CHEYENNE — Amid a surge in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday that he had activated members of the Wyoming National Guard to assist with mostly non-medical tasks at hospitals in the state.
About 95 soldiers and airmen were assigned to 24 different medical sites in at least 16 Wyoming cities, with the goal of easing the workloads of hospital and Wyoming Department of Health staff caused by a high number of COVID-19 patients, according to a news release.
On Sept. 8, the governor announced that he'd allocated $20 million for medical facilities in the state to be used on a discretionary basis to help with staffing, with an additional $10 million available to privately owned hospitals and long-term care facilities for traveling medical staff through a contract with the Wyoming Hospital Association. Nonprofit and county-owned hospitals could be reimbursed for traveling medical staff through FEMA funding.
Gordon also deployed members of the Wyoming National Guard to hospitals last November, along with resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and $10 million in federal funding for contracted traveling health care professionals. A month earlier, he deployed Guard members to assist with contact tracing.
Guard members will help with support duties like environmental cleanup in hospital facilities, food services, COVID-19 screening and managing personal protective equipment supplies. Some may even be trained to administer COVID-19 tests.
"I am grateful to the members of our Wyoming National Guard for once again answering the call to provide assistance in our hospitals during this surge," Gordon said in Tuesday's release. "Our Guard members truly are Wyoming’s sword and shield, and their commitment to our state is something for which every Wyoming citizen can be thankful."
As of Tuesday afternoon, the state health department reported 190 patients hospitalized with the virus across the state. Though the number is lower than Monday's 202 patients, it's still higher than Saturday's 170 patients.
On Sept. 8, 233 COVID-19 patients were reported hospitalized, the highest number in 2021. Wyoming hospitals hit their 2020 peak on Nov. 30, with 247 patients.
"The delta variant has overwhelmed the medical institutions of states across this country. Our state is no different, with most hospitals at or near capacity," said Col. David Pritchett, director of the joint staff for the Wyoming National Guard, in Tuesday's news release. "The soldiers and airmen of the Wyoming National Guard are proud to jump back in to provide much-needed assistance to our communities as we continue to battle the effects of COVID-19."
Guard members will be on 14- to 30-day rotations, with potential for extension, until Dec. 31.
"The situation is fluid, so they may change locations throughout the time they are activated," said Kelly Ruiz, public information officer and Integrated Public Alert and Warning System program manager for the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security.
Robin Roling, chief operating officer at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said the hospital had 12 Guard members deployed there as of Tuesday. She said they expected 18 total.
In Cheyenne, Guard members will help with things like blood draws in the hospital's laboratories, cleaning rooms and helping with infection prevention, and working in the Food and Nutrition Services Department, Roling said – similar to tasks they completed last year.
"It was a huge blessing," she said.
On Tuesday, CRMC reported 33 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a notable decrease from its 2021 peak on Sept. 12 of 60 patients. Similar to the state, CRMC hit its overall hospitalization peak on Nov. 29 and 30 with 64 patients.
Earlier this month, even as medical and ICU beds filled up, CRMC staff said the biggest challenge was finding enough staff to care for patients and otherwise run the hospital. At that time, more than 40 temporary agency nurses were helping out, whereas the hospital would typically have fewer than 10 at any given time.
The Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center reported three patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Within the past two weeks, "a very small number" of both VA-qualified and civilian patients have been transferred for care to the Cheyenne VA because of high numbers of COVID-19 patients at CRMC, Roling said. CRMC also received additional ventilators from the VA.
Currently, 11 Guard members are deployed in Casper to help with traffic flow at two drive-through respiratory symptom screening clinics, said Mandy Cepeda, director of marketing and public relations at Wyoming Medical Center.
"Both clinics are very busy, and we appreciate the support," Cepeda said in an email.
Wyoming Medical Center reported 36 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Guard members have been or will be deployed to hospital facilities in Cheyenne, Casper, Gillette, Rock Springs, Laramie, Jackson, Evanston, Sheridan, Buffalo, Powell, Lovell, Cody, Newcastle, Douglas, Wheatland and Thermopolis, according to Ruiz.