SWEETWATER COUNTY — With ongoing high COVID-19 transmission rates and new variants of the coronavirus confirmed in Sweetwater County, local public health officials are hoping individuals will continue to get vaccinated so the community can keep moving toward an effective level of herd immunity.
During the bimonthly update on COVID-19 for local health officials and community leaders, Sweetwater County Health Officer Jean Stachon provided an update on Sweetwater County’s current cases. Although the positivity rate was down to 5.7% and the Wyoming Department of Health reported only 43 active cases as of Monday, Sweetwater County continued to be in the “red zone” with high transmission levels. Sweetwater, Fremont, Lincoln and Teton counties were the only ones in Wyoming listed in the “red zone” for high transmission rates.
Dr. Stachon also reported that Sweetwater County is one of 12 counties in Wyoming to have confirmed variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. So far, Sweetwater County has had confirmed cases of the B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants, which are classified as “variants of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Stachon explained that the symptoms caused by the variants are virtually the same as those caused by the original virus, and the only way to know it is a variant is through specific forms of testing. However, the variants can increase transmissibility by about 20%, making them easier to spread. Variants can also be harder to treat, according to Stachon.
The hope is that people in Sweetwater County will continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Stachon said.
Public Health Director Kim Lionberger estimated that Public Health has distributed about 9,500 doses of the vaccine so far, with about 6,000 people having received both their first and second doses. During the meeting, officials estimated that Sweetwater County is currently at about 35% herd immunity.
Sweetwater County could hit effective levels of herd immunity (around 75%) by late spring or early summer, Dr. Stachon estimated — if people continue to get vaccinated. Lionberger agreed, but said that with the recent decrease in demand for the vaccine locally, she’s not sure if enough people will be vaccinated in order to hit that goal.
Although demand has gone down, the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be available to any adult in Sweetwater County who wants to receive it — with Pfizer vaccine doses available to those 16 and up and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses available to anyone over 18.
Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County will be holding a drive-thru vaccine clinic with Moderna doses on April 9 and 10, with no appointment necessary. Public Health is also continuing to schedule appointments and host smaller clinics to administer the vaccine.
Dr. Stachon encouraged anyone who is hesitant or has questions about the vaccine to talk to their health care provider or another local health care official.
As much as people want to believe that COVID-19 is no longer a problem, it still is, Dr. Stachon said. She encouraged people to not only get the vaccine, but to continue practicing precautions like masking and distancing, in order to continue to protect our community against the virus.