Cases continue to fall as U.S. marks half a million coronavirus deaths

Evanston resident Bill Orvosh makes a V with his hand — perhaps encouraging community members to “live long and prosper,” by getting vaccinated — as he prepares to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last month during a vaccination clinic held at the Evanston bus barn. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — There was both good and bad news this week related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bad news was that the U.S. officially surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 fatalities on Monday, Feb. 22 — more than the number of American fatalities from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam Conflict combined. The good news was that the numbers of cases and hospitalizations are declining around the country, including in Wyoming and Uinta County.

During a weekly COVID update on Monday, Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said the county was down to 49 active cases and had had only 38 new cases confirmed over the past two weeks. The number of new confirmed cases has not been that low since late summer and early fall of last year, she said. There were no hospitalizations of Uinta County residents that Proffit’s office was aware of and Cheri Willard, Evanston Regional Hospital CEO, confirmed there were no COVID patients hospitalized at ERH. However, Willard said there had been three individuals who had sought care in the emergency room over the past week who presented with symptoms atypical of COVID infection but who had nevertheless been confirmed after lab testing to have COVID.

Although severe winter weather around the country impacted the shipping and distribution of vaccines last week, necessitating the postponement of a mass clinic for second doses scheduled last Friday in the Bridger Valley, vaccination efforts in Uinta County are continuing this week. Proffit said the plan this week is for another large vaccination clinic in Evanston on Thursday, Feb. 25, to administer first doses to more individuals aged 65 and over as well as school district staff. On Friday, Feb. 26, the plan is to hold the second-dose clinic in the Bridger Valley that was postponed last week.

Thus far, Proffit said just under 3,000 doses of vaccine — both first and second doses — have been administered through the Uinta County Public Health office. That tally does not include doses administered at Evanston Regional Hospital for their staff or doses administered at the Walmart pharmacy in Evanston, which began administering vaccines on Feb. 12 for those in current priority groups, as designated by the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

Proffit said, at the direction of WDH, the county has now begun pre-registration for residents with high-risk medical conditions for vaccination within the next couple of weeks. Those high-risk conditions include current diagnosis of cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (including emphysema, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis and chronic bronchitis), solid organ transplant, sickle cell disease, Down Syndrome, pregnancy (pregnant woman should speak with their healthcare provider prior to being vaccinated), diabetes, heart conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathies), obesity (BMI over 30), immunocompromised state (from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, long-term high-dose corticosteroids or other immune weakening medicines) and severe neurologic disease (motor neuron disease, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy, quadriplegia or hemiplegia, progressive cerebellar disease, epilepsy, stroke and dementia).

Those with high-risk conditions, or those in other categories already eligible for vaccination such as healthcare personnel and those over the age of 65, can pre-register by visiting https://tinyurl.com/yzqwh63n.

Proffit said she expects there will be many people with high-risk conditions registering and anticipates it will take quite a bit of time to make it through that group, depending upon vaccine supplies allocated for March. Those anticipated numbers have not yet been released by WDH.

As vaccination efforts continue and speed up, the WDH has issued multiple press releases warning residents to be wary of scams tied to vaccinations.

“We are hearing about unexpected calls going to residents from people falsely claiming they represent a local health department or the Wyoming Department of Health,” said Michael Ceballos, WDH director. “The callers go on to request payment or personal details such as social security numbers.

“We want to remind everyone that COVID-19 vaccines are free to those who are getting them and insurance is not required,” Ceballos continued. “No one should be asking you for payment to get a shot or to make an appointment. Vaccines are not typically being given in homes and there is no payment option to get ahead in line. Your social security number is not needed and should not be given over the phone to someone who calls you unexpectedly.”

Although there is no charge for the vaccines, individuals being vaccinated may be asked to provide their Medicare or insurance card, if insured, for purposes of processing payments for those administering the shots. However, individuals themselves will not be asked for payment of any kind.

The Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance about quarantine periods for individuals who have been recently vaccinated. For those who have received both doses in the two-dose series within the last three months and are asymptomatic, there is no need to quarantine following exposure, although such individuals are asked to monitor for symptoms for 14 days following exposure. Anyone who received both doses of the vaccine prior to three months ago will still be asked to quarantine.

State Health Officer Alexia Harrist said this is because there are still unknowns regarding the ability of vaccinated people to transmit the illness and if the effects wane over time.

“These vaccines are shown to be very effective at preventing illness from COVID-19,” said Harrist, “but we need more time to understand the effects of vaccination on the ability to transmit COVID-19 to others. While we’re continuing to collect data, this guidance is consistent with what we have learned about immunity after natural infection. As more data are collected, we will know whether we can increase the length of time after vaccination when quarantine is not required.”

Although the situation in Uinta County is markedly improved and vaccination efforts are going very well, Proffit continued to urge caution.

“Things are looking good and I’m hopeful,” she said. “I don’t know if anybody wants the pandemic to be over more than me.”

However, she said the pandemic is not quite over yet and people should still abide by the same precautions that have been emphasized continuously over the past year. Until such time as an adequate percentage of the population has been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, hand washing, physical distancing, mask wearing and staying home when sick will continue to be important when in public or group settings with unvaccinated people.

“Let’s keep up with where we’re headed and try to put a wrap on this thing in the next few months,” said Proffit.

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