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Wyoming's COVID-19 death toll rises by 69
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Wyoming's COVID-19 death toll rises by 69

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COVID-19 Testing

Lab technician Rob Chrisensen prepares specimen samples for coronavirus testing at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory on Sept. 4, 2020 in Cheyenne. Any identifying patient info has been edited out of the photo.

Sixty-nine more Wyomingites have died from COVID-19, the Wyoming Department of Health reported Tuesday. That is the single highest death update given by the health department in 2021.

The past two months in Wyoming have been the most deadly of 2021, with more deaths being reported in September and October than during any other month this year.

With Tuesday’s update, November may look similar.

There have now been 1,243 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.

Of the 69 newly reported deaths, 55 occurred in October. Six occurred in September and two in August. Six of the deaths occurred within the last week.

The state does not include a death in its COVID-19 count unless the virus is listed on the patient’s death certificate as either the cause of death or a contributing factor. There is often a lag between when deaths occur and when deaths are reported because of the time it takes for death certificates to be processed.

The deaths include 53 people who were hospitalized prior to their passing, including 10 who were treated out of state. Thirty-five of the 69 individuals were known to have underlying health conditions that increased their risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The new deaths touch 14 counties. Sweetwater County had the highest loss, with 13 newly reported deaths. Natrona County added 10 new deaths, Park added nine. Laramie County added eight new deaths. Converse County’s death total rose by six, and Campbell by five. Carbon and Fremont counties each added four new deaths. Albany County added three new deaths. Lincoln and Sublette County each added two new deaths. Big Horn, Goshen and Sheridan counties all added one.

Deaths declined dramatically this spring, with the number reported each week in the single digits since mid-March. But the trend hasn’t held. Figures have neared what they were in early winter, when the state was recording more than 50 deaths per week.

COVID-19 infections, too, had plummeted since the winter surge. But hospitalizations have remained high since September. On Monday, 182 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Wyoming. Less than two weeks prior, that number peaked at 249 hospitalizations. In comparison, there were periods in early spring with fewer than 20 hospitalizations.

Officials have said they anticipate more deaths in coming weeks.

The state health department is not releasing the vaccine status of each hospitalized patient but has said roughly 95% of recent hospitalizations have been among the unvaccinated.

A more contagious variant of the virus has led federal and state officials to again recommend face masks be worn in areas with low vaccine uptake and moderate-to-high virus transmission.

Just Converse, Niobrara and Hot Springs counties are currently excluded from that recommendation based on the state’s transmission data.

Wyoming hospitals are still reporting strains on staff and resources. At the same time, state lawmakers are crafting legislation seeking to thwart anticipated federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Gov. Mark Gordon has said his office will not implement any more mandates or lockdowns. Gordon said he encourages residents to get vaccinated but that the decision is “intensely personal” and he is not planning any interventions to increase uptake.

Wyoming’s vaccination rate is the second-lowest in the nation with 44% of the state fully inoculated against COVID-19. Only West Virginia has a worse rate at 41%.

Unvaccinated Wyomingites are also the most hesitant in the country to accept the shots, or to give them to their children, according to U.S. Census Bureau polls.

Roughly 265,600 residents have so far received at least one vaccine dose. More than 35,200 fully vaccinated residents have received a booster dose.

Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes

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