After two weeks in school, the Campbell County School District has 8,711 students enrolled — fewer than initially thought but still an increase from last year.
Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer had said on the first day of school that it would take about 10 days or so for last-minute enrollees to be registered, and more importantly, to find out the students who had enrolled in other school districts before an accurate picture of the district’s student body could be seen.
The new figure represents a decrease of 54 students who’d been dropped from the district rolls since the first day, which is a 3.6% increase from the total of enrolled students at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
On the first day of school, the district reported a total of 8,765 students. Students were still enrolling throughout this time period, Eisenhauer said. At the secondary level, 15 students were dropped from the rolls, but four were added during that time.
“It looks like things are relatively stable as far as enrollment goes,” Eisenhauer said. “It’s good to see, anytime something is stable. Obviously we’d like to be increasing, but to be stable allows us to plan better and make decisions without the worry of unexpected changes.”
The district, like the rest of Wyoming and the country as a whole, has to deal with the continued challenges of COVID-19. For the first two weeks, Eisenhauer said the district’s number of students who had tested positive has been less than 1%.
At this point, the district wasn’t prepared to go into more detail on COVID-19, but 1% of the student population, based on the new enrollment numbers, would be around 87 students.
Last year, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in students accounted for far fewer absences than did the quarantine measures for close contacts to those found to have tested positive.
In November, when the district had just 42 students, or about half of 1% of the student population, absent due to positive COVID-19 tests, it had 383 students out due to quarantine requirements.
The district does not have a mask mandate for students and staff this year, which it credited for lower quarantine rates last year, due to what it called its “two-mask rule.” But administrators hope that widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines for those 12 and older will help reduce absences.
Eisenhauer did not number the students who were missing due to quarantine at this point in the school year. He did not offer information about the number of teachers, if any, who’d been tested positive or were missing due to quarantine requirements at this point.
“We’ve had a successful start to the school year,” he said. “All classes continue to be taught in person and no activities have been interrupted.”
He acknowledged that the process is fluid and ever-changing.
“We will continue to operate under our current plan while monitoring the impact of the virus in our schools and community,” he said.
The Campbell County Recreation Center is dealing with a serious shortage of lifeguards, and if things get any worse, it might have to start limiting hours that people can swim.
And that would be on top of cutting open swim sessions during weekday afternoons — cuts made for budgetary reasons.
Kay Friedlan, aquatics manager for the Rec Center, said she’s running at less than 50% of where she’d like to be this time of year.
The Rec Center normally has 33 lifeguards throughout the school year.
Right now it has 16, and only six of them can work at any time. The other 10 lifeguards have limited hours due to their school schedules.
Most of the lifeguards are high school or college age. People have been leaving to work other jobs or because they have too much going on at school, Friedlan said.
Friedlan has worked at the Rec Center for 20 years, and assistant aquatics manager Michaela Cina has worked there for 12. This current staffing situation is the worst they’ve ever seen, they said.
They’ve reached out to the college and the high schools, but they haven’t had much luck. Since May, only four new lifeguards have been hired.
“To add four people in a five-month period is not very good,” Cina said.
Friedlan said she has seven lifeguards for evening open swim, but she really needs eight.
“We only have six that can work any time, and we need seven to work Monday through Thursday,” Cina said.
And on the weekends, when there’ll be 100 to 120 people at the leisure pool, they have 11 lifeguards with one supervisor.
The Rec Center also staffs the City Pool, which just finished the summer season a few weeks ago.
“That was rough, too, this summer. We barely made it,” Friedlan said. “The kids had to work a lot of hours, (they had) less days off, but they did a good job.”
Recreation Superintendent Adam Gibson said it is an issue of public safety more than anything.
“We have to keep the pool safe,” Gibson said. “We’re not willing to say, ‘We’re going to throw one guard out there and open it to everybody.’”
If they lose any more lifeguards, they will have to start limiting hours that people can swim.
“We’ve talked about maybe shutting down the lap pool at night,” Gibson said.
“It takes two guards to staff the lap side,” Cina said. “If we pull them to the other side, there’ll be more availability for people to use what’s most busy.”
They also might have to limit swim lessons. Some lifeguards also teach swim lessons, but they can’t do both at once, Cina said.
The lifeguard shortage has nothing to do with the Rec Center no longer offering open swim during the afternoon, Gibson said. That was cut during the budgeting process this year.
According to AmericanPool.com, there are a few reasons for the national shortage. Lack of in-person training due to the pandemic has kept many interested people from signing up for certification, and some lifeguards who had to re-up their certification weren’t able to get re-certified.
Many pools have lifeguards who come over from other countries, but that’s been hit because international travel has been heavily restricted.
And some families who postponed their vacations in 2020 are trying to fit two years’ worth of vacations into one summer. That has led to lifeguards having less availability to work.
Other communities in Wyoming are facing lifeguard shortages, Gibson said, including Laramie, whose Rec Center’s pool hours are day-to-day due to “severe staffing shortages.”
In Gillette, things weren’t shut down as long as in other parts of the country, so the lack of training was not that big of an issue.
The biggest hurdle Cina and Friedlan are running into is the certification process. Lifeguards must be certified before they start working. To become certified, they must take a 33-hour course, but before they can take that, they must pass a pre-course.
At this point, the Rec Center is willing to waive the $140 course fee for potential lifeguards if it ends up hiring them.
Unfortunately, many people who are interested aren’t qualified, Cina said.
“The other struggle we’re running up against is, people want to be a lifeguard, but they can’t swim,” she said.
She estimated that 75% of people who want to take the lifeguard certification course don’t even know how to swim.
“We have to put more work into teaching them how to swim, or getting them to at least pass the pre-course so they can take the lifeguarding class,” she said.
Friedlan added that it’s hard to compete with other jobs that are offering much higher wages. While it might be in line with what lifeguards at other pools and rec centers across the state get paid, it’s below what one can make working at a fast food place or a grocery store, Friedlan said, and no certification is required for those jobs.
Gibson said some of the pool’s regulars are starting to notice the shortage, but most people are unaware of the situation.
Friedlan said that if nothing improves, “we’re going to have limited hours, and that’s hard, because people have always come whenever they wanted.”
In the 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic first gained steam in the United States, the frontline tools used in the fight against the disease have come a long way.
In Campbell County, one of the most recent, and perhaps significant, treatments for COVID-19 is Regeneron, a monoclonal antibody treatment that has been effective in helping patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms and is now offered by Campbell County Health.
“Now the most recent data on this medication, this infusion, looks so good that we are really out there trying to bang the pots in the street, saying, ‘Hey, come on in and do this,’ said Dr. Robert Neuwirth, who specializes in internal medicine and nephrology.
The Regeneron treatment is essentially a combination of two antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab, which have been found to be effective in fighting the virus and reducing the severity of symptoms. It comes as a 30-minute intravenous infusion, where the antibodies are introduced to the body as reinforcements in the immune system’s response against the virus.
For months, the Emergency Department has offered the treatment to patients deemed good candidates for it, but it is now available in the hospital’s Complex and Internal Medicine Clinic.
The treatment is not recommended for all COVID-19 patients, but those who do qualify have seen promising results, Neuwirth said.
“The people who are best for this are people who have the disease, who have tested positive, and are at high risk to have progression towards hospitalization or death,” Neuwirth said. “What we’re trying to do is prevent hospitalization and prevent death.”
Those with high risk conditions, such as obesity, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension and other comorbidities, if positive for COVID-19, would qualify for the treatment.
It is also recommended for some people who have suppressed immune responses, whether it be from chemotherapy or other conditions, who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are in danger of contracting the virus.
During the height of the COVID-19 surge last fall and winter, CCH began giving patients convalescent plasma transfusions in effort to fight the disease. As a testament to the ever-evolving nature of medicine, just a year later, those transfusions are generally no longer believed to be effective.
But they did pave the way for the Regeneron antibody cocktail. The convalescent plasma transfusions used blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 donors, with the idea that the antibodies created in those donors would boost the immune systems of the recipients.
While that strategy worked in some cases, it was initially unclear why some plasma worked better than others.
Neuwirth said that some plasma was “exquisitely sensitive and killed the virus and kept it from happening.”
But other times the plasma treatments didn’t work as well.
Researchers have since identified that those two specific antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab, were common in the effective donor plasma. Those antibodies were cloned, mass-produced, combined and voila, Regeneron treatments were born.
“The Regeneron drug is the combination of these two very, very specific monoclonal antibodies,” Neuwirth said. “This is the promise that that convalescent plasma infusion had, this is it coming true. We’re not using plasma from people, we’re using these now cloned monoclonal antibodies that are the most specific and that glom onto the virus and get rid of it.”
The Complex and Internal Medicine Clinic began offering the treatments on Aug. 23 and as of Friday, have done 35 infusions.
Although the treatment is proving to be effective in COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms, it is not recommended for those with severe symptoms who have been hospitalized, Neuwirth said.
It also is not a replacement for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve had people calling, misunderstanding this stuff. They want it because they don’t want to get COVID,” Neuwirth said. “Instead of a vaccine, they want to get this, which will work for a very short period of time. If we infuse this stuff into you, then you’ve got these very high levels of this antibody that are circulating in your system and should prevent COVID infection but they taper off very quickly.”
While it does theoretically offer a level of protection from infection, it is on a short-term basis.
“It’s not the kind of thing you can come in every few days to get an infusion,” he said. “We really want to reserve this for the people in whom it’s going to do some good.”
For those who are hospitalized with severe symptoms, Neuwirth said that CCH has begun using Xeljanz, which in limited research, has shown “quite remarkable improvement in outcome for patients with severe COVID who are treated with this stuff. It decreased mortality and it decreased requirement to get on a ventilator by 30 to 50%.”
As the treatments for COVID-19 have changed, so has the virus and disease itself. While it is fundamentally similar, it is also somewhat of a moving target as new variants emerge.
“With the delta variant, which is what we’re seeing all over the country and this region, we’re seeing a little bit of a difference in how people present (symptoms),” Neuwirth said. “First of all, it seems to be slower, so we’re not seeing as many people who are desperately ill right away, as soon as they come in.”
In addition to the slower display of symptoms, gastrointestinal issues have popped up as a precursor to some of the more expected respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19 in some patients, Neuwirth said.
“That’s different,” he said. “We weren’t seeing that almost at all with the original COVID virus. And it seems to me that they are sicker longer.”
Although treatments are evolving, that does not mean that all experimental treatments are worth entertaining.
“Please, do not go out and get dewormer for the horse or take hydroxychloroquine. There is no data at all to support use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine,” Neuwirth said. “It simply doesn’t exist. It’s internet rumor and it’s not better than (a vaccine), it doesn’t prevent anything and it’s not a treatment and it’s not something that we should be doing.”
As far along as the treatments for COVID-19 have come, the approved vaccines remain the best preventative method.
“Everybody should be vaccinated, no questions about that,” Neuwirth said.
“I think that I among all of the professionals, not only here but around the country … we every day are seeing patients who are coming in ill who have not been vaccinated,” Neuwirth said. “In fact, almost all of the very sick patients that we’ve seen have not been vaccinated. The disease in people who have been vaccinated is typically much milder.”
Neuwirth said the Regeneron medication itself is provided for free, from the pharmaceutical manufacturer to the federal government on down to the hospitals. For patients, there is no charge for the medication itself, but there is a fee for the hospital space and nurse’s time during the infusion.