The highly contagious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus is now the dominant strain in Wyoming, according to the state health department.
The variant is estimated to be 60% more transmissible than its mutated predecessor the Alpha variant, or B.1.1.7, which in turn is roughly 50% more contagious than the initial virus strain. And it’s overtaken the state as our rate of new vaccinations stalls.
The reality that the pandemic is not over in Wyoming is growing clearer each day, with the metrics that guide public health decisions ticking back toward concerning levels. Here’s a look at some of the numbers.
Nearly 80 people across Wyoming were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, the most since late January when vaccines were still limited to priority populations.
The situation in Cheyenne, where the Delta variant is rapidly spreading, is already reminiscent of the earlier surge. Forty patients in the roughly 200-bed facility are being treated for the virus as of Friday.
The majority of the patients are not vaccinated. Roughly 93% of the state’s hospitalized virus patients between May 1 and July 19 were unvaccinated, according to the department of health, a trend in line with national statistics.
Already, the effects of the variant and its spread are being felt by medical professionals, with 24 patients being treated for COVID-19 at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and four at the VA Medical Center.
Officials for the state’s two largest hospitals in Casper and Cheyenne have said they’re prepared to tap additional staff if cases continue to grow.
The Wyoming Medical Center has not yet seen an influx like it experienced this fall and winter. Five patients are being treated for the virus at that hospital as of Friday, according to state data.
Wyoming is making very little progress getting shots in arms, according to state data.
For the last month, Wyoming has been giving more second-shots than first, meaning new takers are slowing dramatically. The trend only slightly shifted in the last two weeks, with about 500 more first doses administered than second.
Put another way, more than 20,000 first doses were given between the last week of March and the first week of April — when the state announced they would be available to the general public. As of Friday, roughly 350,000 Wyomingites haven’t received a single dose, yet between July 9 and July 22, fewer than 4,000 new people received a COVID-19 inoculation.
Statewide, just over 201,000 people are fully inoculated against COVID-19, making us the fourth-least vaccinated state in the U.S., according to the New York Times.
The trend holds for youth vaccinations as well, for which we rank fifth-last nationally with 19% of residents aged 12-17 receiving at least one shot.
The rate at which the state is adding new cases is surging, too.
Wyoming has gone from adding between 50-60 new cases a day this spring to now averaging 129 new daily cases over the last two weeks.
Roughly 94% of new cases are among unvaccinated residents, according to the state department of health.
By late May, most of Wyoming was registering little to no community transmission of the virus based on federal metrics. But now, nearly four months after vaccines became widely available in the state, transmission is growing everywhere.
Four counties — Natrona, Niobrara, Big Horn and Sheridan — are seeing “moderate” transmission. Nine are seeing “substantial” transmission. All remaining counties are in the highest transmission category.
There were 802 confirmed and probable active virus infections in Wyoming as of Friday — the most since Feb. 11.
Local health officials have worried that without greater vaccine uptake, Casper this fall could look a lot like it did last year.
“If we were in Vermont or Connecticut, I’d say the pandemic is not a big deal here at the moment,” Wyoming Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Andy Dunn told the Star-Tribune in June. “But I’m very, very worried about what’s to come (for Wyoming).”
With the state’s low vaccination rates, he said it’s more likely the virus will continue to mutate, meaning it could get even better at infecting people. Dunn urged residents to remain vigilant and to continue masking and social distancing in crowded settings.
“We haven’t earned that right yet to take it easy,” he said in that interview.
Our situation is not as dire as it was this November, when the state was adding more than 1,000 new cases a day.
But experts in Wyoming and nationwide have expressed concern that the Delta variant will thwart our progress if vaccine uptake remains low. State officials are urging residents who have symptoms to get tested for the virus, even if they’ve been vaccinated.
As a more contagious and potentially more dangerous variant of the virus spreads in the state, officials worry not enough Wyomingites will be protected.
“Getting tested can help individuals understand what is causing their symptoms, and enable them and their providers to provide effective treatment earlier if more severe symptoms develop,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said via email.
She continued, “There are therapies (the monoclonal antibody therapies) that can be given to prevent high-risk individuals who have mild illness from developing more severe illness; these medications can help prevent hospitalizations. Getting tested also helps reduce the spread of COVID-19 to others, because those with a positive test can stay home and their high-risk contacts can be identified.”
The Casper-Natrona County Health Department is also encouraging anyone with even mild virus symptoms to contact the department for a free test.
“As we know, full vaccination doesn’t guarantee you wont get COVID-19 but it does make it less likely and less likely for severe complications if you do get it. Ultimately the goal is to keep those with COVID-19 away from others and from transmitting the disease and testing is the only way to know,” department spokesperson Hailey Bloom said.
Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes