In-person appointments at the Casper VA Clinic from Jan. 24 through Jan. 28 will be rescheduled or changed to virtual appointments due to staffing.

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According to a release by the Sheridan Veteran's Affairs Health Care System, the clinic will reopen for in-person appointments after a week.

Kristina Miller, public relations officer with the Sheridan VA system, said they are short seven staff members due to COVID-19, other illnesses like the flu, or because staff family members have tested positive for COVID-19, out of the 26 staff that work at the Casper clinic.

Among VA clinics in Wyoming, there are currently 67 active cases among employees and 256 among veterans, while 1,549 employees and 17,338 veterans have been fully vaccinated.

Miller said she is unsure of the vaccination rate among staff at the Casper clinic, but that there is a mask requirement at the clinic, and all staff is required to either be vaccinated or if they have an exemption to submit regular negative tests.

When the pandemic began back in March of 2020, the clinic in Casper moved to virtual appointments only for some amount of time, and since then Miller said they have not had to close down due to illness, however, there have been instances where they have closed the clinic due to weather.

Part of the reason for the increase in absences is due to the omicron variant of COVID-19, which Miller said has led to more staff getting infected, though she believes none have had any severe illness.

COVID-19 cases in Wyoming have been increasing a large amount in the past month, going from 106 cases on Dec. 17, up to 995 on Jan. 6, to an all-time high of 4,085 cases on Jan 18, and down to 1,874 on Jan 21.

Hospitalizations in the state, but especially in Natrona County have also seen an increase, going from a low of seven patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Jan. 2, the lowest since July, up to 46 patients on Jan. 24, the highest since the beginning of Nov.

Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health, said the best way to protect against COVID-19 and omicron is to get vaccinated, get a booster shot, and wear a mask while in indoor public settings.

Miller said as she and her husband are veterans, they know the difficulty involved with moving to virtual appointments and that there is also a difficulty for doctors and nurses.

"I'm a veteran, my husband's a veteran," Miller said. "He gets all his care through the VA, and it was certainly a hard transition...All of the sudden without a whole lot of warning to have this significant shift, not only at our VA but at our community hospitals, that all of a sudden couldn't see patients at all if they were not urgent reasons, it was difficult for everybody...The people that provide the care are as much if not more aware of how that impacts the care, because it was just as hard for some of our providers who came into the profession of caring for people, whether as a nurse or a medical provider, because of something deep in them for caring for people. That feels harder when you're not able to share the same space as them. Did it cause a decrease in what people felt about their care? Absolutely. But that was nationwide. It was such a difficult thing for those of us who are in direct patient care like our nurses."

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