Wyoming news briefs for April 29

Public health orders extended for two weeks

CASPER — Wyoming’s last public health orders will stay active for at least two more weeks, the state health department announced Wednesday.

Just two health orders remain in Wyoming with COVID-19 infections low and vaccinations widely available. One order imposes limits on large indoor gatherings. The other requires masks in educational facilities, like K-12 schools and college campuses. Those rules have been extended through May 16.

The latter requirement has caused some controversy in the Natrona County School District, which plans to seek an exception to the mask mandate at a May 10 board of trustees meeting.

COVID-19 cases in Wyoming have fallen drastically since the height of the pandemic here this fall and winter. At one point in November, nearly 12,000 people — 2 percent of the population — had an active COVID-19 infection. Nearly 250 people were hospitalized with the virus in late November.

This spring, active cases have hovered between 300 and 550 and fewer than 25 people statewide have been hospitalized with the virus since March.

Eighteen Wyoming counties are now categorized as having low or very low virus transmission levels, according to a White House task force. The state overall is categorized as having moderate transmission.

Nearly 25 percent of the state is fully vaccinated against the virus. Further broken down, 32 percent of adults 18 and over and more than 55 percent of adults 65 and over have been vaccinated, according to the health department.


Wyoming Gas seeks 43-percent rate hike

GREYBULL — Wyoming Gas Company customers in the Big Horn Basin would see a 43-percent increase in their monthly bills starting June 1 if the company’s application for an emergency rate adjustment is approved in the coming days by the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

In a press release, Wyoming Gas Company (WGC) announced that it applied for authorization to adjust its Gas Cost

Factor from $0.2904/ ccf to $0.6220, citing as the reason "a very specific Extreme Pricing Event in the natural gas market that occurred for a week in February of 2021.”

The average residential customer uses 76ccf per month, so the average monthly bill will increase from $58.54 to $83.74, an increase of $25.20 per month.

According to the WGC, the cost of purchasing and transporting gas to WGC’s system is passed

directly through to the customer as the Gas Cost Factor and a regulated utility is not allowed to make or lose money of the cost of gas.”

The Extreme Pricing Event that the company referenced in its release was Winter Storm Uri, which between Feb. 13-17

“hit a large portion of the middle of the United States, sending temperatures plummeting and energy usage skyrocketing.

“Winter Storm Uri had a major impact on the state of Texas, straining the electrical grid to the point that many people were out of electricity for days,” said the company in the release. “Unfortunately, as electricity producers scrambled to fill

the gap left by the loss of renewable energy and the lack of natural gas from frozen production, the wholesale market price for natural gas, which is unregulated, rose astronomically.”


Johnson Co. schools free of COVID after mask requirement ends

BUFFALO — Johnson County School District No. 1 has now had two straight weeks with zero students or staff in isolation or quarantine since the removal of the district's mask requirement.

In early April, while students and staff were away for spring break, the school board voted to remove the requirement for masks in schools, instead making them “recommended.”

Masks had been required until that point in the county's schools, at district sporting events and on district buses. At the meeting, Superintendent Jim Wagner said the district wanted to switch to recommended mask wearing because it had received a mask exception from Dr. Mark Schueler and state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist.

“If the individuals determine they want to wear them, we don't want to discourage it and we wanted to use the same verbiage as the CDC is using,” Wagner said at that meeting. "So, that’s why we went from the word 'required to ‘recommended.'"

When the board removed the mask requirement, trustees and administrators said they felt confident in the decision but weren't exactly sure what to expect when students and staff returned from out-of-state travel. 

Wagner even wrote in his April 14 board report that the second week back from break would “be the first indication if we will see an uptick in cases or a spread. Keep your fingers crossed it stays down.”


Hot Springs commissioners disband COVID team

THERMOPOLIS — At the April 20 Hot Springs County Commissioners meeting, the commissioners held a discussion with County Health Nurse Tricia McPhie to discuss rescinding the Incident Command Team they created in March 2020, which was a response to the COVID situation and other aspects to the emergency situation. 

McPhie said, “I think we’ve learned a lot of stuff over the last year. We are not meeting like we did before. Efforts have obviously changed, too. Testing and vaccinating with a detailed plan, more than we were last year.” 

Commissioner Jack Baird made a motion to rescind and said, “Back to normal life.” 

The commissioners voted to rescind the Incident Command Team.


‘Drug Take Back Day’ nets more than 1,200 pounds

CHEYENNE — Across Wyoming, 1,242 pounds of unused and unwanted prescription drugs were collected last weekend during the most recent National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, said David Tyree, resident agent in charge of Wyoming’s Drug Enforcement Administration field office.

That’s 1,242 pounds less than could end up accidentally consumed by a child, or taken from a medicine cabinet by someone to whom they aren’t prescribed. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day usually takes place in April and October of each year, and is a partnership between the DEA and local law enforcement.

“It’s just an opportunity to remove risk ... just making sure that if someone is struggling with substance use, that those opportunities to maybe grab some old pills or something like that, that those opportunities are removed,” Wyoming Institute of Population Health’s Brittany Wardle said.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 9.7 million people over the age of 12 misused prescription pain relievers, 4.9 million misused prescription stimulants, and 5.9 million misused prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.

The same survey found 50.8 percent of misused prescription pain relievers were given by, bought from or taken from a friend or relative.

Wardle, who was present at a Pine Bluffs collection site over the weekend, said more than seven pounds of unused prescription drugs were collected in the town of just over 1,000 people.