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Wyoming reported another 23 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the state's total to 351.

The Wyoming Department of Health still has not reported Teton County's third coronavirus death, which happened Dec. 6. A lag of up to several weeks can occur in the reporting process because deaths must be certified by the Department of Vital Statistics before they show up in the reports.

Though mortality numbers are not yet finalized and published for this year, COVID-19 is on pace to be the third or fourth leading cause of death in Wyoming in 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2017 show that heart disease and cancer far outstrip other causes of death in the state, but after that, chronic lower respiratory disease killed 366 people that year and accidents 348.

The seasonal flu and pneumonia killed an estimated 115 people in Wyoming in 2017, according to the CDC report. In contrast, the Wyoming Department of Health said the 2017-18 flu season had 27 reported flu deaths, though its annual flu report said that because the flu is not always tested for, its numbers "may not be valid."

Given the lag in reporting and the two weeks left in the year, Wyoming's COVID-19 deaths could approach or exceed 400 by the time 2020 ends. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which publishes one of the leading models for the coronavirus, projects Wyoming will see 440 deaths by Jan. 1.

The state Health Department reported Thursday afternoon that Teton County had 15 new cases in the past 24 hours and an active case count of 90. In the past two weeks, the rate of new cases per 100,000 people has fallen to 75 per 100,000, a 39% decrease.

The state is seeing similar drops, as are localized hot spots. Natrona County, which has seen an outsize number of deaths, now has a new daily case rate of 54 per 100,000 people, a 43% decrease in the past two weeks.

However, the fall spike has been far deadlier in Natrona County than in many parts of Wyoming. It has 74 of Wyoming's COVID-19 deaths, including 11 of the fatalities reported Thursday.

In national coronavirus news, a Food and Drug Administration panel endorsed the Moderna vaccine, paving the way for it to receive emergency use authorization. Once Moderna's vaccine receives that authorization it will be distributed to Wyoming's counties that do not have the ultra-cold storage capabilities needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that was distributed to five counties this week.

This story has been updated to show that the CDC number for 2017 flu deaths is an estimate. — Ed.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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