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'California' COVID-19 variants more resistant to vaccines identified in Wyoming
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Two “California” COVID-19 variants have been identified in Sublette County, according to health officials there.

The county reported one case of B.1.427 and three of B.1.429 in a release Saturday. Both variants are more transmissible and more resistant to current vaccines than other strains.

These cases appear to be the first publicly reported instances of those variants in the state. The Wyoming Department of Health Tuesday confirmed four variants of the virus have been identified in the state, though it’s unclear exactly how long each new strain has been circulating.

The department conducted genetic sequencing “from a large batch of positive samples” collected since November. While just a sample, at least 40 of the cases identified were one of the two “California” strains. Forty cases of the “UK” variant B.1.1.7, first confirmed in Wyoming in January, were also identified.

“Because this is far from a comprehensive review of all positive patient samples, the true number and geographical spread of variants of concern in Wyoming is likely greater than what has been identified,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in a release.

She added the variants are concerning “because they each have been shown to transmit more easily between people, may lead to more serious illnesses or may have resistance to some COVID-19 treatment options,” the release reads.

The release adds the state is not changing its current virus mitigation strategies.

“The best way for people to protect themselves from getting sick is to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which are available to the general public now throughout Wyoming. We still also recommend staying home when you are sick, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks in most public settings,” Harrist said.

While it’s natural for viruses to mutate, these strains have caused concern among health experts and vaccine researchers, who say currently deployed vaccines may not be as effective against these particular variants.

Researchers have also estimated the variants are roughly 20% more contagious than the initial novel Coronavirus. For reference, the “UK” variant, or B.1.1.7 identified in Wyoming in January is roughly 50-70% more transmissible, according to UK researchers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified both B.1.427 and B.1.429 as “variants of concern,” meaning some mitigation efforts are likely to be less effective. The CDC does report current vaccines will provide at least some immunity against these strains.

The CDC will classify more immediately threatening strains as “variants of high consequence.” No variants have so far been placed in this category.

Still, the spread of variants is slowing the U.S. virus response. New cases are 20% higher than at their lowest point nationally in March, surging as states roll back public health orders and other virus mitigation protocols, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

While the state believes the variants have been spreading for months, Wyoming’s virus numbers are still near the lowest point since before the surge last fall. No county is classified as “high” or “very-high” risk by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, whose metrics Wyoming officials have looked to for guidance.

Photos: Casper-Natrona County Health Department tours new mall vaccination clinic

Photos: Casper-Natrona County Health Department tours new mall vaccination clinic

Vaccine deadline moved up
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he’s bumping up his deadline by two weeks for states to make all adults in the U.S. eligible for coronavirus vaccines. But even as he expressed optimism about the pace of vaccinations, he warned Americans that the nation is not yet out of the woods when it comes to the pandemic.

“Let me be deadly earnest with you: We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life and death race against this virus,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

The president warned that “new variants of the virus are spreading and they’re moving quickly. Cases are going back up, hospitalizations are no longer declining.” He added that “the pandemic remains dangerous,” and encouraged Americans to continue to wash their hands, socially distance and wear masks.

Biden added that while his administration is on schedule to meet his new goal of distributing 200 million doses of the vaccine during his first 100 days, it will still take time for enough Americans to get vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus.

But he expressed hope that his Tuesday announcement, that every adult will be eligible by April 19 to sign up and get in a virtual line to be vaccinated, will help expand access and distribution of the vaccine. Some states already had begun moving up their deadlines from the original May 1 goal.

“No more confusing rules. No more confusing restrictions,” Biden said.

Biden made the announcement after visiting a COVID-19 vaccination site at Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. During his visit, he thanked everyone for administering the shots and for showing up to receive them.

“That’s the way to beat this,” Biden said. “Get the vaccination when you can.”

The president also said no one should fear mutations of the coronavirus that are showing up in the U.S. after being discovered in other countries. He acknowledged that the new strains are more virulent and more dangerous, but said “the vaccines work on all of them.”

Biden also announced that 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been shot into arms since his inauguration on Jan. 20. That puts the president well on track to meet his new goal of 200 million shots administered by his 100th day in office on April 30.

Biden’s original goal had been 100 million shots by the end of his first 100 days, but that number was reached in March.

Still, he acknowledged Tuesday that his administration fell short of its goal to deliver at least one shot to every teacher, school staff member and childcare worker during the month of March, to try to accelerate school reopenings. Biden announced the target early last month and directed federal resources toward achieving it, but said Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 80% of teachers, school staff and childcare workers had received a shot.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, also spent the day Tuesday focused on promoting the COVID-19 vaccine, each touring a vaccination center, Harris in Chicago and Emhoff in Yakima, Washington.

Harris praised the workers and those receiving their vaccine at a site set up at a local union hall, and spoke of spring as “a moment where we feel a sense of renewal.”

“We can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Some states are making plans to ease their health restrictions, even as the country is facing a potential new surge in virus cases.

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned that the country is in a “critical time” because “we could just as easily swing up into a surge.”

“That would be a setback for public health, but that would be a psychological setback, too,” he said during an interview with the National Press Club. He noted that Americans are experiencing “COVID-19 fatigue” after more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions to public life aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states — a situation that is putting pressure on the federal government to consider changing how it distributes vaccines by sending more doses to hot spots.

New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey together reported 44% of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections, or nearly 197,500 new cases, in the latest available seven-day period, according to state health agency data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Total U.S. infections during the same week numbered more than 452,000.

Also, most children with a serious inflammatory illness linked to the coronavirus had initial COVID-19 infections with no symptoms or only mild ones, new U.S. research shows.

The unusual post-infection condition tends to be milder in kids who were sicker with COVID-19, although more than half of affected youngsters received intensive hospital care, according to an analysis by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study represents the largest analysis to date on U.S. cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and bolsters evidence that it is a delayed immune response to COVID-19. The study included almost 1,800 cases reported to the CDC from March 2020 through mid-January. Most were in kids younger than 15 but the study included up to age 20.

Casper to be site of state's second LDS temple
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Beth Worthen said she cried tears of joy when she heard the news.

The executive director of the Natrona County Public Library Foundation, Worthen also serves as chairperson of the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation board and volunteers with the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. And she is the communications director for the Casper stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The news that had Worthen crying: Casper will be the site of the church’s second temple in the state, following a surprise announcement Sunday by church president Russell M. Nelson.

Wyoming’s only existing temple, known as the Star Valley Wyoming Temple, is in Afton, dedicated in 2016.

Although there are many meetinghouses (or chapels) throughout Casper and Wyoming, temples are different.

According to the church website, meetinghouses are used for Sabbath day worship services and weekday activities such as youth groups, socials, service projects, and sporting events. They are open to the general public, and visitors are welcome to observe or respectfully participate. As examples, the public is welcome at funerals held in meetinghouses and to work on genealogy at the Family History Center in Wolf Creek.

Temples are special places of worship where members learn more about the gospel and participate in sacred ceremonies. Temples are not open on the Sabbath, so that members may attend their local congregations. When a temple is first built, it is briefly open for public tours. Once dedicated, attendance is reserved for faithful members of the church who are ready to participate in additional gospel ordinances, though the grounds around the temple remain open to the public.

Casper is among 20 new temples announced by Nelson at the conclusion of the April 2021 General Conference. All of the United States sites — nine in all — are in the western part of the country.

Doug Andersen, director of media relations for the church, would not offer any details such as location, groundbreaking or construction timeline.

Other United States locations will be in Helena, Montana; Grand Junction, Colorado; Farmington, New Mexico; Burley, Idaho; Eugene, Oregon; Elko, Nevada; Yorba Linda, California, and Smithfield, Utah.

According to a church release, Nelson’s announcement is historic because of the number and specific locations being announced at once. He has now announced 69 new temples in the three years he has served as president.

The church now has 251 temples announced, under construction or operating throughout the world.

In the official church announcement, it included a brief sketch of each community. For Casper, it notes that approximately 68,000 Wyomingites claim membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or about one in every nine state residents.

The announcement further notes the significance of Wyoming in the history of the church, as pioneers traveled across the state in their westward migration to Utah, primarily from the 1840s to the 1860s.

The Martin’s Cove Mormon Handcart Visitors Center, set on the Sun Ranch, is approximately 55 miles southwest of Casper on Highway 220. It is a popular destination for the public and church members alike, and offers a glimpse into the place where 500 some Mormons from the British Isles waited out a storm in November 1856 on their way to Utah.

While unable to provide specifics such as timeline, groundbreaking and location, Andersen did say the church will keep the public informed as construction plans progress.