Mask mandate extended; ERH now offering more accurate rapid testing

Gov. Mark Gordon, while easing restrictions on gatherings, extended the statewide mask mandate last week until at least Feb. 14. (COURTESY PHOTO)

EVANSTON — Wyoming’s statewide mask mandate has again been extended by Gov. Mark Gordon and is in effect through at least Feb. 14. Other health orders that have been in effect for months were also continued, although the number of people allowed to attend events has been increased.

Effective Jan. 26, indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are allowed, up to a maximum of 25% of venue capacity or 250 people, whichever is least. Outdoor gatherings may have up to 50% of venue capacity or 500 people — again, whichever is the least number. Other orders regarding restaurant and bar service, masking of staff, distance between parties, etc., are all still in effect, as they have been since last spring.

Gordon cited improving metrics as the reasoning behind the health order alterations allowing larger gatherings.

“Wyoming is making progress and coming closer to safely returning to more normal lives, and the steps we have taken are helping us achieve this,” Gordon said. “I am confident that as our vaccination rate increases, the data-driven approach we are taking and our improving circumstances will give us more opportunity to further relax our orders.” One of those metrics is a decreasing number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations, which were reported as 81 on Jan. 21, down from a high of 247 at the end of November.

The Wyoming Department of Health announced an additional 49 COVID-19 related fatalities last week, with two of those Uinta County residents. On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the WDH announced the death of an older adult Uinta County man who had died within the previous week. He was reportedly hospitalized out of state and known to have health conditions putting him at higher risk of serious complications. On Friday, Jan. 22, WDH announced the death of an adult Uinta County man who had also died within the previous week. He too reportedly had health conditions putting him at higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19. Wyoming has now had 571 confirmed fatalities and Uinta County 12.

Vaccination efforts continue in Uinta County, where vaccines are still being given to those in the 1B sub-group 3 tier — those 70 years of age and older. Two mass vaccination clinics were held last week, during which several hundred county residents in the 70-plus age group were vaccinated in Evanston last Monday, Jan. 18, and in the Bridger Valley on Friday, Jan. 22.

Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said last week’s vaccination efforts used up all the available vaccine stores in the county up to that point. She expected to receive another 200-dose shipment this week and said those doses will also be used for the 70-plus age group. County residents who did not previously register for either of last week’s clinics but would like to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can register by visiting https://tinyurl.com/y66tjy7x or calling public health at (307) 789-9203 in Evanston or (307) 787-3800 in the Bridger Valley.

Proffit said the WDH is still working on determining which groups will be prioritized next. The WDH website still lists active National Guard and military members, in-person employees of congregate settings, other healthcare providers not previously vaccinated and K-12 educators and staff as the next four sub-groups; however, it is possible those groupings will change with new state guidance. Although January is nearing a close, there are not yet new estimated vaccine allocations per county for the month of February available on the WDH website.

In a bit of welcome news for county residents, Evanston Regional Hospital has now added rapid PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing to its drive-thru curbside testing program. The hospital has offered rapid antigen testing in the past; however, antigen testing is less reliable than PCR testing and test results required confirmation from the Wyoming State Lab, which often took several days.

According to ERH Director of Marketing Jessica Kendrick, “A PCR test detects a minuscule amount of viral RNA and will show any evidence of infection with COVID-19. PCR tests are more sensitive in catching asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic patients.”

Those wanting a rapid PCR test can self-refer to the drive-thru testing at the front entrance of ERH Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The curbside testing entrance is at the second driveway and directions are posted on signage. Once at the hospital, patients call the number posted on the signs to receive instructions and answer questions and then a staff member in full personal protective equipment will collect a sample while patients remain in their vehicles.

Kendrick said the actual time to receive results will vary dependent upon how busy the lab is, but results should be expected in 24 hours or less. There are zero out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 tests. For those who are insured, insurance pays the full cost of collection. For those without health insurance, ERH applies for federal funds to cover the costs.

As of Monday, Jan. 25, the Wyoming Information Sharing Platform from the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security reported 200 active cases of COVID-19 in Uinta County, with 14 new cases confirmed within the previous 24 hours.

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