While COVID-19-related hospitalizations have fallen across the state of Wyoming in recent days, that has not been the case in Park County. Last week, there were as many as 15 patients with COVID-19 …
While COVID-19-related hospitalizations have fallen across the state of Wyoming in recent days, that has not been the case in Park County. Last week, there were as many as 15 patients with COVID-19 being treated at the county’s two hospitals — a new local high for the pandemic.
As of Saturday, there were 14: six patients at Powell Valley Healthcare and eight at Cody Regional Health.
The number of hospitalized patients in Wyoming is “a battle that we’re really fighting now,” Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton said Friday.
“It’s wintertime, so we’ve got other disease going on, too. So there’s a lot of admissions going on for other things,” Crampton added. “So the burden is there.”
Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said a person died in the county in connection with COVID-19 last week. Although it will be some time before a death certificate is completed and confirmed by the Wyoming Department of Health, it would be the eighth death in Park County, among more than 1,700 confirmed and probable cases recorded since March. Most people who are infected recover at home.
There have been positive signs in recent weeks, with the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the state dropping from a high of 247 patients on Nov. 30 to 187 on Friday. Active cases across the state have also dropped and, over the weekend, Wyoming had the lowest rate of transmission in the country.
Billin shared some good local news on Sunday night as well: the percentage of Park County tests coming back positive for the novel coronavirus has dropped in recent days (from 9.2% to 6.5%) and recent testing of Powell and Cody’s sewage has also turned up fewer traces of the virus. Those declines indicate the virus is less prevalent.
However, Billin still counted 182 active lab-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in the county, including 80 Powell residents and 68 Cody residents. That was down from the 190 active cases reported on Dec. 5, but was still the second-highest number on record.
In the two weeks leading up to Park County’s Nov. 18 mask mandate, there had been an average of 25.3 new cases per day, according to state figures. The rolling average dropped below 14 daily cases on Nov. 28, but was back at 25.1 cases as of Monday.
Meanwhile, the first doses of vaccine are expected to arrive in Park County this week, after federal medical experts cleared Pfizer’s immunization for emergency use. State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist called the development “exciting,” noting that other vaccines are also on track for authorization.
“Knowing we have safe and effective vaccines arriving is like seeing light at the end of a tunnel,” she said. “We have an end in sight at this point, which was not true for many months during this pandemic.”
The state’s share of the initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccines is very limited, with 4,875 doses split into five packages. But one of those packages — containing 975 doses — is headed to Cody Regional Health. The other packages are going to public health departments in Casper and Cheyenne and to hospitals in Jackson and Gillette.
As part of the Department of Health’s distribution plan, healthcare workers will be given first priority for the vaccine, followed by the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions (who are most at-risk for serious complications from the virus), essential workers and then the general public.
The process will take months.
Billin indicated that the number of people willing to become vaccinated may determine how long the pandemic lasts.
“Because of the high attack rate and low case fatality rate of COVID-19, there will be a continuous lower level of transmission between waves until we significantly approach herd immunity with vaccination,” he said. “When this happens is largely up to the residents of Wyoming.”
A mid-October survey conducted by the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center found that 58% of respondents said they would definitely or probably take a vaccine for COVID-19.
In the meantime, new public health orders have been put in place to try slowing the spread of the disease.
Harrist has indicated that Park County will likely need to have significantly fewer new cases and get its test positivity rate below 5% before she will ease the local restrictions. On Friday, Harrist rejected a request to allow local bars and restaurants to stay open until midnight, instead of the current 10 p.m. closing time.
“Because the State Health Officer is not considering exception requests until Park County moves into a lower risk category,” Billin said he decided not to submit another request that would have allowed more spectators at Powell High School athletic events.
(Editor's note: The print version of this story incorrectly stated that a patient had been hospitalized from The Heartland assisted living facility. Director Karen Zaninovich Parker said one resident tested positive, but they were not hospitalized. The Heartland, she said, has been taking precautions throughout the pandemic and took further actions following the positive case —including testing other residents — to ensure the virus didn't spread. "Our whole goal is to keep it from getting out," Zaninovich Parker said.)