GILLETTE, Wyo. – As her beloved grandmother’s health declined, Lauren Fanning’s family insisted that she get a COVID-19 vaccine before paying a final visit.
She spent more than a week researching vaccines on the Internet and was distressed at the decision during her 12-hour shift during and after her coal-carrying job at an open-pit mine near Gillette, Vayo. Her grandmother died earlier this month. , but Fanning stands by his choice not to get vaccinated.
Pfenning embodies the highly independent, deeply conservative Wyoming way of life that has defined the state’s response to the pandemic and made it the second-least-vaccinated state as of Tuesday, behind only West Virginia. Only 23% of residents in her county have been vaccinated, putting it in one of the lowest places in the US with its COVID-19 vaccination rates not cracking 25%.
Gillette’s position epitomizes the live-free, mind-your-own-business mentality toward the pandemic that dominates conservative America at a time when the Delta version is tearing through unconnected communities.
For every 100 people seen around the city in Gillette, one can count the number of people wearing masks. Among the group of six people who smoked, all said they had too many concerns to mess with the vaccine. Down the street, a black shirt displayed in front of a store warned, “Attention snowflakes: this is not a safe place.”
People are being pushed by President Joe Biden on the workplace vaccine mandate. Asked about the workplace mandate and the option of bypassing the requirement with regular virus testing, Fanning’s immediate response: “Testing away!”
Anger over the president’s interference in Wyoming’s affairs rages across the state, but it gets personal in Gillette.
The region’s huge coal industry has suffered a decade of decline amid competition from renewable energy and cheap natural gas, and coal regulations imposed by President Barack Obama – and lifted by President Donald Trump – have fueled fury among residents. is provoked.
“It just feels like one attack after another. I think we just want to push harder at this point. Wyoming as a whole is sick of being pushed around,” Fanning said.
Throughout, COVID-19 patients have been filling several hospitals in Wyoming, including Gillette, the state’s third-largest city.
At Campbell County Memorial Hospital, 17 of 27 intensive care and medico-surgical unit patients recently had severe COVID-19, with just two beds open, while the worst coronavirus cases were reported more in neighboring states. Was sent for intensive treatment.
Meanwhile, a local surge — 34% in a week — pushed COVID-19 cases to nearly four times the national rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, more than 96% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 had not been vaccinated. Yet the daily influx of COVID-19 failed to persuade many Campbell County Memorial Hospital staff to get vaccinated.
The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Attila Barbas, said only 39% of hospital staff have been vaccinated, and there are no plans to require or encourage it. Wyoming’s statewide vaccination rate of 41% is well below the national rate of 55%.
“I’m a big believer in freedom of choice. I honestly think it’s a fundamental aspect of being an American. And I think mandates can be troublesome and lead to some degree of pushback,” Barbas said.
The doctor got vaccinated and encouraged relatives and patients to do the same. Ultimately, though, “that should be a choice you make,” Barabas said.
Wyoming’s view of the vaccine mandate may be revealed soon. Wyoming officials are promising a vigorous fight against Biden’s vaccine mandate, talking about using the president’s coronavirus relief fund to pay fines levied against businesses for disobeying mandates Can you
Also, they are slowly encouraging people to get the jab.
In a television advertisement showing people dancing to country music, a woman says she was vaccinated for being able to “have a women’s night out”. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, Wyoming has spent $900,000 and plans to spend $685,000 on such advertisements.
Attempting to strike a balance with COVID-19 policies has at times shocked Republican Governor Mark Gordon. While preparing to impose an unpopular statewide mask mandate last year, Gordon attacked those who refused to take steps to control the virus, calling them “knuckleheads.”
This year, as the Delta version brought more deaths and disease to the state, Gordon promised a no-mask mandate, but said people should get vaccinated “if you’re willing.”
Stefan Johansson, the department’s interim director, said vaccine resistance during the pandemic represents a broader dilemma for public health officials in a region where the prevailing approach leads to high smoking and low flu vaccination, cancer screening and seat belt use rates. .
“We just have a population that I think is a sign of Mountain West culture, which, you know, lives independent and doesn’t always get health advice,” Johansson said.
For Pfenning, a coal mine worker, the decision not to vaccinate came in his belief that the approval process was hasty and has too many risky side effects, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people have safely received the shots and Have avoided serious illness and hospitalization.
“It has nothing to do with politics. I’m also picky on what I give to my horses, I’m picky on what I give to my dogs. And we tend to over-vaccinate,” Fenning said.
And while Fanning said his decision was not political, politics pervaded. In November, Wyoming gave Trump its biggest margin of victory of any state at 70%. Campbell County gave Trump the biggest margin of his victory in Wyoming, 87%.
Campbell County Commissioner Dale Shelstead said, “The people here are so conservative that they have grassroots roots to say, ‘Look, I don’t like the government controlling my life.
Scott Klemm, pastor of Gillette’s Central Baptist Church, is among the many people in the city who have not been vaccinated. The former Republican lawmaker led a masked protest at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne in January and said he trusted his immune system to protect himself.
“It’s none of your business whether I’ve been vaccinated or not,” Clem said. “I think that, in some sense, is to be busy with other men’s affairs. I think there are some feelings here in Wyoming. We are very rude individuals here in the West.”