Hospital operations continue

TORRINGTON – While many healthcare workers across Wyoming have loudly voiced their concerns since the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, Torrington’s Community Hospital has not seen much of an uproar.

Banner Health first announced its vaccine mandate in an email to employees on July 20 of this year. The deadline for all Banner Health employees to have received their COVID vaccine was Nov. 1.

“We have 100% compliance with our mandatory policy,” Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said. “We have over 90% of our team members who are fully vaccinated.”

The Biden administration announced on Nov. 4 a mandate requiring all eligible staff at health care facilities in the country must have at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6.

Governor Mark Gordon and Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill announced they had taken legal action on behalf of the state in early November against the Biden administration, challenging the mandate. The rule was issued through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The lawsuit alleges CMS does not have the authority to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers and that the mandate would prevent workers from effectively doing their jobs.

The United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri issued a preliminary injunction on Nov. 29, temporarily halting the order while it is under review. The injunction only applies in the 10 states who entered the lawsuit, including Wyoming, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

While lawmakers debate just how far the federal government’s reach is when it comes to healthcare mandates, hundreds of thousands of employees across the country face mandates similar to Banner Health’s. Many of them have chosen to lose their jobs rather than take the vaccine.

Coronavirus variants such as Delta have caused concern among health officials. With the rise of the new Omicron variant, officials have urged citizens to get vaccinated and be prepared.

“The vast majority of COVID-19 patients that are hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Bessel said. “In our Banner hospitals today, approximately 85% of COVID patients that are hospitalized are unvaccinated… In some of our ICUs on certain days, 100% of all COVID ICU patients are unvaccinated.”

Banner Health officials are not the only medical experts urging vaccinations and other precautions.

“We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic,” Soumya Swaminathan said. Swaminathan is one of the World Health Organization’s top scientists.

As of now, little is known about the Omicron variant. One thing doctors have noticed is just how contagious Omicron appears to be.

“What we do know is that it looks like it’s highly contagious,” Bessel said. “It looks like vaccines will still have an impact on those that get ill and those that may require hospitalization…Get vaccinated, get your COVID booster and mask when you’re in indoor congregate settings.


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