Week 36: The pandemic in Wyoming from Nov. 14-20 - Cheyenne, WY Cap City News
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Week 36: The pandemic in Wyoming from Nov. 14-20

(John Roedel, Cap City News)

November 20, 2020 by Katie KlingspornWyoFile

A spate of Wyoming counties sought and received mask mandates this week as COVID-19 continued its record-breaking spread in the state. Gov. Mark Gordon deployed resources to overwhelmed hospitals and tightened some restrictions on gatherings, but did not issue a mask order. 

Meanwhile, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths continued to mount, ranking Wyoming’s pandemic metrics among the worst in a nation ravaged by the virus. The Wyoming Department of Health announced a record 53 deaths — more than twice the number it announced last week. COVID-19-related hospitalizations also hit a new peak on Wednesday, at 210.

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Health care providers continued to sound alarms as the crush of patients severely strains their staffing resources. 

“We are inundated with patients needing to be seen at our clinics – somedays seeing over 100 patients a day just for COVID19 concerns – on top of caring for our regularly scheduled patients,” read a press release from the Lander Medical Clinic. “Because of this, as much as 10% of our staff is either out sick or exposed and we are short staffed. In addition, the hospital is full.”

The situation became critical enough to prompt a spate of counties to seek mask mandates. Just over half of all Wyoming counties, plus the Wind River Indian Reservation, now have mask orders in place, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. These include nine counties whose orders were approved Tuesday: Natrona, Sweetwater, Sheridan, Park, Lincoln, Carbon, Goshen, Sublette and Hot Springs. Teton, Laramie and Albany previously had orders approved. Others are pending.

A graph from the Covid Tracking Project shows the trajectory of Wyoming’s cases and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic. (Covid Tracking Project)

Gordon on Thursday announced he is deploying outside resources to buttress the state’s strained health care workers. These include the Wyoming National Guard, contracted traveling medical staff and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Help is on the way,” Gordon said in a release. 

Teams of doctors and nurses from the DHHS have been assigned to two of the state’s hardest-hit hospitals: Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. 

Guard members will also deploy to CRMC, which had 52 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 complications as of Thursday. In addition, as many as 50 traveling medical staff are expected to be assigned to hospitals throughout the state by the end of the week, according to the governor’s office. 

Gordon late on Thursday announced new state restrictions on gatherings. The orders mark the first time state officials tightened health restrictions since the spring. 

The orders limit indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 people without restrictions, allow for larger gatherings with health precautions in place and impose seating and capacity requirements on businesses like restaurants and gyms. They exempt faith-based services. 

The orders do not entail a mask mandate — something Gordon said last Friday the state was contemplating, and something neighboring states like Utah and North Dakota have enacted as cases explode in Mountain West and Plains states. Nearly all of Wyoming’s county health officers last week sent a joint letter to Gordon asking him to institute an order. 

The Wyoming Republican Party’s central committee, meanwhile, recently called on the governor to rescind his declaration of a state of emergency, and with it the legal underpinning for public-health restrictions. Gordon has not publicly responded. 

Virus metrics continued to accelerate for an 11th straight week as Wyoming’s surge stretched into a third month. Though the growth of new active cases slowed, the number of deaths announced by the DOH spiked sharply. More than 30% of the state’s 176 total deaths were announced this week. 

All told, Wyoming has now tallied 22,489 lab-confirmed infections. 

That includes 5,047 new cases in the last week — the largest weekly growth so far. New single-day infections continued to clock in in the triple digits or higher, with 1,162 lab-confirmed cases announced Tuesday, 739 Thursday and 703 Wednesday. 

By Friday morning, active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t recovered — reached 11,089, a 26% increase from last week. 

Widespread Infections continued to disrupt life across the state. A public health clinic in Gillette postponed its drive-thru flu clinic after about half its employees contracted COVID-19. The city of Laramie closed many of its buildings to the public. Wyoming’s chief justice suspended jury trials until further notice. The pandemic even cancelled the University of Wyoming’s upcoming football game against Utah State. 

In a widely distributed op-ed, two prominent Wyoming business lobbyists urged state residents to take precautions in order to avoid further state restrictions. 

“We had anticipated five months ago the likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19. We were wrong. This isn’t a wave, it’s a tsunami,” wrote Wyoming State Liquor Association Executive Director Mike Moser and Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association Executive Director Chris Brown. “And that tsunami threatens to engulf many of those businesses that have managed to survive thus far as well as the well-being, and lives, of our fellow Wyomingites.”

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Forbes magazine has deemed Wyoming the fourth most dangerous state to travel to. On Thursday, the CDC advised Americans against traveling for the holiday due to pandemic concerns.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: covid@cnchd.org

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.