Virus spurs worker’s comp claims

CASPER —A total of 192 cases of coronavirus have been found among Casper city workers since March 2020. More than half of those have come since July of this year. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 43 city employees have filed worker’s compensation claims related to COVID-19, amounting to around $138,000 paid or reserved. Those payments come from a state fund, not the city’s budget, but the claims will affect the worker’s comp premiums Casper must pay to the state for the next three years. 

As of last week, just over 700 people work for the city both full and part-time. Along with the rest of the state, cases of COVID among city workers surged last winter before subsiding in the spring, when there were no new cases reported for nearly two months. 

Between mid-February and the end of July, just five total cases were found among city employees. 

Cases then began to rise again, mirroring a spike around Wyoming as the delta variant took hold among communities with relatively low vaccination rates. 

Since the last week of July, there have been 101 new cases found among city workers, resulting in 56 other employees having to quarantine due to close contact. 

Two members of Casper City Council, Kyle Gamroth and Lisa Engebretsen, also reported coming down with coronavirus in July. Both confirmed they were unvaccinated when they contracted the disease. 

The most cases found in one week came during the first week of September, which saw 16 new cases reported. The previous high for any week before that was in October 2020, when 14 employees tested positive for the virus. No new cases have been reported among Casper employees since the last week of November. 

The city implemented a voluntary vaccine incentive program at the beginning of October, offering $250 to employees who prove full vaccination by the end of the year. As of Dec. 2, 310 employees had cashed in on the program and more than $83,000 had been paid in incentives. 

From the 43 worker’s compensation claims made by city employees affected by COVID, $32,825 has been paid out so far. Another $105,550 has been reserved for future payments. Of the money paid so far, most has gone to employees who made claims based on temporary total disability, meaning they likely contracted COVID at work and it made it impossible for them to do their job for a period of time.

City Manager Carter Napier previously told the Star-Tribune that most of those claims arise from employees who have been hospitalized with serious cases of coronavirus. 

When introducing a voluntary vaccine incentive program in late September, the city reported there had been 28 medical or temporary disability claims made by Casper employees, amounting to $281,720 either paid or reserved. 

Casper Parks Director Zulima Lopez, the city’s former risk manager, said that number has since gone down because a handful of the largest and most serious claims overestimated the money needed for treatment. 

Some of the anticipated costs placed on reserve may have also been covered by personal insurance, Lopez said, further reducing that component.