CHEYENNE — Laramie County — and Wyoming as a whole — have recently seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, which may be attributable to the highly transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of the omicron variant.
These sub-variants have been described by health organizations as the most contagious strains of the virus so far.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated BA.4 and BA.5 accounted for about 16% and 65%, respectively, of coronavirus variants spreading in the U.S.
“There is no evidence currently available to suggest that BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe disease than other variants or omicron lineages,” the CDC noted.
On Tuesday, Laramie County led the state in lab-confirmed active cases with 67, barely surpassing much smaller Teton County’s 66 cases. Fremont County had 61, Natrona County had 54 and Campbell County had 49.
This is according to data from the Wyoming Department of Health.
The seven-day average number of confirmed cases in the state has been creeping upward since May. Hospitalizations have also been rising since mid-May, with 42 people across the state hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday.
Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and Casper’s Wyoming Medical Center each had 11 patients. The next highest was St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson with five patients.
Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne/Laramie County Health Department, said in an interview Tuesday that those hospitalized in Cheyenne are a range of ages, including a couple of very young babies.
Still, case numbers and hospitalizations aren’t anywhere close to where they were in October 2021, when ICUs in the state were full, or in late January 2022.
Dr. Stan Hartman, the county health officer, said in an interview that people in Laramie County need to “be aware,” and if they aren’t feeling well, take a COVID-19 test. Rapid at-home tests are widely available at pharmacies, often cost around $10 each and are covered by some insurance.
Emmons “highly” recommends people wear masks in large crowds – including at Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, which begins this Friday and ends Sunday, July 31.
The county is at a “medium” community risk level.
This means the CDC recommends that people stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, get tested if they have symptoms and, if they are “at high risk for severe illness, talk to (a) health care provider about whether (they) need to wear a mask and take other precautions.”
In mid-March, Gov. Mark Gordon rescinded a health emergency declaration.
“Wyoming has done a wonderful job in persevering through the pandemic,” he said then. “The emergency is over, but people’s responsibility to one another is not.”
A statewide mask mandate was dropped in March 2021.
Getting vaccinated remains a good way to help reduce the risk of getting the illness, health officials said.
Hartman encouraged anyone who hasn’t already received a full vaccine series and a booster to do so.
A newer vaccine, Novavax, was approved for adult use Tuesday by a CDC panel. The two-dose vaccine is different than those produced by Pfizer or Moderna.
Novavax uses a spike protein – used in human papillomavirus and hepatitis B vaccines – to protect against the virus, while the others use mRNA to generate an immune response.
Hartman emphasized that misinformation about mRNA, including that it changes an individuals’ DNA, is “total nonsense.”
Still, some unvaccinated individuals may feel more comfortable getting Novavax because it doesn’t use mRNA, the county health officer said.
State health department data says 46.5% of Wyomingites were fully vaccinated as of July 4. This is compared to 67.1% of people in the U.S. who were fully vaccinated as of July 13, according to CDC data.
Hartman advised that people who test positive with a rapid test do not need to confirm it with a PCR test – one that is administered by a pharmacy or other health organization, where results may take days.
“If you’re that conscientious” to take a rapid test when you aren’t feeling well, “we trust you to do the right thing,” the doctor said, which means quarantining for the CDC-recommended five days following symptom onset, and masking around others for another five days.
Initial out-of-pocket costs for PCR tests can also be much higher.
When asked if undercounting cases was a concern because of a reliance on rapid tests, Hartman replied: “We’d be undercounting even if they did report them, because a lot of people are getting (the virus) and not even getting tested at all. We have no idea for sure how many cases there are out there.”
Many thousands of visitors are expected to visit Cheyenne and Laramie County within the next two weeks for CFD.
The county saw a rise in confirmed cases beginning at the tail end of July 2021, coinciding with the last days of that year’s rodeo.
Emmons said the health department tracked case numbers following CFD last year, and there wasn’t a “statistically significant increase due to the increased size of the population.”
Because of this pandemic, the event’s organizers canceled the rodeo in summer 2020 for the first time since its beginning in 1897.
As for within the county during and directly after CFD, Hartman said, “there’s going to be transmission, but we’re just going to have to keep an eye on it, do what we can.”
This story was posted on July 20, 2022.