CHEYENNE – Laramie County has its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The first new case, identified Tuesday afternoon, is an older Laramie County man who isn’t hospitalized, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. The second case is an adult female, identified by commercial reference laboratory testing.
Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said the first confirmed case is an elderly man who is a Cheyenne resident. She said he recently traveled to Weld County, Colorado, and has a female spouse. Both are quarantining at their home.
She said she’s surprised that the first case in Cheyenne hadn’t happened sooner due to the interstates running through town. She also said she thinks the virus is out in the community, and people just haven’t gotten tested.
In a tweet sent out Tuesday evening, Stitches Acute Care Center owner Amy Surdam said the second case is a 49-year-old healthy female. Tuesday evening, state health officials also identified new cases involving an adult female in Park County, and an adult male and adult female in Sheridan County, bringing the state’s total to 15 cases. The two new Sheridan County cases are close contacts of two previously identified cases from the county, but there was no additional information involving the new Park County and Laramie County cases, according to a release from the Wyoming Department of Health.
The majority of COVID-19 cases Wyoming are still located in Fremont County, which accounts for eight of the 15. The new Fremont County cases announced late Monday night are connected to the original Fremont County case of an older hospitalized man who’s a resident of the Showboat Retirement Center in Lander.
The seven new cases are a combination of the retirement center’s staff and residents. One person among the new cases is hospitalized, said Kim Deti, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman.
Retirement center owner Ronald Foote said the center is working with the state to combat the virus, and the center is currently on lockdown. He also confirmed that the new cases are people connected to the center.
To date, the Wyoming Department of Health has conducted 85 negative tests, received one negative test from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and nine negative tests from private labs. On Monday alone, the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory ran 54 tests, Deti said.
She added that the department is following up with the new Fremont County cases.
A local expert in such viruses said people should know the symptoms of COVID-19 before deciding whether to seek medical attention.
“COVID-19 and influenza can present similarly. But COVID-19 usually presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath, and is primarily a lower respiratory tract infection,” said Dr. Hoo Feng Choo, infectious disease specialist at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. “COVID-19 is unlikely to present with upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as a runny nose.”
CRMC is utilizing its incident command center, which launched at 8 a.m. Monday, CRMC CEO and President Tim Thornell said Tuesday. The center gives the hospital the ability to manage, strategize and get information in one central area.
“So it really is just a function and a mechanism for us to manage any given situation, large or small. In this particular instance, it’s really managing the situation longitudinally,” he said. “So it gives us, again, the infrastructure to really address the situation long term.”
The command center is scalable, Thornell said, and includes members such as CRMC Chief Operations Officer Robin Roling, public information officer Hillary Hardy and several of the hospital’s doctors.
Incident command centers are deployed in situations such as a bad winter storm or other isolated incidents. For instance, in a winter storm, the goal would be to manage staff and patient throughput, Thornell said. In the COVID-19 situation, the command center is set up for the potential long haul of managing the virus.
CRMC also plans to offer its drive-through testing until a community-wide site is set up by the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department. CRMC is one of the partnering providers working with the health department for this service.
“We are only testing people who may require hospitalization because supplies are limited,” Tracy Garcia, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s chief nursing officer, said.
In the meantime, the hospital is aware there is a nationwide medical supply shortage, but in the meantime CRMC has ample supplies to continue virus testing.
“So I think along with every other health care system out there, we are putting our orders in advance. We’re augmenting the quantity that we’re asking for, recognizing that we may not get all that we ask for, nor the timeframe in which we are asking for it to arrive,” he said. “Again, presently we have enough to manage through where we are today, and no one knows the future.”
Thornell said CRMC has to plan for the increased need and is being conservative with its approach with supplies. He said the supply capacity varies with the type of supply – for example, testing swab supply will depend on the expansion rate of the virus.
CRMC has tested slightly more than 20 people, he said, and all test results returned negative.
Other health care providers that are also providing COVID-19 testing include Stitches Acute Care, Willow Creek Family Medicine and Dr. Carol Fischer Family Medicine.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming is currently running at a reduced capacity due to the pandemic, and most of its employees are working from home. Company spokeswoman Wendy Curran said the places of impact are the company’s call center and the member service center.
She said Blue Cross Blue Shield is working on getting calls forwarded to the employees who are working from home, but members might experience longer than usual wait times. Members can still email Blue Cross through their account at yourwyoblue.com, and emails are being monitored daily, Curran said.
Curran said this shouldn’t impact anyone’s coverage whatsoever.
Blue Cross is also covering COVID-19 testing in full to make sure there isn’t a financial burden for people who might need the test, Curran said. She added that in addition, the insurance company is also covering any medically necessary treatment that may occur due to COVID-19. The cost to the patient will depend on the type of insurance plan they have.
Also, F.E. Warren Air Force Base declared a public health emergency Monday to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“In an effort to maximize precautionary and safety measures for our team, I have declared a public health emergency, which further aligns F.E. Warren AFB’s authority to take preventative measures with those of Wyoming and surrounding states,” Col. Peter Bonetti, 90th Missile Wing commander, said in a prepared statement. “It is important to note that there are no confirmed cases on base at this time.”