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Spike in COVID cases likely to cause major labor shortages, Casper health officials say
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COVID SURGE

Spike in COVID cases likely to cause major labor shortages, Casper health officials say

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First Day

Parents drop off their children for the first day of school at Park Elementary School on Sept. 1 in Casper. This year, masks are optional at the amajority of public schools in Wyoming, including those in Natrona County. 

A dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases brought on by the new school year will likely cause major labor shortages in Casper, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department said Wednesday.

Quarantines have already affected local daycare centers in August, and Wednesday’s start of the fall semester in Natrona County schools will likely bring about a “dramatic increase in positive case and exposures that will keep kids, and thereby their parents, at home during the day,” the health department warned in an announcement.

“At the risk of sounding alarmist, we need the community to understand that, depending on the situation, it’s possible that whole classrooms, grade levels, or even entire schools and daycare facilities could be shut down for weeks at a time,” health department spokeswoman Hailey Bloom said in a statement. “We hope that closures don’t happen, but it’s important that families and businesses prepare for worst-case scenarios.”

Case have been surging in Wyoming this summer with the arrival of the delta variant, a more contagious strain of the novel coronavairus. With the rise in infections has come an increase in hospitalizations to levels not seen since December. More COVID-related deaths have also been announced of late.

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health, joined Wake Up With Cheddar to discuss the increase in childhood COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and how parents can help protect their kids going back to school for in-person learning. "About 10 percent of kids will get long hauler symptoms, and that is ... if you have asymptomatic disease all the way to severe disease," she said. "Those long hauler symptoms can be quite burdensome for the kids."

Wyoming’s public schools have reopened over the past few weeks, most of which without the masking rules that helped them remain open last year. Already, one district in Hot Springs has gone virtual due to an influx of cases only two weeks after opening. Significant numbers of cases and quarantines have also been reported in other communities including Cheyenne.

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Gov. Mark Gordon has made it clear he does not intend to implement a mask mandate like the one the state enacted in 2020 in schools. Instead, he’s left that up to local officials, most of whom have blanched at the idea of enacting restrictions like those seen during the first months of the pandemic.

Now, the Casper health department is warning that cases and quarantines could keep parents home, creating problems for local businesses.

In their Wednesday announcement, health department officials said they are predicting labor shortages will be one of the biggest challenges Casper faces during this surge, and that all industries should expect to be affected over the coming months.

“We know how problematic this is going to be for families and businesses, but with case numbers at these staggering rates, it’s inevitable,” Bloom said.

Anyone not fully vaccinated must quarantine at home for 10 days if they were within 6 feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes in the 48 hours prior to that patient’s first symptoms, the health department says. If a child is quarantined at home due to exposure, but shows no symptoms and doesn’t test positive, other members of that child’s household may resume normal life, including attending school or work.

A person who is vaccinated does not need to quarantine if they are exposed to a positive case, provided they are asymptomatic. However, only 36% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated against COVID — one of the lowest percentages in the nation.

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Editor

Joshua Wolfson joined the Star-Tribune in 2007, covering crime and health before taking over the arts section in 2013. He also served as managing editor before being named editor in June 2017. He lives in Casper with his wife and their two kids.

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