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State Briefs

State adds almost 9000 jobs in third quarter

CASPER (WNE) — Wyoming reported sizable job growth over 2021, though it’s still behind where it was before the coronavirus pandemic. 

From the third quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021, Wyoming added 8967 jobs, according to data from the Department of Workforce Services. The state’s total payroll — that is, all the money people were paid across Wyoming — rose by $312.4 million, representing an increase of 9.8%. 

Leisure and hospitality businesses experienced the biggest boom by far, adding 4632 jobs, for an overall growth rate of 12.9%. 

That’s not a surprise, considering the lucrative year it had. During the summer of 2021, the industry — which includes things like restaurants, tourism and entertainment — came bounding back from its 2020 lows. 

Compared to 2020, leisure and hospitality brought in millions more in sales and use tax money, according to fact sheets published by the Economic Analysis Division. 

Next to leisure and hospitality, the professional and business services sector experienced the most job growth — adding 1544 positions and growing by 8.3% from the third quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021. (That industry includes careers in finance, consulting and marketing, among others.) 

Government jobs, in contrast, shrank over that same period. The state lost 419 federal jobs, a decrease of 4.9%. Similarly, the state government lost 204 positions, a loss of 1.6%. 

The health care and social services industry decreased by 114 positions, or 0.5%. Healthcare facilities have had trouble filling their staffs full since the start of the pandemic — a trend that’s continued through 2020 and 2021.

COVID cases up after mask mandate ends

CHEYENNE – Two weeks after the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees voted to remove the mask mandate in schools, COVID-19 cases spiked for the first time in months.

Nearly 400 students tested positive between Jan. 24 and Feb. 4 in the district, as well as almost 100 faculty and staff members. There is no data on the number of quarantines or contact exposures outside of the reported cases by county health officials due to the board’s decision, as well.

Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department officials said they did not advise the mask mandate removal, which was approved at the start of January, and still recommend face coverings as an added measure of COVID-19 prevention.

“We had over 1000 kids test positive in January, and that’s birth to 18,” Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Director Kathy Emmons said last week. “Which is a phenomenal number of kids, much higher than we’ve ever had.”

The trend continued throughout the county as cases “went sky high,” but Emmons said based on the data and the jump in weekly cases in LCSD1, she believes the masking decision had an impact. The month before, there were rarely more than five cases reported a day, and now there are no fewer than 20.

Two deaths linked to Fentanyl

GILLETTE (WNE) — Fentanyl played a part in two overdose deaths within ten days of each other in December and January.

On Dec. 30, 2021, Dustin Patten, 38 was found by a family member in his apartment in the 700 block of Express Drive, said Campbell County Coroner Paul Wallem.

After an autopsy and a toxicology report, the probable cause of death was determined to be an overdose with a mixture of drugs, including fentanyl and meth, Wallem said.

Less than two weeks later, on Jan. 8, Brady Herdt, 30, was found unresponsive in his home on Monte Vista Lane.

His probable cause of death was a mixed drug overdose, including fentanyl and methamphetamine, Wallem said.

Those bring the total number of fentanyl-related deaths in Campbell County to 12.

In 2019, there were two fentanyl-related deaths. In 2020, there were four, and 2021 had five. And so far in 2022, there’s been one.

Woman dies in snowmobile crash

RAWLINS (WNE) — A 64-year-old Casper woman died in late January while snowmobiling on Forest Service Road 225 in Carbon County.

The Carbon County Sheriff’s Office received a call at about 11:45 a.m. Jan. 28 reporting a snowmobile had driven off the trail and hit a tree, according to a CCSO report about the crash. The initial report was that the driver, later identified as Sherry Volker of Casper, was unconscious but breathing.

Deputy Patrick Patterson responded to the scene from Saratoga and was informed that CPR was in progress, the report says. Patterson also requested search and rescue also be paged out because he didn’t have a confirmed location for where Volker was. The request also was to get more people to assist with CPR.

An ambulance from Saratoga and Classic Air Medical were deployed in response to the call and Classic located and followed emergency vehicles to the scene of the crash.

When Patterson arrived, the flight crew from Classic was already evaluating the snowmobile driver, who was placed on a backboard, and multiple volunteers had arrived to help move her from the snow to the road, the CCSO report says. From there, Carbon County Search and Rescue and the flight crew performed advanced lifesaving measures, working on Volker for about an hour before the flight nurse determined there was nothing else they could do to save her.

She was pronounced dead at 1:25 p.m. and family present at the scene was notified of her condition.

Former legislator Christensen dead at 62

JACKSON (WNE) — Leland Christensen, a former state legislator, Teton County commissioner and Alta resident who spent his adult life in public service, died Thursday night.

“Leland was a kind and committed public servant and a good friend who represented the best of Wyoming,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement sent to the Jackson Hole Daily. “I am grateful for his service in the Legislature and as deputy director of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security. He will be deeply missed.”

Hunter Christensen confirmed his father’s death Friday.

The former legislator caught COVID-19 and was fighting pneumonia and complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chemotherapy in the ICU. Hunter Christensen said his father was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and boosted, and died of complications from the medical maladies he was facing. He was 62.

Hunter Christensen said his family welcomes “continued prayers.”

Leland Christensen was a Teton County commissioner from 2005 to 2011, and before that worked in law enforcement for 20 years with the Teton County and Lincoln County sheriff’s offices. The Wyoming native served 15 years with the 19th Special Forces Airborne Army and the National Guard.

In 2011, Christensen began an eight-year stint as a Republican state senator in the Wyoming Legislature. In 2019, Gordon appointed him to the post of deputy director of Homeland Security, and in 2021, he began working for U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis as her state director.