Health officer recommends mask use inside

CASPER — State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist is recommending vaccinated residents in areas with moderate to high COVID-19 transmission wear face masks in indoor public settings, she told the Star-Tribune on Thursday.

Just eight Wyoming counties are seeing low enough transmission for that recommendation not to apply, according to state data. That list includes Crook, Hot Springs, Johnson, Natrona, Niobrara, Sheridan, Washakie and Weston counties.

That leaves 15 other counties, including four of the five largest in the state: Laramie, Campbell, Sweetwater and Albany.

The recommendation comes two days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar guidance that vaccinated residents in areas with low vaccine uptake should again don masks indoors as a more contagious variant of the virus spreads.

That variant, called the Delta variant, is already considered dominant in Wyoming, Harrist said.

It’s considered between 50-60-percent more contagious than its predecessor the Alpha variant, which was already about 50% more contagious than the original virus strain. It is also believed to be better at thwarting vaccines, though Harrist emphasized vaccinated individuals who do contract the Delta variant are far less likely to experience severe illness.

Wyoming is among the least-vaccinated states in the country, raking fourth-lowest both for those who’ve received one shot and those who are fully inoculated. A litany of national surveys and data analyses have also identified Wyoming as having the communities most reluctant to accept a shot.

Vaccines have been available to the general public since late March, yet fewer than 33 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

What the recommendations mean for local businesses remains to be seen. Natrona County is still recording low virus transmission levels based on state metrics. Still, Jereca Lutz, business development manager for the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce, said businesses have been reacting to the news mostly with uncertainty.

“Everybody’s just kind of watching and waiting right now,” she said, adding that most of the business owners she speaks with are urging employees to get vaccinated and “doing whatever they need to do to stay open.”