Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Aug. 6

Miss the headlines this week? Learn more about Wyoming's spike in COVID-19 cases, updates at the State Legislature and the U.S. Senate infrastructure bill.
Much of Wyoming's infrastructure, including over 100 bridges, needs an update. (Johnny Adolphson/Shutterstock)

by | Aug 6, 2021 | News

COVID-19 Risk Back Up

Wyoming’s top health officer said Wednesday she is “deeply concerned” about a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant of the virus. Dr. Alexia Harrist said the variant is rapidly changing Wyoming’s fight against the novel coronavirus and that the state’s low vaccination rate makes it more vulnerable to new outbreaks. Harrist also said she agrees with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] guidance recommending that vaccinated individuals resume wearing masks indoors in areas with high COVID-19 rates. Teton County currently falls in the moderate risk level and has the highest vaccination rate in the state. About 95% of new coronavirus infections between May 1 and July 28 were reported among Wyomingites who were not fully vaccinated, according to state data. Governor Mark Gordon also said Wednesday he will not require school districts to issues mask mandates for the coming school year but instead encourages local districts to make the best decisions for their community.

Alleged Wildlife Aggravator Faces Charges

The Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming announced Monday that a 25-year-old Illinois woman has been charged with one count of willfully remaining, approaching and photographing wildlife within 100 yards following a grizzly bear encounter in Yellowstone National Park in May. Samantha Dehring was identified from video footage that went viral on social media. Dehring is also charged with one count of teasing or intentionally disturbing wildlife. She faces up to one year in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Lummis Talks Infrastructure

Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis joined Fox Business Monday to talk about the spending bills currently moving through Congress. A bipartisan group of senators voted to advance a hard infrastructure package last week, but neither Lummis nor her Cowboy State counterpart John Barrasso voted for it. Lummis said she’s concerned about government spending on both infrastructure and a second Democratic bill likely to follow in the coming weeks, particularly as it relates to inflation.

“As I visit with people in Wyoming, my constituents are saying every month prices are going up for houses, for rental cars, for hotels, for food. And it is reminiscent of the early 1980s, late 1970s, which were a very scary time for our economy and the people who are trying to make a living and make our economy grow,” Lummis said. 

Lummis said she expects a final vote on the infrastructure package, which includes spending on roads, bridges, trains, electric vehicles and more, later this week. Wyoming currently faces at least hundreds of millions of dollars of capital construction needs, according to the nonprofit publication WyoFile. One hundred dams are rated as high-hazard, drinking water needs total more than $450 million and schools are $149 million in the hole.

State Lawmakers Still Hard at Work this Summer

The Wyoming Outdoor Council held a virtual meeting Wednesday to discuss what’s happening at the Wyoming State Legislature during the summer interim period. Lawmakers aren’t technically in session or making major decisions, but committees are still meeting regularly to lay the groundwork for future bills. Program director for the Outdoor Council Kristin Gunther said now is a good time for activists to make their elected officials aware of issues around Wyoming while they have the time to stop, listen and write stronger legislation.

It’s actually a really important time for us as lobbyists and also for the public to be able to participate in some of these conversations, because theoretically speaking, at least, it’s a time for more consideration. More deliberation,” Gunther said. “The committees aren’t as rushed into needing to get back to the floor for a vote really quickly.” 

Conservationists around the Cowboy State are paying attention to several issues right now that are slated to be addressed during next year’s session, including the influx of tourists to public lands, the transition away from fossil fuels and tribal relations.

Jackson Hole’s Children’s Organizations Face Needs

A fundraising effort supporting the emotional and social health of Jackson Hole kids is still accepting donations from the public through this week. Champions for Children helps fund programs at the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, Teton Literacy Center and Children’s Learning Center, which cater to about 88% of children countywide, according to Patti Boyd. Boyd is executive director of the Children’s Learning Center and she said this past year has been tough on Jackson Hole’s youngest citizens. 

I saw it personally played out in [our] Head Start [program] a little bit. The kids are behind where they would normally be this time of year because of so many absences and so many children who individually could not come to school because of a family illness,” Boyd said. “But we also saw the kids playing things like first responder and doctor and all that in their free play. So, we know that it’s been on their mind and in their family conversation.”

Like many of the valley’s human services organizations, the Children’s Learning Center faces funding challenges and tired staff members. Resources from the community keep scholarship programs, reading hours, daycares and more going. And Boyd said that can be critical for the development of Jackson Hole’s young people. 

I mean, there is just like over 50 years worth of research on how important these early years are in a child’s life. You know, there’s something like a million new neural connectors a second [that] happen in the brains of children from birth to five,” Boyd said.

More information about the fundraiser, where to donate and what it supports is available at championsforchildrenjh.com.

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