Coronavirus pandemic saw ups and downs throughout the last year
January 6, 2022
While many people hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would improve throughout 2021 and life would get back to normal, the fight against the novel coronavirus and its variants continued throughout the year, with an ongoing back-and-forth of progress and setbacks.
In the past year, the Wyoming Department of Health reported almost 54,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and over 1,100 related deaths.
The first COVID-19 vaccine doses in Wyoming were administered in Dec. 2020. By the beginning of 2021, vaccines had begun to be distributed throughout the state and in Sweetwater County. Vaccines were initially distributed based on priority groups that detailed who was eligible to receive the vaccine.
In March, the Sweetwater County District Board of Health made vaccines available to all residents in Sweetwater County, a month before vaccines became all adults became eligible for vaccination nationally.
Vaccine clinics were held in Sweetwater County throughout the year, and the vaccine was distributed by Public Health, Castle Rock Medical Center and Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County before also being distributed by local pharmacies. Other local organizations and schools hosted vaccine clinics through the year, including Western Wyoming Community College.
At the beginning of the year, COVID-19 case numbers and infection rates were down. Although variants of the virus had begun to spread, the county’s infection rate was declining, recorded at a 7.6% positivity rate in January, putting the county in a moderate “yellow zone” for infection risk.
Statewide public health orders put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 began to be relaxed in March, when the statewide mask requirement was removed and bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms were allowed to operate normally. The last phase of public health orders expired at the end of May, removing gathering limits and mask mandates in schools.
“We are making these changes now because we are confident in the effectiveness of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist, said in a press release in May.
While some community events, such as Flaming Gorge Days, were again canceled or postponed due to the pandemic, many other events were held again, often without restrictions or masks.
Over the summer, COVID-19 cases in Wyoming began to rise. In June, the positivity rate in Sweetwater County had risen to 9.9%, and in August the number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming grew to more than 1,000 for the first time since early February.
“I think the impression in our county is that it’s all gone away, but it hasn’t,” Sweetwater County Health Officer Dr. Jean Stachon said during an update meeting in August.
Despite the increase in cases, COVID-19 precautions were not put back in place when students returned to school in the fall. Both Sweetwater County School Districts released statements at the end of July saying in the new school year “the option to utilize masks or other face coverings will be left to the discretion of families and employees.” Governor Mark Gordon announced Aug. 4 he would not implement a state-wide mask mandate for schools.
Cases continued to rise in the fall, when long lines formed at the Sweetwater Memorial drive-thru swab station and the Delta variant began to spread through the county. In September, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County suspended elective surgeries and opened a second COVID-19 unit in response to the increased number of patients seeking treatment.
“We are at crisis level,” Kim White, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County’s emergency services director, said in September.
In November, Sweetwater Memorial reported facing challenges of not being able to transfer patients to other hospitals, along with dealing with a nursing shortage and staff facing burnout.
Throughout the year, COVID-19 remained a topic of debate and dissension throughout Wyoming and Sweetwater County. Protests were held against COVID-related issues, from the January protest in front of the Wyoming State Capitol calling to “stop the tyranny” of health orders to local protests against vaccinations in Green River and Rock Springs in December. The effectiveness of Ivermectin as a treatment became a topic of discussion in September. In November, Sweetwater County School District No. 2 became one of six school districts included in a lawsuit aiming to overturn health orders related to COVID-19.
Going into 2022, COVID-19 remains a threat throughout Wyoming, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates of any state. The number of cases and deaths increased throughout 2021 more than it did in 2020, and the number of cases in the state currently remains similar to what it was a year ago.
The week of Jan. 6, 2021, there had been 38,954 lab-confirmed cases, 6,615 probable cases and 464 deaths since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wyoming. At that point there were 1,542 active cases in the state.
As of Jan. 4, 2022, there have been 92,929 laboratory-confirmed cases, 24,460 probable cases and 1,572 COVID-19 related deaths, and there were 1,509 active cases in the state Tuesday.
Among the COVID-related deaths, 110 have been Sweetwater County residents.