CHEYENNE – COVID-19 case numbers in Laramie County are troubling, as they mirror the spread seen last October ahead of the worst peak in November and December, according to Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Director Kathy Emmons.
What’s more troubling is these numbers are paired with a significant presence of the Delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spreads faster and is less treatable.
More than half the state’s COVID-19 cases in the last week stem from Laramie County – which accounted for 226 of the state’s 398 cases. The county with the next highest number of cases was Sweetwater County with 39, Emmons said, which exemplifies how fast the virus is spreading locally.
About a month ago, Laramie County had 77 active cases of COVID-19.
“Yesterday, we had 26 people in the hospital. … Our numbers are going up, our hospitalizations are going up, and our vaccinations are stagnant. They’re all connected, and as we continue to see more cases, we’re going to see more hospitalizations, and we’re going to continue to see more deaths,” Emmons said.
“And what’s really amazing is that we know that there is a measure that can be taken to avoid this – vaccination.”
But as vaccine hesitancy and hyper-politicization of the vaccine continues, the effects are real in Laramie County. Already, the ICU at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center is pushing its capacity, with about 25% of the beds being occupied by COVID-19 patients. Out of the 110 beds in the ICU and the patient tower, 107 are full, according to CRMC spokeswoman Kathy Baker.
Six residents are on ventilators in the ICU right now.
Despite these numbers and warnings from public health officials and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, just 32.4% of Laramie County residents were fully vaccinated as of June 28. Nationwide, the percentage of vaccinated residents is almost double that amount.
Even former President Donald Trump voiced his approval for the vaccine, having received it in January.
“I would recommend it,” Trump said during an interview on Fox News with Maria Bartiromo in March. “And I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But, again, we have our freedoms, and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also. But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine, and it is something that works.”
The lack of vaccinations has larger implications for Cheyenne’s largest event, coming up in just a few weeks. Emmons said the best way to protect local residents and out-of-town visitors during Cheyenne Frontier Days is by getting vaccinated.
“The Frontier Days committee has gone above and beyond to try to do the right thing,” Emmons said of CFD’s COVID-19 precautions. “But the reality is, they can work their hardest to do the right thing, but if our citizens don’t, it doesn’t really matter what steps they take.”
Those precautions include moving to digital ticketing, limiting cash transactions and increasing sanitation throughout the event, as well as offering vaccines to volunteers and encouraging them to get a shot before the event.
Additionally, CFD will offer rapid COVID-19 testing at Frontier Park during the event and will ensure that anyone who tests positive can quarantine safely.
“Our success as an event is important to the greater world of rodeo and country and western entertainment. This is our chance to be sure we deliver a Cheyenne Frontier Days event better, stronger and healthier to volunteers 100 years from now,” CFD Marketing Officer Nicole Gamst said in a statement to the Tribune Eagle.
Each vaccine that is available in the U.S. provides a decent level of protection two weeks after just one dose, which leaves some time for residents to get the shot ahead of CFD. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines all have been proven to provide protection from COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant.
According to pharmacist Stevie Sy, the Delta variant is between 40% and 60% more transmissible than other COVID-19 strains. It started popping up in April, and since then, Delta variant cases “have really exploded.” It is well on its way to becoming the most dominant strain in the U.S.
“That likely means it takes less virus for a person to pass it, which means we could see higher rates of asymptomatic transmission,” Sy said during an AARP Wyoming webinar Wednesday.
One of the largest contributors to large Delta variant outbreaks, Sy said, is the lack of vaccinations. Even for those who are vaccinated, Sy recommended wearing masks and taking other precautions in areas of high transmission due to the severity of the Delta variant.
“If you’re in an area with a high number of COVID-19 cases, which for Wyoming would likely include Laramie County, you should consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings, as well as indoor settings, and for activities where you’re going to have close contact with people who are not fully vaccinated,” Sy said.