More than a year after COVID-19 entered the public lexicon, Campbell County is returning to the long sought and oft-mentioned “normalcy” missing from so much of the past year and change.
Summer traditions suspended in 2020 are returning, travel is picking up and the sight of face masks is becoming less and less common.
But with lagging vaccination rates and a rise in new cases over the past month, the question remains about where Campbell County falls into the post-pandemic landscape.
“My message is just that COVID is still here and just for people to be careful and protect themselves the best they can,” said Misty Robertson, Campbell County Health’s chief nursing officer. “It hasn’t gone away. It’s still here, as tired as we are of the whole thing.”
One primary form of protection against COVID-19 is the vaccine, which is now widely available to those age 12 and older. But Campbell County and Wyoming at large has lagged behind other counties and states in vaccination rates.
Through June 1, Campbell County stands as the least vaccinated county in one of the least vaccinated states. About 16% of Campbell County’s population is fully vaccinated, the lowest rate in the state, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
The state vaccination rate was about 29% as of June 1, with Teton County leading the way with about 54% of its county fully immunized.
With about 37% of the state having received at least one shot, Wyoming is among the least vaccinated states in the country, according to data from the Mayo Clinic.
And as Campbell County has distinguished itself near the bottom of the pack for vaccinations, it also is seeing an increase in new cases over the past few weeks. Following months of low, single-digit daily new cases, Campbell County saw a rise in new cases and hospitalizations last month.
“When we were seeing the high vaccination rates in March and April, we were also seeing the lower incidence of infection,” said Jane Glaser, Campbell County Public Health executive director. “Now I’m hoping with the higher incidence again, if we start getting a higher rate of vaccination again, maybe our rate of positivity will go down again.”
Through February, March and April, Campbell County added 159 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and averaged about 1.79 new cases per day. From May 1 through June 1, the county added 195 new cases for an average of more than six new cases a day.
There were seven COVID-19 hospitalizations at Campbell County Memorial Hospital to begin June, the most since late January when the county was on a decline from the worst of its most severe COVID-19 wave. As of Thursday, Robertson said that number had dropped to four COVID-19 inpatients.
“We do monitor the positivity rates in the community,” Robertson said. “We’re by no means overwhelmed, we’re just monitoring the positivity rates in the community and then the number of people hospitalized.”
The uptick in new cases also is reflected through active case counts above and hovering around 50 cases since mid-May, a number of active cases Campbell County hadn’t seen since early February.
The rise in cases beginning in May also shows through Campbell County’s 14-day rolling positivity rate, which rose above 8% as of June 3. Until mid-May, that mark hadn’t been higher than 5% since the end of January, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Meanwhile, the increase in cases coincide with a decrease in demand for the COVID-19 vaccine. While that may not prove causation, Glaser said the correlation between the two has been noted.
“We do know that vaccine is helping to prevent cases and I don’t have any statistics that say that higher incidence and lower vaccine rate at the moment go hand-in-hand, but that is happening at the moment,” Glaser said. “We have dropped off. Our vaccination rate has declined and our positivity rate has increased again.”
‘Sick and tired’
The upcoming months of the pandemic, and a summer relatively free of COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, may be more of a result of exasperation than relaxation.
“I don’t know that people are relaxed,” Robertson said. “I think people are just sick and tired of the situation and they want to be free and return to the normal things that they do, and I think COVID is just going to be with us and we have to learn to live with it like we would with influenza.”
That means people taking precautions to protect themselves and others like they do with the flu.
The Wyoming Department of Health announced its expected transition away from and phasing out of state public health orders earlier in May. As of June 1, the orders in Wyoming have expired.
Going forward, instead of implementing public health orders, Robertson said the emphasis appears to be shifting to increasing vaccinations rather than adding precautions.
“I would hope that we’re not (continuing to increase cases), but we do have a lower vaccinated rate than most of the country,” Robertson said. “We could continue to have patients that need us.”
Public Health continues to offer COVID-19 vaccine appointments to the public at its main office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. It is now offering both Pfizer and Moderna shots, with those in the community 12 and older eligible for doses of Pfizer.
While Glaser said it remains unclear whether cases will continue to increase, plateau or begin to descend as the summer months approach, it is important to continue to take on the personal responsibility of staying home when sick and using the common sense precautions many people learned since the pandemic began.
“I think that people are being responsible. I don’t think people are acting as if it doesn’t exist,” Glaser said. “I just want people to be aware that the disease is still here and it’s important to continue to protect yourself, your family and your community from exposure and contracting the disease.”