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Wyoming COVID-19 nursing home deaths highest in nation

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This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. 

Wyoming nursing homes lead the nation in COVID-19 cases and related deaths, according to new data from the AARP.

Nearly nine per 100 long-term care residents in Wyoming contracted COVID-19 during the first half of OCtober. Nearly two residents per 100 died from the illness during that time.

Those figures soar above the national average, and come as the state is seeing a consistently higher virus death toll.

In addition to vaccine numbers, the data shows Wyoming nursing home staff have been infected with COVID-19 nearly eight times as often as the national average. Nearly 60% of locations reported shortages through mid October.

The state does not lag in the percent of nursing home residents who are fully vaccinated. With almost 90%, Wyoming is in the top half of the country.

Conversely, Wyoming nursing home staff are among the least vaccinated in the nation, with about 40% of employees unvaccinated as of mid October. New federal rules will require any facility that receives Medicare or Medicaid dollars to implement a staff vaccination policy. Wyoming on Wednesday joined with nine other states to file suit over the mandate.

An AARP spokesperson declined to comment on how the federal rules will impact policies at Wyoming nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Some have speculated that the new rules will drive employees away at a time when the health care industry is hemorrhaging staff, but Wyoming Hospital Association vice president Josh Hannes said that isn’t a primary concern.

Hannes said he anticipates some people will leave their positions, but that vaccine policies are not driving staffing shortages in hospitals and nursing homes.

With nearly 60% of facilities reporting some shortage, Wyoming is the fifth most labor strapped state.

The new data comes a day after another grim update from the Wyoming Department of Health, adding 55 new deaths to Wyomng’s COVID-19 toll. Last week, the state announced 69 deaths — the single highest weekly update reported in 2021.

This fall has been among the most deadly periods for COVID-19 related illnesses since the pandemic arrived in Wyoming.

There have now been 1,298 coronavirus-caused deaths in Wyoming since the pandemic arrived here in March 2020. Thirty percent of those deaths were reported after Sept. 1 of this year.

Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes


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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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Wyoming, where Gov. Mark Gordon has long maintained there will be no state-level mandates, has joined several other states in challenging vaccine orders through the courts. So far, those challenges have worked by at least pausing enforcement in Wyoming, but changes may soon be coming through the courts.

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