Coronavirus case count grows to 10

The number of Wyoming residents diagnosed with the coronavirus COVID-19 grew to 10 on Monday, with seven people testing positive for the disease in Fremont County.

The news came just hours after Gov. Mark Gordon announced the creation of five task forces, to be headed by the state’s top officials, to deal not only with the coronavirus itself in the state, but with its aftermath.

“(The task forces seek to) begin to lay the groundwork for coming out of what is going to be a prolonged period of very serious curtailment of business activity, which will have an effect on our economy,” Gordon said during a news conference.

The seven new patients testing positive for COVID-19 were all connected with one case diagnosed last week, in an older man living at the Showboat Retirement Center in Lander.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, had said earlier that the original coronavirus diagnoses in Fremont County was concerning because it appeared the man caught the illness from someone else in the community rather than through travel.

Meanwhile, Gordon said the state’s top officials would lead task forces on education, health care, state services and operations, banking and business and transportation and infrastructure.

The task forces will be responsible for making sure things in the state run smoothly during the outbreak and then helping the state in the aftermath of what is likely to be a serious disruption to the economy, Gordon said.

“It is important as a state and a region that we begin to think about how we re-emerge with a more stable state of affairs, one in a world where we understand business processes must work, people have to go to work, kids must be educated and life must go on,” he said.

In other developments:

Crowd limitations: The Jackson Town Council was to meet Tuesday to consider an emergency ordinance that would close theaters, bars, nightclubs, tasting rooms, coffee and tea shops, self-serve buffets, museums, pools, fitness centers, gyms, conference rooms and spas.

Town officials said they were responding to President Donald Trump’s recommendation on Monday that people avoid gatherings of groups of 10 or more.

The council had earlier adopted an emergency ordinance prohibiting gatherings of 100 people or more.

Education: Public schools across the state, most having decided to close until early April, began making plans for teaching their student through online classes. Teton County schools, which began their spring break one week early, had developed a plan by Sunday for how to provide education online.

The University of Wyoming announced Monday that it would offer undergraduate courses online only through the end of the semester.

Central Wyoming College announced it would extend its spring break by a week, through March 29, becoming the seventh of the state’s community colleges to close.

Officials with Kemmerer schools said they would close schools Thursday, giving them time to prepare and train students for potential online education. The district said its board would decide on March 27, the end of the district’s regular spring break, whether classes would resume on March 30.

As of Monday, schools in Gillette also remained open and the district website said a decision on continuing classes would be made in several days.

Cities restricted: The city of Riverton closed its offices on Monday, but said it would continue to provide service through phone, email, website and by appointment. Riverton police also said they would stop all non-essential services.

City halls were also closed in Gillette and Mills. Non-essential personnel in Cheyenne were told to work at home and the city’s offices were restricted to those who had made appointments.

Saratoga’s city offices were also closed.

Grocery stores: As bulk buying continued around the state, leaving grocery store shelves empty, Gov. Gordon used his news conference to urge Wyoming residents to think about others as they collect supplies.

“It is important that we remember Wyoming has always been a resilient and a strong community,” he said. “It is a community where we look out after our neighbors and it is a community where we think about our actions and exercise common sense. Wyoming, I know we’re better than this.”

Testing: The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center joined Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Rock Springs in announcing it would provide a drive-through facility for the collection of samples to be tested for coronavirus. In both cases, patients must have been referred for testing by a health care provider.

At St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, a triage tent was established outside the hospital to evaluate those who believe they might have coronavirus.

Facility closures: Recreational centers and libraries across most of the state closed, as did some private business such as the Wind River Hotel and Casino.

At least three newspapers closed their offices to the public as well:  the Casper Star-Tribune, Rocket-Miner in Rock Springs and the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Events canceled: Almost any event expected to draw 50 or more people was canceled or postponed by Monday.

Churches across the state announced they would close for some time or offer services online, with the Diocese of Cheyenne suspending all Masses until further notice.

Meals for students: Schools across the state made arrangements to continue providing meals for students who rely on their schools to eat.

In Jackson, Jackson Hole High School’ cafeteria was to be open this week and students would be able to pick up two meals to take home.

Laramie County’s school districts in Cheyenne and rural eastern Laramie County announced they would continue to deliver food to students during their extended three-week spring break.