Wyoming news briefs for January 12

NY Times says Teton Co. has highest COVID rate

JACKSON — The New York Times’ coronavirus dashboard shows Teton County leading the nation in daily COVID-19 case rates.

With a daily average of 539 cases per 100,000 residents as of Jan. 7, Teton County was beating out Miami-Dade, Florida, and New York City with 525 and 472 average daily cases per 100,000, respectively.

Those counts are just one measure of impact, calculated from state and local health agency data reported in the previous seven days, the dashboard states. But they put the region’s hyperbolic surge in perspective.

Infections throughout the nation are spiraling higher than at any other point during the pandemic because of the omicron variant’s staggering ability to dodge immunization and prior infections. In both Teton County and the U.S. overall, daily case counts are more than double what they were during last winter’s surge.

So far, Wyoming is faring better than its tourist capital, with only 85 cases per 100,000. But that’s still a 352-percent increase in the past two weeks. On Thursday, the Wyoming Health Department announced that omicron is now the most common cause of COVID-19 infections statewide.

Teton County’s current case average represents a 576-percent increase over two weeks. Local health officials don’t anticipate a peak until mid-February.


Traffic rebounds at Gillette airport

GILLETTE — Last year was a rebound year for the Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport, but its numbers weren’t quite back to pre-pandemic levels.

After a 2020 that saw fewer than 30,000 passengers use the local airport, which was the lowest mark in years, the airport had 48,481 passengers in 2021.

It’s a 63-percent increase over 2020, which had 29,742, but it’s 19-percent lower than 2019, which came in at 59,872.

The year started out slowly, with the first four months failing to cross the 3,000 passenger mark. But starting with May, every month for the rest of the year had at least 3,700 passengers.

Unsurprisingly, the summer months were the airport’s busiest. June, July and August all crossed the 5,000 passenger mark, with July having the most passengers at 5,546.

The monthly average during 2021 was 4,040 passengers, up from 2020’s average of 2,479 but down compared to 2019’s 4,989.

The airport’s flights have been 85-percent full, said airport director Todd Chatfield, which is promising, considering the struggles the airline industry has been having nationwide.

Between staffing shortages, increasing operation costs and COVID-19 variants, there are fewer planes and pilots to go around.

There were days last summer where Gillette had three flights. Moving forward, that most likely won’t be the case.

“We’re probably looking, at the most in the summer, two flights a day roundtrip,” Chatfield said.


Sheridan clerk asks for help with ‘island’ voting issues

SHERIDAN — Sheridan County Clerk and Recorder Eda Schunk Thompson came before the Sheridan City Council Monday asking for its aid in addressing an issue that could lead to split ballots.

The issue, which became evident over the last six months of redistricting work on the part of the county and the Wyoming Legislature, are “county islands” or little pockets of unincorporated county property completely surrounded by city property, Schunk Thompson said.

The county has detected six of these islands. Inside of the islands are approximately 25 residential addresses, primarily along East Ridge Road, Gable Way, Kroe Lane and Scrutchfield Lane. A total of 10 registered voters live within the islands, according to Schunk Thompson’s presentation.

These islands will cause a major headache for the county come election time, Schunk Thompson said. The county has 29 precinct election boundaries and each boundary normally has one ballot. However, when a precinct boundary is split by other boundaries  — such as county property inside of city property  — a second “split” ballot must be created for that precinct.

Split ballots cause problems for the county’s election office, Schunk Thompson said. It creates challenges in ensuring each resident receives the correct ballot and is voting for races in which districts they reside. 

The solution, Schunk Thompson said, is to annex the islands and the respective properties into the city.

Schunk Thompson said the annexations do not need to be performed immediately, but she recommended resolving the issue before candidates file for this year’s preliminary election.