Public health officials are continuing to encourage citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the number of people actively infected with the disease continues to rise in both Wyoming and Park …
Public health officials are continuing to encourage citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the number of people actively infected with the disease continues to rise in both Wyoming and Park County.
On Wednesday, the Wyoming Department of Health reported that 76 people in the county had confirmed or probable cases — up from about 46 cases a week earlier and single-digits earlier in the summer.
A total of 10 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Park County on Tuesday — the most since mid-January — before dropping back to six on Wednesday. Five of the patients were being cared for at Cody Regional Health, with one at Powell Valley Healthcare.
“Viral transmission is up significantly due to variant cases predominantly among the unvaccinated,” said Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin.
In response to the higher levels of transmission, the Powell and Cody hospitals reinstated limits on visits this week.
“The last thing we want to do is step backwards on visitor restrictions,” said June Minchow, Powell Valley Healthcare’s emergency department director, “but to ensure everyone’s health and safety we have to minimize exposure to our patients and staff.”
PVHC facilities, such as the cafeteria, are being closed to the general public and patients are generally being limited to one visitor per day (see sidebar below). Both patients and visitors must continue to wear masks, and no visitors under the age of 16 are being allowed.
Meanwhile, after seeing a “significant increase” in patients, Cody Regional Health converted a wing of the hospital into a COVID treatment ward. The eight-bed wing filled up on Tuesday, though each room can become dual occupancy for a total of 16 beds, plus three additional ICU beds.
The Cody healthcare organization is also limiting patients to one visitor per day, while those with non-emergent respiratory-related issues are being asked to only visit the walk-in clinic during the first two hours of the day (see sidebar below).
“Cody Regional Health has the best protocols in place to prevent and protect our patients from COVID-19,” said Keith Ungrund, the organization’s chief clinical officer. “We have a tested plan in place and will continue to monitor this situation closely.”
No new mandates
While some organizations are making changes — for instance, the University of Wyoming announced Wednesday that it would require masks in indoor settings through at least late September — there has been no indication that sweeping public health orders are on the way in Wyoming.
When cases spiked last fall, state leaders imposed a series of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, including by capping large gatherings of people and requiring masks in schools and other indoor, public places.
However, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said last week that he will not issue a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools and supports the rights of businesses “to operate in the manner they deem best.”
Park County Commissioner Dossie Overfield said Friday that the commission has not been approached by public health officials about any new restrictions.
“[We] have not heard from Dr. Billin that there’s anything moving forward that we need to be concerned with at this time,” Overfield said in an appearance on KODI 1400 AM’s Speak Your Piece program.
She said businesses can decide to require masks, but “I don’t foresee us [the county commission] coming up with anything dealing with the businesses at this time.”
“I think as soon as the tourist season winds down, we may see fewer cases, which may help us to go ahead and move through this,” Overfield said on Speak Your Piece.
Gordon said he’s leaving local school districts in charge of deciding whether to require masks, and Park County School District 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis said Powell schools have no plans for such a mandate.
In a Tuesday video message, Curtis described the recent rise in cases, believed to be fueled by the so-called Delta variant of the virus, as “fairly concerning.”
“We’re clearly not out of the woods yet,” he said. “However, I want to be very clear right now: We are not starting the school year with any required face coverings with any staff or students or visitors. … We are not requiring face coverings for any person.”
“Personal choice,” he said, “will rule the day.”
He said the district will continue to take mitigation measures — such as promoting social distancing, frequent hand washing and assisting public health with tracing the prior contacts of people who fall ill with COVID-19.
“One of the best tools we have is to remove infected people, or potentially infected people, and keep them from spreading the virus within our school district,” he said.
Curtis added that the district is “so excited to start this school year, excited to get kids back in the building, excited to get staff back in the building.”
Elected officials have been facing stiff resistance to even the possibility of new mandates.
Last week, at the suggestion of state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez Williams, R-Cody, leaders of the Park County Republican Party began drafting a letter to the Cody, Powell and Meeteetse school districts opposing a mask mandate for K-12 students. Williams suggested that such a mandate runs afoul of the Wyoming Constitution, which says people have the right to make their own healthcare decisions.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Park County School District 1 Board of Trustees, Powell resident Troy Bray said he wanted “to hear absolute confirmation that, no matter who it comes from, the school district is not going to put our kids in masks.” He said kids were “coming home crying instead of doing their homework” because of last year’s mandate, while COVID-19 posed a low risk to youth.
“A year and a half ago, we heard the governor say that he wasn’t going to shut the state down and wasn’t going to require masks. Five days later, he shut the state down and required masks,” Bray said. “When I hear people say they’re not going to, I immediately … put my hackles up.”
Supporting the vaccine
Rather than new mandates, public health officials have been emphasizing the importance of vaccines in fighting COVID-19.
“Want to go back to normal? Then get your vaccine,” Health Officer Billin wrote in a Facebook post last week. “Scientific studies show that they are effective for ALL known circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus.”
Between May 1 and Aug. 6, he said health officials logged 372 cases of COVID-19 in Park County. Of those, five cases (1.3%) involved people who fell ill with the disease for a second time while eight cases (2.2%) broke out among fully vaccinated people — including two hospitalizations and one death.
Given that roughly 10,900 local residents have received the immunizations, “this means that if you have been vaccinated in Park County, you have a 0.018% chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19 and a 0.009% chance of dying of COVID-19,” Billin said.
Overall, about 1.1% of the people known to be infected with COVID in Park County have died from the disease since the start of the pandemic, with 35 deaths among 3,080 probable and confirmed cases.
“You may draw your own conclusions — but these data speak to the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines nationwide, in Wyoming, and in Park County,” Billin said.
As of Monday, about 36.7% of the county’s overall population had been vaccinated, with roughly 45% of adults.
On Friday’s episode of Speak Your Piece, Commissioner Overfield said she was not surprised that most local residents have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Some people just don’t like vaccines and don’t like the idea this one is so new and was done so fast — and [the Food and Drug Administration] has not finally approved it yet,” she said on KODI. “I think there’s several factors out there. So we’re just gonna have to move forward with what we have.”
(Tessa Baker contributed reporting.)
New visitor guidelines at Powell Valley Healthcare
• Clinic patients will be allowed to have one person accompany them who is healthy (passes screening), and will wear a mask throughout the visit.
• Hospital patients will be limited to 1 visitor per day. Visiting hours will remain the same, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; however, visitors are not free to come and go continuously throughout the day.
• OB patients may have one support person present for the duration of their stay.
• ER and surgical patients may have one person accompany them.
• Long-term care and assisted living patients may continue to have visitors based on current guidelines; family members will be kept informed.
Guidelines at Cody Regional Health
• Patients may receive one visitor from 2-6 p.m. Administrators said they’ll return patient visitation in a limited format for non-COVID acute care unit patients and OB patients after COVID numbers decline.
• To preserve personal protective equipment, patients with respiratory-related issues are asked to only visit the Walk-in Clinic from 8-10 a.m. Monday through Friday and 9-11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. No appointment is needed at the clinic, located within the Cathcart Health Center at 424 Yellowstone Ave., and patients will not be turned away.
• Patients experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms — such as shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations or other more serious symptoms — should go to the closest ER or call 911.
• If there is a suspected case of COVID-19 and the person is not sick enough to be hospitalized, they will be sent home to self-isolate. Others in the home will also be asked to self-isolate.
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