EVANSTON — Pre-registration for COVID-19 vaccination is now available to the general public, meaning all people in Uinta County age 18 or older can register to be vaccinated. A Code Red alert went out on the afternoon of Monday, March 15, notifying county residents that pre-registration is open to everyone 18 or older by visiting http://www.uintacounty.com/904/COVID-19-Vaccine.
Though Uinta County Public Health has quickly moved through other priority groups and has opened registration to the general public, pre-registration is still required to ensure efficient mass vaccination clinics. Those who register will be notified later about the date, time and location to receive their vaccination.
During a weekly update on Monday, Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said two mass clinics are planned for this week, primarily for those in the 1C priority group, with one clinic in Evanston and another in the Bridger Valley. As of Monday, about 5,100 total doses have been administered by public health staff, not including those administered at the Evanston Walmart or Evanston Regional Hospital. Proffit said she anticipates other providers, such as other pharmacies and physician offices, receiving vaccine allocations in the coming weeks as well.
Local case numbers have continued to hold steady over the past week, with 18 new cases diagnosed in the past week and 20 active cases as of Monday. However, Evanston Regional Hospital CEO Cheri Willard reported there were four new cases confirmed through curbside testing on Monday alone, out of just under 40 tests conducted, for a test positivity rate of 10% that day. The CDC has continued to stress that positive rates greater than 3% are cause for concern. Angie Foster, ERH Chief Nursing Officer, reported there was one person hospitalized in the ERH intensive care unit with COVID.
Proffit said she and county public health officer Dr. Mike Adams wish to continue to emphasize prevention and said it is too soon to go back to “normal” with the virus still in broad circulation. Though Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has removed the statewide mask mandate and some other health orders, Proffit and Adams continue to emphasize the importance of masking in public situations. The CDC has, however, issued guidance stating that fully vaccinated individuals can gather with other fully vaccinated individuals indoors without precautions in small gathering situations.
Though the statewide mask mandate has been removed, the mask mandate for K-12 schools remains in place. Gordon, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist have all issued statements in recent days explaining the rationale behind keeping the mask requirements in place for schools. That rationale includes the fact that many, if not most, teachers are not yet fully vaccinated; that students themselves cannot be vaccinated because the vaccines aren’t yet approved for children; and that by their very nature schools consist of many people gathering close together for hours at a time.
Gordon and Balow also stressed that Wyoming is one of few states in the country that have been able to have in-person instruction and activities so far this school year, without major outbreaks that have necessitated closures, largely due to policies like masking and distancing. Proffit too said thus far Wyoming schools have been very successful at keeping kids in school in-person rather than virtually, which many other states have been forced to utilize. She said, given that success, it makes sense to keep the orders in place for the remainder of the school year to prevent spread and allow in-person school and activities to take place.
Uinta County School District No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas released a four-minute video statement Monday afternoon sharing statements from Gordon and Balow and stating that he agrees with their position. Thomas said school attendance is compulsory for students and not a choice similar to frequenting a restaurant or bar, where restrictions have been lifted. Because attendance is compulsory and because of the risks of exposure for teachers, staff, students and visitors, he said it is important for the requirements to remain in place to help ensure students are able to end the year with continued in-person instruction and year-end culminating events that were canceled last school year.
Thomas said there have been several staff members and students who have been sick with COVID-19 this school year, including some who have been extremely ill and out for an extended period of time and one staff member who lost his life due to COVID-19. Thomas implored parents to continue to keep students home if they’re ill and asked that everyone continue to abide by the K-12 health orders.
With chatter on social media from some high school students about launching a mask protest on Tuesday, March 16, other students were pushing back and expressing support for the mask orders to keep staff and students safe and activities happening. Thomas said he had heard about the potential protest and said such actions would be “missing the target.”
“Schools are not the place to express political views on health orders,” said Thomas, who also said he understands continued mask wearing is tiring and even difficult. However, he said any protests would need to be at the state level where decisions are being made rather than at individual schools that are doing their best to comply with requirements they are given.
“We are doing our best to follow what is expected of us from the governor, state superintendent of public instruction, and our locally elected school board,” Thomas said via email. “We all want what is best for our children, in-person school in a healthy environment has been great for six months. Let’s finish what we started for all students K-12,” he said.