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Cheyenne Hospital Sees Increase In Employees Vaccinations After Incentive Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

One of the largest hospitals in Wyoming saw a significant increase in vaccination rates among its employees after implementing a vaccine incentive program.

Two months after announcing its vaccine incentive program, the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center has seen a 15% increase among employee vaccinations, its CEO told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

“On July 22 of this year, we announced an incentive initiative to promote employees voluntarily receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” hospital CEO Tim Thornell told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “The incentive gave employees a choice of additional (paid time off) or a single cash payment for getting their COVID-19 vaccine. Prior to the initiative we had about 60% of our staff fully vaccinated. With the incentive in place for two months now, we are at about 75% of our staff fully vaccinated, so we have seen an appreciable improvement in our vaccination rate.”

CRMC employees who are fully vaccinated by Oct. 31 are eligible for the following: full-time employees can receive either 16 hours of paid time off or a $600 bonus, part-time employees can receive either eight hours of PTO or a $300 bonus and PRN employees (those hired on an on-call basis) will receive a $150 bonus.

This is in contrast to the Wyoming Medical Center and a number of Banner Health medical clinics across Wyoming, where employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 or lose their jobs.

As a state, Wyoming has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with 37.1% of the population receiving either both of the two-shot vaccinations or the single-shot vaccination made by Jannsen.

A number of organizations in Wyoming have implemented vaccine incentive programs and at least some have seen success.

Earlier this month, the Laramie County School District No. 1, which encompasses Cheyenne, offered a one-time incentive of $500 to employees who are already fully vaccinated or are willing to undergo bi-monthly COVID tests.

District spokeswoman Mary Quast told Cowboy State Daily that approximately 1,345 employees have provided vaccination information for the incentive, approximately 56% of all permanent employees.

In late July, the city of Cheyenne announced it would offer extra vacation hours for full-time employees or additional payroll hours for part-time and seasonal employees who were fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.

City spokesman Michael Skinner told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that 266 city employees, 49% of the full-time workforce, were vaccinated and will receive the incentive.

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Cheyenne Rep Drafts Bill Banning Workplace Vaccine Mandates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative has drafted a bill that would prohibit employers from adopting vaccine requirements for their employees.

The draft is sponsored by Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, but hasn’t yet been assigned a bill number. Wilson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that she began working on the bill in April after she saw news stories about the potential of vaccine mandates becoming a problem.

“I have received quite a few emails from other legislators and citizens (particularly those in healthcare jobs) who agree with the bill’s approach and do not want to see vaccine mandates,” she said.

She brought the bill to the House Labor Committee in June so the legislators could consider sponsoring it, as she and many of the other lawmakers believed they would have a special session in July to appropriate American Rescue Plan funds.

The committee voted 13-1 to sponsor the bill, but since there was no special session this summer, the legislature will consider the bill during the next session in February.

“The bill uses existing terminology and requirements from labor law and court decisions,” Wilson said. “The bill would require an employer to make reasonable accommodation for employees who do not wish to be vaccinated, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship or pose a direct threat to health. Courts and HR offices have been threading this needle for several decades, so I felt this language was the best way to find a middle path between rights of an employee and rights of an employer.”

She added that she believed vaccine mandates are more intrusive and on a different level than a mask mandate, which the legislature has authorized to be made locally.

The bill proposes a ban workplace vaccine mandates, calling them discriminatory and an unfair employment practice.

It would also require health care facilities, governmental entities and essential service providers to offer reasonable accommodations for people unable or unwilling to provide sufficient proof of immunization.

Finally, it would create a personal exemption to mandatory vaccinations for school children.

Wyoming’s Legislature opens its budget session on Feb. 14.

No Wyoming-owned businesses or government entities have implemented a vaccine requirement. However, some companies, such as Banner Health, which operates a number of health care facilities in the state, including the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, have done so.

Active members of the U.S. military will also have to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Gov. Mark Gordon has refused to implement any new health mandates, masks or otherwise. Instead, he is allowing Wyoming cities, counties and school districts decide for themselves on whether or not a mask mandate is appropriate.

Only Montana has passed a law now banning workplace vaccine mandates.

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Wyoming Lowest In Nation For COVID Vaccinations; Barrasso Says Get Vax, Lummis Says Personal Decision

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With news from the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) that Wyoming ranks the lowest in the nation for coronavirus vaccinations, the state’s two U.S. senators have differing thoughts on what residents should do about it.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a physician by trade, is encouraging individuals to get vaccinated while U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis said the decision is a personal one.

“Vaccines work,” Barrasso said. “If you want to protect yourself and your family, the best thing you can do is get vaccinated. I’m a doctor and I have been vaccinated, as has my wife and my adult kids. I’ll continue to encourage folks across Wyoming to talk to their doctor and get the vaccine if they are eligible.”

Barrasso spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp told Cowboy State Daily that Barrasso has visited vaccine clinics across the state, written a column on the importance of being vaccinated, advocated for vaccines on TV, participated in public service announcements and repeatedly encouraged people on social media to get the vaccine.

A spokeswoman for Lummis said although the senator has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, she feels it is a decision that should made with input from a doctor, not the government.

“She is hopeful that with the recent full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, people in Wyoming will discuss the risks and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine and make the decision that is best for them and their families,” spokeswoman Abegail Cave told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

She noted Lummis recently signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, which would prohibit the federal government from requiring citizens to carry proof that they have been vaccinated — so-called vaccine passports.

According to the CDC, Wyoming had 201,863 unvaccinated adults in the state, 45.36% of its population, the highest rate of unvaccinated people in the country.

West Virginia and Mississippi each owned the distinction of having the highest share of unvaccinated residents in the nation for months until Wyoming recently surpassed each state.

West Virginia is in 49th place with 44.36% of its citizens being unvaccinated while Mississippi is next at 44.20%.

Texas actually had the highest number of unvaccinated adults, with 6.6 million, but that amounted to only 30.8% of its population.

Spokespeople for Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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Gordon Says He Strongly Opposes Federal Vaccine Mandates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is joining one of his Republican colleagues in voicing opposition to any potential federal vaccine mandates.

Through a spokesman, Gordon told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that any sweeping vaccine mandates would be overreach by the federal government.

“The governor has consistently opposed government vaccine mandates,” spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

“A sweeping vaccine mandate would be an example of overreach by the federal government and shows a lack of regard for both individual rights and local control. The governor strongly opposes such actions,” he said.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday said she would fight President Joe Biden’s administration in the event he implemented a federal mandate.

“If President Biden illegally mandates vaccines, I will take every action available under the law to protect South Dakotans from the federal government,” Noem said on her social media account on Monday afternoon.

Montana has banned vaccine mandates for employment, saying it is discrimination, according to the Associated Press.

Wyoming health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist reaffirmed in a statement on Monday that there would be no vaccine mandates for Wyoming students returning to school, something Gordon told news reporters last week during a call.

“While there will be no state vaccine mandate in Wyoming, we know promoting vaccination among eligible students, school staff, family members and throughout our communities can help schools stay open and vibrant as well as help keep students and their teachers in the classroom,” Harrist said. “An additional benefit to COVID-19 vaccination is that individuals who are fully vaccinated and identified as close contacts do not need to quarantine, which can be helpful in the school setting.”

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1% Of University Of Wyoming Students, Employees Test Positive For COVID

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A total of 42 University of Wyoming students and employees have so far tested positive for COVID-19 in required testing to start the fall semester, a test positivity rate of 1.2%.

However, a survey conducted during the university’s mandatory five-day testing program last week found that 66% of students and 88% of employees reported they had been vaccinated against coronavirus, a much higher percentage than indicated by self-reporting to UW’s Student Health Service and Human Resources.

“We’re encouraged by the results of this one-time testing event and the related survey on vaccination,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “While the numbers are incomplete, they show that we’re beginning the semester in conditions that will allow us to proceed with in-person classes and activities. We’re counting on those who’ve tested positive and those with whom they’ve had contact to isolate and quarantine as required by the state.

“Those who haven’t yet been vaccinated and are medically able should strongly consider doing so,” he continued. “Everyone should adhere to our indoor mask requirement to start the semester and follow basic health guidelines, such as staying home when you’re sick, so that we keep our infection numbers under control.”

A total of 9,296 students and employees were tested Wednesday through Sunday. The testing is required of all students and employees spending any time on campus this fall.

As of Monday, there are 70 active cases of COVID-19 among the UW community: 45 students off-campus, 18 students on-campus and seven employees. Some of the on-campus students have decided to isolate at home before returning to UW.

A much more limited testing program, also for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, will resume the week of Aug. 30. Under that program, on a weekly basis, a random sample of 3% of the UW community will receive emails directing them to be tested.

Also as of Monday, 2,192 of UW’s total 2,897 total benefited employees, 75.7%, have reported they’ve received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Adding in non-benefited employees, some of whom are students, 3,410 of UW’s 6,129 total employees, 55.6%, have reported receiving at least one dose.

As of Monday, 3,727 individual students have reported receiving at least one dose of a COVID vaccine on the Student Health Service portal, up from 3,216 one week ago.

The anonymous survey conducted during the testing program found that 4,402 students, or 66% of those who took the survey, said they’d been vaccinated. Of the employees who took the survey, 1,789 said they’d been vaccinated, or 88%.

“We had a good idea that many of our students and employees haven’t reported their vaccinations, and the survey indicates that’s indeed the case,” Seidel says. “We strongly encourage everyone to not only be vaccinated, but to also report their vaccinations.”

At this stage, the university continues to highly encourage, but not mandate, the COVID vaccine for faculty, staff and students, in concert with a directive from Gov. Mark Gordon.

Vaccinated, faculty, staff and students have been asked to report it to allow the university to track overall vaccination numbers. The information is not being used for any other purpose, except to enter those who’ve reported their vaccinations into the drawings for prizes.

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City Of Cheyenne Offering Extra Vacation Hours To Employees Who Get Vaccinated

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The City of Cheyenne is offering to trade vacation hours for vaccinations.

City officials have adopted new vaccination incentive program, giving employees who get vaccinated against the coronavirus extra vacation hours.

City spokesman Michael Skinner told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the program just began on Monday.

“The City is offering extra vacation hours, or added payroll hours for (part-time) and seasonal employees, who are fully vaccinated by Oct. 31,” Skinner said.

He added he hadn’t heard any feedback yet about the program, due to both the short timeline and the fact Cheyenne Frontier Days is in full swing.

This vaccine incentive program is not unlike others implemented across the state, such as the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department offering free Cheyenne Frontier Days concert tickets to people who got vaccinated or the University of Wyoming providing an additional personal day off for employees who were vaccinated.

Along with other incentives, the state of Colorado gave out $1 million to five residents who got vaccinated.

Wyoming has not implemented such a statewide program, although less than 33% of its residents are fully vaccinated.

Banner Health, a health care system that operates clinics and hospitals in Wyoming and other western states, announced last week that its employees would be required to get the vaccine to keep their jobs.

As of Monday, Laramie County had 189 active coronavirus cases and 34.6% of the county’s population had been vaccinated against the virus.

Laramie County also had the most Delta variant cases of the virus, with 179 of the state’s 255 cases, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

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Covid-19 Vaccinations Begin in Wyoming; Public Health Nurse Gets First Vaccine

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 The Wyoming Department of Health announced on Tuesday that vaccinations for the Covid-19 virus have begun.

A photo of the first vaccination was included in a press release. The department said the vaccination was given at the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department on Tuesday morning to a local public health nurse.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the department, said the vaccine is recommended for most people who are age 16 and older with two doses administered about three weeks apart needed for it to be effective.

“Putting an end to this pandemic will take all our tools. Now we can add vaccines to wearing masks, social distancing and staying home when we are ill,” Harrist said. 

“For now and for some months to come, we need all of these strategies as we work to eliminate this virus and to help things get back to normal as soon as possible,” she said.

Harrist said COVID-19 vaccines, like other vaccines, are held to high standards to make sure they are safe. 

“Things may have moved quickly with these vaccines due to unprecedented focus and investment, but safety has remained important. No steps were skipped,” she said.

She said COVID-19 vaccines will not give the illness to people or cause individuals to test positive for the virus. 

“The goal of these vaccines is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19,” Harrist said. 

“Sometimes this may lead to symptoms or side effects such as a sore arm or mild, short-term fever. Symptoms like this are normal and tell us our body is building immunity,” she said.

Harrist said COVID-19 remains a serious threat in Wyoming but the vaccines are a huge step forward toward ending the pandemic and its consequences.

“More than 300 Wyoming families are mourning the loss of someone they loved due to the virus. The burden on our hospitals remains high. Businesses and communities are facing big challenges,” she said. “That’s why I recommend and encourage Wyoming residents to get vaccinated when it is their turn to do so.”

Harrist said the number of doses available early will be relatively small.

“Working with our county and healthcare provider partners, we established priorities to make clear who should receive the first-available vaccine doses,” she said. “Our initial focus across the state involves healthcare workers involved in direct patient care and residents of long-term care facilities.”

Prioritized descriptions of the “Phase 1A Distribution” plan groups can be found https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/immunization/wyoming-covid-19-vaccine-information/.

Another company’s vaccine candidate is expected to be authorized late this week. If that happens, each Wyoming county will receive initial shipments of vaccine doses by next week. WDH expects shipments to be available and then continue from both the first and second companies.

WDH is ordering COVID-19 vaccines through a federal process with shipments going directly to key hospital partners and local health departments. Separate amounts are also expected to be provided directly from the federal government to tribal health clinics, military bases and to U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities.

A special, targeted effort involving pharmacy chains to help vaccinate residents of Wyoming’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities is also planned in the coming weeks.

Vaccination efforts will continue over the coming months with a phased approach based on production and availability. People receiving the vaccines will not be asked to pay any fees.

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