By Joshua Wolfson
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Wyoming’s rate of COVID-19 nursing home deaths ranks third in the nation, according to information released Thursday by the AARP.
There were nearly three such deaths for every 100 nursing home residents in the state during a four-week period that ended Nov. 15, AARP’s figures show. Only South Dakota (4.82) and Montana (3.12) ranked higher for nursing home deaths per 100 residents during that time.
Nationally, the rate for that period was 0.78.
Wyoming’s nursing home death rate remained well below the national average until this fall, when it spiked, the AARP’s database shows. That spike mirrored a statewide surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that began in mid-September. Of late, that surge has begun to ebb, though health officials warn that it could rise again due, in part, to holiday gatherings and travel.
In response to that surge, Gov. Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist announced a statewide mask mandate Monday, as well as new limits on public gatherings and the hours a bar or restaurant can remain open. A majority of Wyoming counties had instituted their own mask requirements prior to this week’s statewide order.
The AARP’s fatality numbers don’t come as a surprise. Health officials in Natrona County confirmed last week that a combined 50 residents had died at two facilities in Casper: Casper Mountain Rehabilitation and Care Center and Shepherd of the Valley Rehabilitation and Wellness. Those represented the two deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the state since the virus emerged here in March.
For the four weeks preceding Nov. 15, Wyoming ranked seventh in the nation for the rate of cases among nursing home residents, with 12.4 per every 100, according to the AARP. Nationally, that rate was 5.7.
Staff cases have also spiked in Wyoming, shooting up from 0.5 per 100 residents in September to 13 in mid-November. Not surprisingly, 63.6% of facilities in the Equality State reported a shortage of direct care workers, according to the AARP figures.
“These numbers really underscore the need for visitors to nursing homes to be cognizant of policies put in-place to keep their loved ones safe,” AARP Wyoming State Director Sam Shumway said. “We have heard reports in recent weeks of the public ignoring safety protocols. When that happens, nursing home residents and staff suffer.”
Meanwhile, nearly a third of Wyoming nursing homes said they did not have a one-week supply of all personal protective equipment for the four-week period ending in mid-November. The facilities reported having the toughest time finding N-95 masks, followed by gloves and gowns, according to the AARP.