workers at companies employing more than 100 people either be vaccinated or undergo regular coronavirus testing.

The measure was expected to clear the Senate as two Democratic senators — Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — signaled they would vote for it.

Barrasso and Lummis, who are both vaccinated, spoke out in favor of the proposal, expressing concerns over government overreach as their reason for support.

“I’m a doctor. I am pro-vaccine but I’m anti-mandate,” Barrasso said. 

“That’s because I believe this mandate is a massive overreach by the government and a massive mistake. So today, we are going to pass the Congressional Review Act to get rid of this mandate,” he said.

Lummis said citizens of Wyoming should consult with their physicians when deciding whether to get the vaccine and government should not be a part of that conversation.

“I will keep fighting for the rights of people in Wyoming to make their own medical decisions, she said.

As for its chances in the U.S. House?  It might have sufficient support to pass.

U.S. Sen. Rick Braun, R-Indiana, said there are enough Democrats in battleground districts that could be pressured into signing it.

“There are 30 Democrats in swing districts that are going to have to” take a hard look at signing, he said.

Becoming law is another matter. White House Press Secretary Psaki on Wednesday said the bill is doomed.

“If it comes to the president’s desk, he will veto it,” Psaki said.

“Our view and the view of many Americans is that if people aren’t vaccinated, having them test once a week is quite reasonable as we’re thinking about how to protect our workplaces, how to protect stores and retail locations as people are out shopping for Christmas and the holidays, how to protect schools and public places. And we also know that more than 100 leading public health experts have endorsed this rule,” she said.

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Bouchard Calls For Removal Of ‘Clot Shot’ COVID Vaccines

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. House candidate and state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, is calling for the eradication of the COVID vaccines, which he referred to as the “clot shot.”

Bouchard made a series of social media posts on Monday decrying the vaccines and calling for them to be pulled off of the market because of what he described as adverse health effects from their use.

“The vaccine needs to be taken off the market. It should be removed immediately! #StopClotShot,” he wrote in one post.

The term “clot shot” refers to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which was temporarily pulled from the market because it caused blood clots in a handful of patients. It has since been made available again.

It was not clear if Bouchard was referring only to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or also to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

In another post, Bouchard claimed that doctors said 300,000 patients had developed heart disease from “post-pandemic stress disorder,” although he did not cite any experts or data to support the claim.

Bouchard also shared video testimony from the Legislature’s Health and Labor Committee meeting in November, when a Cheyenne nurse said she suffered an injury from the vaccine and was unable to work because of her reaction to the shot.

“Facebook won’t allow me to promote the testimony, and no media source in WY will report about the two people that waited all day and finally were able to speak (at the hearing) at 7pm,” Bouchard said. “There are others being silenced. Furthermore, WY state government is spending big money advertising for people to get the jab, but they are breaking the spirit of the law— ‘labeling and disclaimers’ is why the FDA was formed. There are zero disclaimers at the end of these ads. All we hear from the government is that it’s completely safe. Even Doctors that go against the tide are fired. This is all wrong. A choice based on censorship isn’t a choice. And a ‘choice’ isn’t one when it’s coerced.”

While Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti declined to directly comment on Bouchard’s claims, she told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the vaccines were effective.

“We are going to decline to respond directly on this other than to say millions of Americans and thousands of Wyoming residents have safely received these vaccines,” she said.

Bouchard has regularly criticized the vaccines and touted controversial remedies such as hydroxychloroquine.

According to GetVaccineAnswers.org, which has information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 170 million people in the United States, including 96% of medical doctors, are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The COVID vaccines have been through the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history, according to the website.

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Rep. Crenshaw Says “Lies” Are Being Told by Hageman & Other Republicans On Immunization Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Just one day after U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney blasted her congressional opponent for spreading misinformation regarding a bill she voted in favor of, another GOP representative criticized similar statements made by other Republicans, calling them “lies.”

The bill — The Immunization Infrastructure Modernization Act — would provide funds to improve existing immunization information systems in place in most states and improve the sharing of information.

House candidate Harriet Hageman on Thursday said the bill represents a “massive intrusion into most basic personal privacy” and criticized Cheney’s support for the bill in the House.

“This is straight out of George Orwell, and the fact that Liz Cheney thinks the federal government has the right to know your personal medical information to help Joe Biden enforce his unconstitutional mandates shows you that she has lost her mind,” Hageman said.

However, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal and one of the most well-known younger members of Congress, posted a series of short videos to social media to debunk similar statements being spread in the Republican Party about the bill.

“Every Republican up here…knows that that particular bill, which was Republican-led, actually makes it harder to track vaccine information on the individual level,” the Texas Republican said. “It actually decreases the amount of money that originally allocated for these systems by the Biden administration.”

Crenshaw, like Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler did on Thursday, clarified that immunization information systems have been in states for many years, but Republicans wanted states to use the money given from the federal government to make the vaccine data anonymous.

“So, the Republicans screaming about this bill, saying it’s bad, it does the exact opposite of what they’re saying, and they know that but they also don’t like explaining votes to you. That’s the truth,” Crenshaw concluded.

Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that it was dangerous for Hageman to spread misinformation like she is.

“Harriet Hageman is a lawyer. She would know the truth about this bill if she read it. Did she read it? Or did she allow her advisors to send out a false press release that misinforms the people of Wyoming?” Adler said Friday.

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School Districts, State Asking For Dismissal Of Mask Mandate Lawsuit

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

At least two school districts and the Wyoming Department of Health have asked a U.S. District Court to dismiss a lawsuit that mask requirements in place in some schools across the state be ruled unconstitutional and declared void.

Sheridan County School District No. 2, Laramie County School District No. 1 and the Wyoming Department of Health have all filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit filed in early November on behalf of Laramie student Grace Smith and 10 others.

The Sheridan school district filed its motion on Nov. 19, while Cheyenne schools and the WDH filed motions on Tuesday.

In its brief in support of its request for dismissal, the Sheridan district said the 128-page lawsuit was not prepared according to the rules governing federal court action.

“Instead, it is the type of verbose diatribe that federal courts regularly condemn,” the brief said. “The allegations are not stated in simple, concise, and direct terms…but rather are lengthy and argumentative, and include many references to extrinsic materials that Petitioners believe support their theories concerning Covid-19.”

The initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 alleges that rules adopted by some districts requiring students to wear masks while in class, observe social distancing and to quarantine when exposed to coronavirus have been improperly adopted.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, including Smith, the Laramie High School student who was arrested on a charge of trespass recently for refusing to wear a face mask inside the high school.

In addition to Smith and her father, the lawsuit names as plaintiffs the parents of other students from schools across the state.

The 128-page lawsuit alleges Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Department of Health, state Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, six school districts and county health officers in five counties imposed various coronavirus-related restrictions and requirements even though they lacked the authority to do so. The school districts are in Sheridan, Albany, Laramie, Goshen, Sweetwater and Uinta counties.

“Each and every one of these various (executive orders), health orders and policies were, and continue to be issued arbitrarily without lawful authority which resulted in confusing and chaotic outcomes such as the closing of businesses, limited government service, limited business services, the closing of schools and day care facilities, and the mandatory wearing of face coverings that serve no medical purpose as to the declared emergency as a few examples,” the lawsuit said. “These various arbitrary decisions have resulted in many and repeated violations of the petitioners’ rights and liberties.”

The lawsuit asks the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents, that Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and that all such orders should be lifted immediately.

However, the Cheyenne school district said in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the complaint suffered from “a serious jurisdictional infirmity,” a point also raised by the Wyoming Department of Health.

“Although the amended complaint references federal law, it does not identify any specific provision of the United State’s Constitution or any federal statute that would provide the basis for the Court to have jurisdiction,” the WDH motion read. “Rather, petitioners only complain about actions taken by the respondents under State law.”

The court has not yet granted or denied the dismissal from any of these entities, though.

Smith was arrested at Laramie High School in October for trespassing. She had been suspended due to her refusal to wear a mask, as the Albany County School District 1 has a mask mandate in place, and would not leave school grounds after being repeatedly told to do so.

She has since withdrawn from the high school to attend her junior year online, but has not ruled out returning to Laramie High for her senior year.

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Cheyenne Hospital Tells Employees Either Get Vaccinated Or Be Tested Weekly

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center employees are now being asked to either get vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly COVID tests, the hospital’s CEO announced this week.

On Monday, CRMC CEO Tim Thornell emailed hospital employees to tell them a judge’s ruling blocking a federal vaccine mandate will have no impact on CRMC’s requirements.

“As we indicated in our town hall meetings and other communications, Cheyenne Regional was prepared to implement our own COVID-19 vaccination policy apart from the [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] mandate. And, if the CMS requirement were to be put on hold, we would move forward with our plan. So, we will do just that,” the email said.

As part of his proposed national vaccine mandate, President Joe Biden called for the full immunization of all health care workers. Under rules issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care facilities whose employees were not fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 could lose Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Wyoming and nine other states sued the CMS, claiming the agency lacked the authority to implement the requirement and a federal judge in Missouri on Monday issued a preliminary injunction to block the requirement. Judge Matthew Schelp ruled that in trial, the states would probably be successful in their claims.

The injunction is in place in the 10 participating states at least until hearings into the lawsuit itself can begin. As a result, the length of time it will be in place is not known.

CRMC is not requiring its employees to get vaccinated, unlike the CMS rules, but is offering employees who do not want to be vaccinated the option of submitting to weekly COVID tests.

If employees are not fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, they will have to undergo weekly testing, Thornell’s email said.

“This plan will immediately replace the CMS plan, and remain in effect until further notice,” Thornell said.

The hospital is also suspending a vaccine exemption process, since employees can now elect to be tested rather than get a vaccine.

“We continue to support our staff getting vaccinated and believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is an effective means of reducing severity of illness, hospitalization and death,” Thornell told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “We also allow our employees to exercise choice and opt-out of vaccination through routine testing.”

Earlier this year, CRMC full-time employees who were fully vaccinated received incentives of either 16 hours of paid time off or a $600 bonus, part-time employees received either eight hours of PTO or $300 and on-call employees received a $150 bonus.

Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said he has heard from a number of hospital officials who said they were glad to learn of a stay on the mandate, even though no one knows how long it will be in place.

During the recent special session of Wyoming’s Legislature, a number of health care facility officials testified that their facilities are already short-staffed and the vaccine mandate could drive more employees away from health care, leaving the facilities unable to treat patients.

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Gordon Welcomes Court Action Halting Biden’s Vaccine Mandate For Health Care Workers

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A federal judge has ordered a halt to the enforcement and implementation of a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers in Wyoming and other states.

Gov. Mark Gordon welcomed the issuing of a temporary injunction issued in a lawsuit filed by Wyoming and nine other states against the mandate issued by President Joe Biden.

“This is welcome news for Wyoming’s rural health care facilities, which are already facing staffing challenges without additional unconstitutional burdens being placed on their employees by the federal government,” Gordon said. “Health care employees should not be forced to choose between vaccination and termination.” 

Biden earlier this year announced his plan to require vaccinations for federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies that employ more than 100.

Under the proposal, a vaccine was required prior to Dec. 6 for every employee, volunteer and contractor working at a wide range of health care facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding. Health care facilities not complying could lose Medicaid or Medicare funding, under rules issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In its ruling, the federal court in Missouri agreed to temporarily halt implementation and enforcement of the rule because arguments made by Wyoming and the other states have a likelihood of success on the merits.

Wyoming and the coalition have argued that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not have authority to issue the mandate and that the vaccine requirement would impact the ability of health care facilities to effectively care for patients.

“Because it is evident CMS significantly understates the burden that its mandate would impose on the ability of healthcare facilities to provide proper care, and thus, save lives, the public has an interest in maintaining the ‘status quo’ while the merits of the case are determined,” wrote the court. 

The ruling applies only to the 10 states that joined in the lawsuit: Wyoming, Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and New Hampshire.

Wyoming has gone to court to challenge all three pieces of the mandate. The other two legal challenges involve:

  • Filing a lawsuit against the Biden Administration for imposing a vaccine mandate on federal contractors and federally contracted employees. Wyoming is currently awaiting a ruling on a request for a temporary injunction in the case. 
  • Filing a second lawsuit to halt the Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard which mandates vaccines on employees of private Wyoming businesses with over 100 employees. This also resulted in a pause on the implementation of the ETS. 

A three-judge panel for the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 12 that plaintiffs behind lawsuits filed against the federal government over the mandate would probably be successful in their claims that the Biden administration had overreached its authority with the mandate.

Earlier this month, Gordon signed HB1002, which prohibits state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate. However, it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

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More Than 2,300 Children In Wyoming Have Received COVID Vaccine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than 2,300 children in Wyoming have received the Pfizer COVID vaccine since it became available, according to numbers released by the Wyoming Department of Health.

According to the department, 2,345 pediatric doses of the vaccine have been administered. Spokeswoman Kim Deti explained that the pediatric doses are specifically for children ages 5 to 11.

“There is a specific Pfizer formulation for that age group,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

According to the Washington Post, nearly 10% of children ages 5 to 11 have received their first coronavirus vaccine dose, just two weeks into the immunization campaign for children. The vaccine for children under 12 became available earlier this month.

Around 41% of the entire population of Wyoming has been vaccinated against the virus, leading the state to be identified as one of the most vaccine-hesitant in the nation.

Natrona County health officer Dr. Mark Dowell previously told Cowboy State Daily that the vaccine has become politicized, leading to the hesitancy seen across the state.

“When nearly 5 billion people have had this vaccine and people are saying it’s not safe, it’s as if the public is suddenly become scientists and I just don’t know where that comes from,” Dowell said.

Just under 29% of adolescents between 12 to 17 have been vaccinated, while 50.1% of Wyoming adults have received a dose of the vaccine.

Almost 72% of Wyoming’s seniors have been vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the symptoms of COVID tend to be milder in children than in adults, the illness can still make children very sick and cause children to be hospitalized. In some situations, the complications from infection can lead to death.

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134 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Wednesday; 26 Recoveries; 2,321 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total increased by 219 on Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 26 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases Wednesday. 

At the same time, the state reported 134 new laboratory-confirmed and 111 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 2,321 active cases for Wednesday.

Seven counties have more than 100 active cases, with two having more than 400. Laramie County had 479; Natrona 451; Uinta 160; Albany 148; Fremont 127; Campbell 122; Sweetwater 120; Sheridan 92; Park 67; Goshen, Lincoln and Sublette 56; Johnson and Teton 55; Carbon 47; Platte 38; Niobrara 37; Converse 34; Big Horn 32; Washakie 31; Crook 30; Weston had 23, while Hot Springs reported five 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 108,658 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. Of those, 104,990  have recovered.

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Gordon Signs Special Session Bill That Pushes Back Against Vaccine Mandates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon signed the one bill that made it through the recent Wyoming Legislature special session that proposes action in opposition to the federal vaccine mandate.

On Friday, Gordon signed HB1002, which prohibits state and local public entities from enforcing a federal mandate. However, it would not take effect until a federal court, in response to legal action, blocks the mandate.

The bill also provides $4 million to help those harmed physically or financially by the mandate take legal action against the federal government and expresses support for Wyoming taking legal action to halt the mandate.

Gordon noted that he had already committed to challenging President Joe Biden administration’s vaccine mandates in the courts prior to the special session being called.

He added while he appreciated the Legislature’s support through the bill, he was concerned about the cost to taxpayers of the special session.

“This bill confirms the Legislature’s support for the Executive branch’s previously-expressed determination to fight federal overreach in the courts,” Gordon said. “I thank the Legislature for recognizing their distinct constitutional responsibility as appropriators in forwarding resources to support this endeavor. The people of Wyoming can rest assured that this Governor will always be committed to protecting the constitutionally enumerated rights of Wyoming citizens.”

Wyoming has filed three separate legal actions to challenge the federal vaccine mandates, including a lawsuit against the Biden administration for imposing a vaccine mandate on federal contractors and federally contracted employees.

A second lawsuit challenges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws that require any worker for a company employing more than 100 people to get a vaccine or be tested regularly for coronavirus. The third asks a federal court to overturn the vaccine mandate on health care workers throughout the nation. 

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Laramie School District Extends Mask Mandate Until December

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Laramie school board members have extended the school district’s mask mandate for K-12 students until mid-December, around the time students leave for the holiday break.

The Albany County School District’s mask mandate will be in place until at least Dec. 17.

“The board determined that since the two-week winter break starts the Monday following Dec. 17, families that choose to vaccinate against COVID-19 will have until Monday, Jan. 3, to have their children fully vaccinated before school resumes,” the announcement from the board said.

The board also said that it would revisit the mask mandate after Dec. 17 if either the county vaccination rate rises to 70% or the Wyoming Department of Health lists the county in its moderate transmission level zone for three weeks. Currently, the county is in the moderate-high transmission level zone.

As of Wednesday, Albany County had 125 active COVID cases and 50.2% of the county has been vaccinated against the virus, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The mandate’s extension comes in the face of a lawsuit filed against the school district and five others. The district was named in the lawsuit for pursuing trespass charges against a student because she refused to wear a mask at Laramie High School.

Grace Smith was arrested last month on trespassing charges for refusing to leave the school after being asked to do so because she was not wearing a mask.

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show. The teen was also fined $1,000.

Grace has withdrawn from the high school due to the controversy, but has not ruled out enrolling again for her senior year.

A federal lawsuit filed against the state, school districts and others on behalf of a group of Wyoming students and their parents, including Grace, is asking that all mask requirements in place in some schools across the state be ruled unconstitutional and declared void.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 charges that rules adopted by some school districts requiring students to wear masks while in class, observe social distancing and quarantine when exposed to coronavirus have been improperly adopted.

The 128-page lawsuit alleges Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Department of Health, state Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, six school districts, county health officers in five counties imposed various coronavirus-related restrictions and requirements even though they lacked the authority to do so. The school districts are in Sheridan, Albany, Laramie, Goshen, Sweetwater and Uinta counties.

Albany County School District No. 1, which includes Laramie High, adopted its requirement for the use of face masks in September.

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Wyoming Leads Nation In Nursing Home COVID Cases

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has the highest rate of COVID cases among nursing home residents in the nation, according to data released by the AARP this week.

There were 150 laboratory-confirmed cases among nursing home residents in Wyoming during the four-week period ending on Oct. 17, AARP reported, a rate of 8.5 per 100 residents. Montana had the second-highest rate almost 7 per 100 residents.

Nearly 35% of the nursing homes in the state had seen COVID cases among residents during that four-week period, while 84.4% of the nursing homes saw COVID cases among staff.

Despite the high number of cases, almost 90% of Wyoming’s nursing home residents are vaccinated, while 60.7% of health care staff are vaccinated, according to AARP.

“It is encouraging to see a large increase in the number of nursing home staff who are vaccinated. However, nearly half a million direct care staff remain unvaccinated as of mid-October,” said Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer. “More than a year and a half into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to spread in nursing homes. We must ensure that all residents and staff are vaccinated to bring the pandemic under control.” AARP has called on nursing facilities to require vaccination.

There were 27 nursing home deaths in the state over that four-week period, giving Wyoming the second-highest rate of nursing home resident deaths in the nation, coming in behind Montana.

Washington, D.C. and Hawaii had the lowest death rates in the nation, zero per 100 residents.

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Wyoming Files Third Lawsuit Over Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming on Wednesday filed a third lawsuit aimed at stopping the federal coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced that the state had joined nine others in challenging the portion of the mandate that would require vaccinations for health care workers.

“Wyoming continues to face a significant shortage of health care workers and this federal mandate will only exacerbate our health care staffing issues,” Gordon said in a statement. “This administration needs to understand that overreaching policies that force employees to choose between vaccination and termination negatively impact Wyoming communities, rural health care and residents of skilled nursing facilities.”

Biden earlier this year announced he planned to require federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people to either get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the disease.

The mandate on health care workers will come in the form of rules from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Wyoming and the other states in October filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to halt the vaccine requirement for federal contractors and federally contracted employees. Earlier this month, the state joined in a second lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration seeking to block the vaccination mandate for companies employing more than 100 people.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Missouri said the mandate could further reduce the ranks of health care workers in rural areas.

“Indeed, the circumstances in the Plaintiff States—facts that CMS, which skipped notice-and-comment rulemaking, did not fully consider—foreshadow an impending disaster in the healthcare industry,” it said. “By ignoring the facts on the ground and unreasonably dismissing concerns about workforce shortages, the CMS vaccine mandate jeopardizes the healthcare interests of rural Americans.”

The lawsuit asks the court to find the vaccine mandate as imposed by the CMS to be unconstitutional, voiding it and putting measures in place to prevent the agency from imposing any kind of vaccine mandate.

Other states involved in the lawsuit are Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

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307 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming On Wednesday; 39 Recoveries; 2,786 Active

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus case total increased by 372 on Wednesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 39 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases. 

At the same time, the state reported 307 new laboratory-confirmed and 104 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 2,786 active cases for Wednesday.

Eight counties have more than 100 active cases, with having more than 200. Natrona County had 517; Laramie 490; Sweetwater 207; Fremont 201; Campbell 160; Uinta 154; Sheridan 150; Albany 125; Park 93; Goshen and Lincoln 79; Carbon 63; Johnson 61; Washakie 58; Teton 54; Weston 52; Sublette 50; Platte 49; Converse 39; Crook 36; Big Horn 31; Niobrara had 28, while Hot Springs reported 10 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 106,698 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020. 

Of those, 102,614 have recovered.

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55 More Covid-Related Deaths in Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of deaths of Wyoming residents tied to the coronavirus grew to almost 1,300 on Tuesday as the Wyoming Department of Health released its latest fatality numbers.

The department said 55 more Wyoming deaths have been linked to COVID-19, raising the total number of fatalities since the illness was first discovered in the state in March 2020 to 1,298.

Nine Fremont County residents, six women and three men, were among the latest victims of the illness, as were nine Natrona County residents, five men and four women.

The victims also included nine Park County residents, seven men and two women, and five Campbell County residents, three men and two women.

Other victims included an Albany County woman, a Big Horn County man and woman, a Converse County man, two Crook County men, a Goshen County man, three Laramie County men, a Lincoln County man, a Niobrara County man and woman and a Platte County man.

A Sheridan County man and woman were also among those whose deaths were linked to the illness, as was a Sublette County man, two Sweetwater County women and one man, two Uinta County men and a Weston County man.

The announcement came as department figures showed the number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming fell by 52 on Tuesday to total 2,414.

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Wyoming Teachers, School Administrators Continue To Struggle With Pandemic

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Across the country, school staff are feeling the strain as the pandemic wears on.

And school administrators are trying their best to prop up their employees.

Tim Foley is the interim superintendent for Park County School District No. 6 in Cody. He has worked in the district for 10 years, his wife is a teacher and he has two school-age children – so Foley has a unique perspective on how the pandemic is affecting students and staff.

“I get to hear how my wife’s experiences are going with students that are in remote learning or quarantined,” he said, “and then I have an eighth grader and a sophomore, so I get to experience remote learning as a parent as well.”

Foley said the current school year has probably been more difficult than last because each district in the county has been allowed to make their own rules when it comes to pandemic protocols. 

“Last year, we all were doing the same thing,” he said. “So every district was requiring masking, and we had health orders, and it just seemed like there was a great deal of consistency. But this year, you know, I think we’re all pretty tired of COVID.”

Jay Curtis, the Superintendent for Park County School District 1 in Powell, applauded the way his employees are staying strong during this trying time.

“I think that the teachers are holding up remarkably well,” he said. “They are a resilient bunch. However, our teachers are definitely feeling the strain of the school year already.”

As this school year began, Foley said the Cody district made the decision to afford parents, students and staff as much choice as possible while still following health recommendations. So masks are not  required, but students and staff can wear masks if they choose.

“And then if a child has close contact with another individual (who tests positive for the virus), we have required them to quarantine,” he said. “And I think that’s really what’s put a strain on our system, is having these students that are quarantined, because they’re quarantined for 10 days, they can test on day five, and if they’re negative, they can come back to school on day eight. But that still means a student’s out of school for eight days.”

That quarantine period requires teachers to do extra work, preparing lessons for students who are physically in the classroom, while trying to provide remote learning. 

“Now sometimes remote learning is paper-pencil packets that are sent home, sometimes it’s using our learning management system, which is called Canvas, that mainly takes place at the middle school and the high school,” Foley said. “But then the teachers have also tried to zoom with students.”

He said complications arise for students who may not have access to a consistent wireless signal, or whose requirements to stay home cause issues for working parents.

“Last week, we did send a survey out to our staff, asking them about potential changes to our quarantine protocol,” he said. “And early next week, our administrators, our nurses, other district leaders, along with input from public health, we’re going to look at a change to our quarantine protocol, as far as what we are going to ask of students when they are in close contact with someone who tests positive.”

But teaching remotely is only one of the complications. Another issue is the need for substitute teachers, which are in higher demand due to quarantine and isolation protocols.

“Historically, September is a difficult month for us for substitutes,” Foley said. “Partly because of where we live, because many people have summer jobs, or they run their own business, and we still have tourists in September, many are still tied up with that kind of work, and they just can’t substitute. And so usually, by October, we see a little relief from that.”

But because of the pandemic, Foley said many regular substitutes have been reluctant to return to school.

“I think it’s gotten better, but it’s still not great,” he said. 

Curtis agreed the situation has created a challenge.

“When we are short substitutes, we have to rearrange, put in para-educators that are certified,” he said. “We might have to combine some classes, we might have principals subbing a class. We just have to scramble around and make it work.”

Curtis explained that he has been working with Northwest College in Powell to create a substitute teacher training program.

“And I’m actually teaching it myself because they couldn’t find an instructor,” he said.

Curtis said 25 people attended the class, including a few from Cody.

“I’m hoping we can get a pretty good turnaround on the transcripts in Northwest College to get these folks certified,” he said. “Hopefully that acts as a pressure relief valve on the substitute situation.”

But teachers aren’t the only positions being filled by substitutes.

“We don’t have a large substitute pool for school bus drivers,” Foley said, citing the specific requirements needed to drive school bus, along with the extracurricular activities that pull regular drivers away for out-of-town events. 

School nurses and administrative secretaries are also feeling the weight of the extra work required to stay in control of the pandemic.

“We hired three contact tracers to take the burden off of our nurses and principals,” Curtis said. “Because when you have one get through the door with COVID, it takes up a principal’s (or nurse’s) entire day, tracking them through the day, making phone calls.” 

Foley said the district is doing its best to support school staff during this stressful time.

“One of the things that we’ve been talking about is how we can change remote learning or change quarantine just to make this more manageable,” he said. “Because one of the things that I think our teachers are trying to do is to recreate the classroom experience in a remote environment, and that’s nearly impossible to do. And we just don’t want them to try to burn the candle at both ends, so we’re really trying to lessen that burden on our teachers, because we’re only about close to 12 weeks into the school year, and teachers are tired. And that’s just not a sustainable model.”

“We are trying to actively not put more on our teachers’ plates than we absolutely have to,” said Curtis. “People cannot do a lot of extra work right now, and maintain their sanity.”

Foley said the district is also offering mental health counseling as part of the benefit package. 

“So a staff member can use one of our mental health counselors in the community, and then they just work with human resources,” he explained. 

“I just can’t say enough good things about the teachers that we have in Powell,” Curtis added, “because so many of them, even though they’re weary, they just maintain such a great attitude and they know that what we’re doing matters and they want to do what’s best for kids.”

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69 More Covid-Related Deaths in Wyoming, Health Department Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of deaths among Wyoming residents related to the coronavirus climbed to 1,243 on Tuesday, the Wyoming Department of Health reported.

The department announced that 69 more deaths among Wyoming residents between August and the end of October had been linked to the coronavirus, bringing the fatality toll to 1,243 since the illness was first reported in March 2020.

Thirteen Sweetwater County residents, nine men and four women, died in September and October, the department said, and nine were hospitalized for the treatment of coronavirus.

Ten Natrona County residents, six men and four women, died in October, while nine Park County residents, seven men and two women, also died. Eight Laramie County residents, six men and two women, were also among the victims.

The victims also included six Converse County residents, four men and two women, five Campbell County residents, four men and one woman, and four Carbon County residents, all men.

The deaths of four Fremont County residents, three women and one men, were also linked to the illness.

Other victims included two Albany County men and one woman, a Big Horn County man, a Goshen County man, a Lincoln County man and woman, a Sheridan County man and two Sublette County men.

The announcement came as the Department of Health reported that active coronavirus cases in Wyoming remained relatively stable Tuesday, growing by five to total 2,614.

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25 More Covid-Related Deaths in Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The deaths of another 25 Wyoming residents have been linked to coronavirus, according to to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The department on Tuesday announced the number of Wyoming residents whose deaths have been connected to COVID grew to 1,174 with the deaths that occurred in September and October.

The victims included five Campbell County residents, all women. Four were hospitalized for treatment, while the fifth was a resident of a long-term care facility.

Three Big Horn County residents, two women and one man, also died in October, the department said, as did three Laramie County residents, one woman and two men.

Three Natrona County women also died in October, the department said.

Other victims included one Fremont County woman, a Goshen County man and woman, a Hot Springs County man, two Lincoln County women, one Sheridan County man, a Sublette County man, a Sweetwater County woman and two Washakie County men.

The announcement came on the same day as the department’s figures showed the number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming dropped by 144 on Tuesday to total 2,940.

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Legislator Names Anti-Mask Bill In Honor Of Laramie Teen Arrested For Not Wearing Mask

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill named after and and inspired by the Laramie teen arrested at her high school for refusing to wear a mask has been filed for consideration by Wyoming’s Legislature.

The Grace Smith Medical Freedom Act would require county and state health officers to grant waivers from coronavirus immunization or face mask use requirements to any K-12 student who requests one. This bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, and Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan.

Andrew told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that he named the bill after Grace because he was inspired by the courage shown by her and her father in ignoring Laramie High School’s mask mandate.

“They took a stand for not only their rights but all people’s rights,” Andrew told Cowboy State Daily. “I felt it was important that I sponsor this bill because her arrest happened within the boundaries of the district I represent.”

He added that the state’s statutes need to be updated to reflect the health freedom rights guaranteed by the state’s Constitution.

“The Wyoming Constitution says that the State of Wyoming shall act to preserve these rights from undue governmental infringement,” Andrew said. “I believe that it’s our duty as a legislature to update our statutes to reflect the rights guaranteed by the constitution we pledge to uphold.”

The bill will likely come up for discussion during the Wyoming Legislature’s special session next week.

Biteman did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

Grace was arrested earlier this month for trespassing after she refused to wear a face mask at Laramie High School as required by school district policy. She was cited for trespassing for refusing to leave the school after being told she could not stay unless she wore a mask.

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show. The teen was also fined $1,000 for trespassing.

Albany County School District No. 1, which includes Laramie High, adopted a requirement for the use of facemasks in September. The requirement was extended until mid-November by school board members earlier this month.

Grace has withdrawn from the high school due to the controversy, but has not ruled out enrolling again for her senior year.

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State Senator Thinks Special Session On Vaccine Mandate Is Bad Idea

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Longtime state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, thinks that next week’s legislative special session regarding vaccine mandates is a bad idea, he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

“I don’t agree with the federal mandates on employers and I want to be clear about that,” Case said. “But I don’t see a legislative path to fix that.”

The Legislature is to begin a three-day special session on Tuesday to formulate the state’s response to President Joe Biden’s mandate that government workers, health care employees and employees at companies employing more than 100 people receive the corronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the illness.

Before any work can begin, the rules spelling out how the session will proceed will have to be approved by two-thirds of the legislators.

Thirty-five Wyoming representatives and 17 senators voted in favor of holding a special session, while 12 representatives and seven senators voted against holding one. Case was one of the senators who voted against the session.

The Biden administration has not yet issued the rules that will be required to put the mandate into effect and Case said that is the biggest argument against holding a special session.

“I think we run the risk of putting our Wyoming employers in a squeeze between state and federal policy,” he said.

Case added that the Wyoming Legislature cannot hold a special session every time “a bunch of people get mad at something that happens.” He said many Wyoming voters who have pushed for the special session do not fully understand how the legislative process works.

“I’ve actually had people tell me that we can nullify a federal law, because all we have to do is pass a law that nullifies it,” Case said. “I assure you, we can’t do that.”

Gov. Mark Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill are preparing to file a legal challenge on Wyoming’s behalf once the rules are completed, which Case totally supported.

“I think we are in the realm of overreach by the federal government and I think in the end, it is the legal efforts that we join with other states that will be successful, not these special sessions,” he said.

Case’s stance is in opposition to that taken by many of his colleagues.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was one of the senators who voted to hold the session and he announced his position by posting a photo of his ballot to social media, along with a post-it note containing a message to legislative leadership.

“We now need a special session because the Republican establishment killed my bill on the same subject,” Bouchard wrote on the ballot. “Of course I will vote yes on the special session. Don’t Fauci our Wyoming!”

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, also voted for the session.

“The dates of October 26-28 have also been scheduled for the special session, which would allow us to pass a bill banning mandates before the Banner Health deadline goes into effect,” Gray wrote on social media. “This is great news for our state! We must stop these radical vaccine mandates.”

Banner Health, one of the largest U.S. health system employers, is requiring its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 1 to keep their jobs. The organization announced this mandate in July.

Banner Health operates multiple health care facilities in Wyoming, including the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper and clinics in Torrington, Wheatland, Guernsey, Douglas, Worland and more.

No other Wyoming-owned hospitals or health care systems in the state have implemented a vaccine mandate, although some, such as Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, have created incentive programs for employees who do get vaccinated.

Banner officials said the company is implementing the requirement for several reasons, including the rise of the Delta variant of coronavirus, the need to protect its patients and workforce and to prepare for flu season.

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Arrested Laramie Teen Doesn’t Regret Decision To Quit School

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Laramie teen who was arrested for refusing to comply with a facemask mandate at Laramie High School does not regret her decision last week to withdraw from the high school.

Grace Smith officially withdrew from Laramie High School following her arrest on Oct. 7 on a charge of trespassing stemming from her refusal to comply with the school’s mandate for the use of facemasks.

“I know that this fight is not only about me, so I’m confident in my decision,” Grace told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “I also do not regret any decision leading up to this one for the same reason.”

As a result of the incident, Grace recently received a one-year scholarship to an online school and she plans on attending the school, father Andy Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

Albany County School District No. 1, which includes Laramie High, adopted a requirement for the use of facemasks in September. The requirement was extended until mid-November by school board members during the same meeting that saw Grace announce her plans to withdraw from the school.

“I was unlawfully arrested from my own school,” Grace told the board. “You have bestowed an egregious amount of power upon yourselves. You have instilled a sense of false hope in each parent that has given you the privilege of educating their child.”

Despite the situation, Andy Smith said that Grace was not ruling out going back to Laramie High, possibly for her senior year of high school.

“The decision to leave was not an easy one as it meant giving up the things that she loved,” Andy Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “She is also alone now and already misses friends.”

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show. The teen was also fined $1,000 for trespassing.

Grace told board members they were infringing on Albany County students’ constitutional rights by forcing them to wear masks in school.

She did note that she wasn’t arguing about whether or not masks were effective, but about the choice to wear one.

“High school is hard enough already. Why are we making it harder?” she said.

Andy Smith told Cowboy State Politics that initially when the mandate was implemented in September, the school district was going to allow students to obtain exemption forms, but Superintendent Jubal Yennie ultimately decided to allow exemptions under eight criteria, none of which Grace met.

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Dick, Liz Cheney Mourn Death Of Former Secretary Of State Colin Powell

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Both former Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney publicly mourned the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday.

“I’m deeply saddened to learn that America has lost a leader and statesman,” Dick Cheney said. “General Powell had a remarkably distinguished career, and I was fortunate to work with him. He was a man who loved his country and served her long and well.”

Powell died Monday of complications related to COVID-19, despite the fact he was fully vaccinated, although it was not clear if he had received a booster shot. He was 84.

“Working with him during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I saw first-hand General Powell’s dedication to the United States and his commitment to the brave and selfless men and women who serve our country in uniform,” Dick Cheney said. “Colin was a trailblazer and role model for so many: the son of immigrants who rose to become National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of State.”

“Very sorry to hear of the passing of General Colin Powell. He was a statesman and a leader who loved and served our nation,” Cheney’s daughter, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, said on social media Monday.

According to CNN, Powell had multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response. 

Powell was the first Black U.S. secretary of state under former President George W. Bush’s administration, the first Black national security adviser during former President Ronald Reagan’s administration, the youngest and first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.

He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice.

Powell is survived by his wife Alma and three children.

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Teen Arrested At Laramie High Officially Withdraws From School

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grace Smith, the Laramie High School student who was arrested following her refusal to wear a mask at school, officially withdrew from the school on Wednesday.

Grace spoke during the public comment portion of the Albany County School District 1 board meeting on Wednesday evening, chastising the board members for the situation she is now in and officially withdrawing as a student at the school.

“I was unlawfully arrested from my own school,” Grace told the board. “You have bestowed an egregious amount of power upon yourselves. You have instilled a sense of false hope in each parent that has given you the privilege of educating their child.”

Grace and her father Andy Smith did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday. It was not immediately clear what the teen planned to do to finish out her high school career.

Grace was arrested on Thursday at Laramie High School because she refused to leave after being suspended for not following the mandatory mask policy. The officer told her she was trespassing.

“I want to make it very clear to you that you do not own us as kids,” Grace told the board. “You have no right to tell us who we get to be and you have absolutely no right to make our health decisions for us.”

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show. The teen has also received $1,000 in trespassing fines, which she noted to the board during her speech.

The school district implemented a mask mandate in early September after Albany County and Wyoming’s COVID cases continue to climb, as well as its hospitalizations. The board covered this topic at the Wednesday meeting, again extending the mandate until Nov. 12.

Grace told the board they were infringing on Albany County students’ constitutional rights by forcing them to wear masks in school.

She did note that she wasn’t arguing about whether or not masks were effective with the situation, but about the choice to wear one.

“High school is hard enough already. Why are we making it harder?” she said.

Andy Smith told Cowboy State Politics that initially when the mandate was implemented in September, the school district was going to allow exemption forms, but Superintendent Jubal Yennie ultimately revoked them and only allowed exemptions under eight criteria, none of which Grace met.

Grace also told the board that she has been bullied, discriminated against and threatened by other students due to her refusal to wear a mask.

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