Clusters of coronavirus turning up in more facilities

CASPER — In fewer than 14 days, Wyoming officials have addressed potential and realized coronavirus clusters within at least three long-term care facilities and three childcare centers. 

The various facilities — in Fremont, Washakie, Natrona and Albany counties — fell across the spectrum in terms of the severity of their spread. At Worland Healthcare Rehabilitation Center, three residents have died and more than 20 people directly tied to the nursing home have become infected. Multiple people remain hospitalized, as of Friday. 

At Casper’s Life Care Center, one resident was sick and died days after his infection was confirmed. As of Friday, there are no known other coronavirus cases tied to Life Care; a Natrona County health official said the deceased’s infection is not believed to be tied to his stay at Life Care, which officials described as “brief.” 

A Riverton nursing home — Wind River Rehabilitation and Wellness — has had at least two staff members infected, a state health official said Friday morning. Fremont County continues to be the hardest-hit area of the state, with 244 of the state’s 682 confirmed cases. The disease there first presented in another long-term care facility, the state’s first identified cluster. 

Three childcare facilities across the state have all been affected in the latter part of May. Casper’s Learning Junction closed temporarily — and reopened earlier this week — after one child there tested positive; that case is believed to be tied to an outbreak at Wyoming Medical Center. Mass testing at that facility turned up no additional cases. 

Another child tested positive and temporarily closed the Evanston Child Development Center; a local health official there told the Star-Tribune that it was “kind of a mystery” how that child contracted the illness but that mass testing there had also turned up no new cases. Like Learning Junction, that facility has also reopened. 

Late last week, a Laramie childcare center — the Developmental Preschool and Day Care Center — had a staff member test positive, prompting another temporary closure. Jaime Stine, the facility’s executive director, said the facility is hoping to reopen by early next week, when the two-week incubation period for the virus will end. 

She said the facility’s screening process quickly identified the staff member’s potential infection last week. Mass testing there has also not uncovered a cluster beyond the singular staff member. 

“We chose to go ahead and close the entire center down just because we couldn’t guarantee that the exposure was isolated to one classroom,” Stine said. “Basically we wanted to close down to re-evaluate all of our processes and procedures to ensure that when we do bring all of the kiddos back in, we’re keeping all of the people safe and trying to limit exposure.” 

The potential for spread within communal care facilities — particularly nursing homes — has been a significant concern for health officials across the country since the virus first presented in the United States earlier this year. Indeed, the most deadly initial outbreak was tied to a nursing home in Washington. 

In an effort to mitigate that risk, federal and state authorities locked down visitation and instituted protocols for staff screening and movement of the facilities’ residents. Still, the virus has wormed its way into multiple long-term facilities in Wyoming, along with hospitals — including Wyoming Medical Center. 

Clayton Van Houten, who runs the Wyoming Health Department’s epidemiology unit, said that the disease’s spread within already restricted facilities can be attributed partially to staff — even with the extreme precautions many are taking. He also said that the residents of the facilities may travel between hospitals or other facilities, which may also contribute to the issue. 

Van Houten said the facilities often house people who are particularly susceptible to the disease. The residents within them are typically sicker and require more staff attention. 

“It’s a dual thing — in communal settings, it’s easier to spread the virus in those settings,” he said, “and long-term care is one we especially worry about given the poor outcomes that occur.” 

While the virus has thus far not been particularly deadly for younger people, Van Houten said health officials are concerned about spread within daycare centers and similar facilities because children are in close proximity to each other and can spread the disease to older people, including staff and relatives, who may be more at-risk for serious complications from the virus.