SWEETWATER COUNTY — Local health officials are concerned that many people are acting like COVID-19 is over, while the reality is that COVID cases continue to spread, especially in Sweetwater County.

Sweetwater County was leading the state of Wyoming with the highest rate of cases per capita as of Monday, June 7, when local health officials and community leaders hosted the monthly COVID-19 update meeting through Zoom.

Sweetwater County had 71 active cases as of Monday afternoon — second only to Laramie County with 77 cases. However, Laramie County’s larger population means the county still had “orange zone” moderate to high transmission levels with 150 cases per 100,000 people, as opposed to Sweetwater County’s “red zone” high transmission level of 302 cases per 100,000 people. The only other county still with high transmission levels on Monday was Campbell County, with 214 cases per 100,000 people.

Sweetwater County also had a 9.9% positivity rate as of Monday, compared to the average 2.4% positivity rate for the state of Wyoming on the whole.

Kim White, the incident commander and director of emergency services for Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, reported that the hospital has seen an increased number of COVID-19 patients lately. According to White, more COVID-positive patients have come through the ER recently, with as many as eight in one day, and more people have been coming to the hospital’s swabbing station for testing.

The hospital also had two COVID-related deaths recently, according to White, with one of the patients being under 50 years old.

“We hadn’t seen deaths in quite some time, so this was kind of shocking,” White said, noting the impact on hospital staff as well as family and friends and others involved with the patients who died.

White also spoke about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on many of those who have recovered from the disease — including herself. White shared how she contracted both COVID-19 and severe post-COVID pneumonia, and how it is still affecting her now. Not only does she need oxygen if she is doing anything other than sitting, but White said that she can tell having COVID has affected her cognitive ability, making it harder for her to keep up with classes she was taking, which is a problem she never had in the past.

White said that she doesn’t share her story much, but believes it’s important for people to understand that COVID-19 often has long-term effects that can be very frustrating, and there is “no rhyme or reason” to who it affects and how. White also noted that the University of Utah is starting a “long-haulers” COVID clinic, and there are already over 2,000 people on the waiting list.

During the meeting, County Health Officer Dr. Jean Stachon said she was “dismayed” that, despite the continuing high rates in our county, many people seem to think that COVID-19 is over. She also noted that “there is a misconception” that COVID is just like the normal flu, or otherwise not a serious threat. She believes these attitudes and ideas have led to a decrease in precautions like masking and distancing, as well as contributed to our county’s low rates of vaccination.

As of Monday, Sweetwater County was 26.63% vaccinated, with 11,301 people fully vaccinated. Dr. Stachon said that the county is “low on immunization uptick,” with less people getting vaccinated, even though the vaccine is readily available.

Dr. Stachon stressed that COVID is not over or gone, and is still a concern that needs to be addressed.

White agreed, noting that COVID is “definitely not going away,” and even though the county’s numbers are not as high as they have been, “we’re not out of the woods yet.”

According to Dr. Stachon, the best way to address COVID-19 is through greater immunization. She stressed that the COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective.

Public Health Director Kim Lionberger confirmed that while some people have contracted COVID-19 after being vaccinated, it is usually in between their first and second doses, not after they’ve reached the full immunity level.

Lionberger and Stachon also confirmed that the risk of serious complications or hospitalization from COVID-19 is much lower after being vaccinated, and there have been few to no cases in Sweetwater County where someone who was vaccinated became seriously ill.

COVID-19 is “not over,” Dr. Stachon reiterated, asking people to “please be responsible, careful, and reconsider immunization if you haven’t so far.”

For those who can’t or won’t get vaccinated, Dr. Stachon asks that they take COVID-19 seriously and be careful.

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