Gordon, Harrist update Wyoming on pandemic

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist speaks during a media briefing Wednesday, Oct. 21, inside the Capitol in downtown Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) submitted its initial plan for administering a COVID-19 vaccine to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to an Oct. 21 press release from the governor’s office.
While the timing of the vaccine’s availability remains unknown at this time, the WDH is working to be ready as soon as one becomes available, the release said. The draft plan utilizes much of the vaccine ordering, distribution, administration and reporting infrastructure already in use by the WDH and is expected to change over time and be continually updated as the state learns more details about the vaccine and the pandemic’s progression.
The current plan includes a three-phased approach to distributing the vaccine. According to the plan, phases 1a and 1b are based on a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses and will include distribution first to healthcare personnel. Phase 2 is based on a greater supply and will prioritize critical populations that may include “additional critical workers, people with underlying conditions, those in congregate settings, and people with limited access to vaccination services” and later will be provided to “all people recommended to receive the vaccine. During phase 3, which is based on a “likely sufficient supply, slower demand,” vaccines will be available to all who are recommended to be vaccinated.
Groups may change depending on federal guidance and specific vaccine details, according to the plan. The entire tentative plan is available at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/immunization/wyoming-covid-19-vaccine-information/.
According to the release, Governor Mark Gordon said Wyoming will not recommend and distribute a vaccine without being assured of its safety.
Gordon also gave a press conference on Oct. 21 during which he said the increased amount of COVID-19 cases in the state is no longer a curve but a “straight line headed upwards.” As of press time Tuesday, there are 3,448 active cases statewide and 9,396 total positive cases. Niobrara County currently has four active cases, seven total, according to WDH.
At the Oct. 21 press conference, State Health Officer, Dr. Alexia Harrist said the small number of cases throughout Wyoming schools demonstrates the effectiveness of face coverings, which are required at every district.
Seven additional residents died from COVID-19 this month, bringing the total to 68 statewide, according to the WDH.
Tim Thornell, CEO of Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, spoke at the press conference about the situation at his hospital. As of Oct. 21, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center had 16 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus and three patients in the Intensive Care Unit, two of whom are on a ventilator.
“To give you some perspective, back in March, April, May, when Covid really first came to our community, the most we ever had in our hospital was 10,” Thornell said. “So today we see over a 50% increase in hospitalizations, in our hospital.”
Currently, the hospital still has an adequate amount of space, supplies and staff.
“But our staff are also members of our community and as our community sees an increase in COVID-19, our staff are equally exposed to that,” Thornell said.
Harrist said the WDH continues to recommend maintaining at least six feet of social distancing from others and wearing a face covering when distancing isn’t possible, frequent handwashing and staying home when sick. She also asked that individuals cooperate with contact tracers if they are contacted about a case.
“Our current Covid situation is extremely concerning, but I do not think that it’s too late to improve the situation,” she said.
In response to a question about pressure to implement a statewide mask mandate, Gordon said he is deferring to the counties, whose officials can submit variances requesting either more restrictive or less restrictive health guidelines.
“I will say that I’m not an attorney, I am a governor and as a governor, I feel it’s important to listen to the people,” he said. “We try to be responsive and we really want to support the local communities.”
During the press conference, Gordon pulled a copy of the Wyoming State Constitution from his jacket, saying he “lives by” both the state’s constitution and the United States Constitution.
“I respect every aspect of the Constitution of the United States, which is why I have such a strong belief in our ability as Wyoming citizens to make a difference in the spread of this Covid,” Gordon said. “I will say that when we act irresponsibly, we put our liberties, we put our economy and we put our government in jeopardy. This is something that every Wyoming citizen should take seriously.”
“If you’re a patriot, if you love this country, you will recognize this as an hour of need for our country and as citizens, we must all come together to fight this terrible, terrible disease. And we can do that without compromising our liberty.”

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