CHEYENNE - Gov. Mark Gordon signed a letter Wednesday requesting a disaster declaration from the federal government to help Wyoming as the state's total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grew to 230, with 74 of those patients having recovered.
The governor, who announced his request in a news conference Wednesday afternoon, said the request would allow Wyoming to access additional federal funds to combat the virus.
Gordon also noted the declaration would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist if the need arises for construction of temporary medical structures.
President Donald Trump has already approved disaster declarations in many of Wyoming's neighboring states, such as Colorado and Montana.
During the news conference, Gordon and other state officials also provided updates on the state's testing efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, 3,900 sample collection kits were distributed to health care facilities across the state.
"This is, by far, the largest delivery to date," Gordon said. "This will help support statewide testing, but we do remain challenged by a continued shortage of testing materials at the state laboratory."
Roughly 4,100 tests have been conducted in Wyoming so far, with about 1,500 of those tests coming from commercial laboratories. The rest were conducted at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory.
Of the 230 lab-confirmed cases, 74 of those have fully recovered, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Beginning Wednesday, the Wyoming Department of Health also started reporting on its coronavirus webpage the rate of confirmed cases per 100,000 people in each county.
The department has also started calculating the number of probable COVID-19 cases, which is based on people who had close contact with confirmed cases and have shown virus-related symptoms.
"Including probable cases will give us a little better idea of how much COVID-19 is in our communities," Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state's health officer, said during the news conference. "At the same time, we continue to know that there will be more cases than can be counted as either confirmed or probable."
As of Wednesday afternoon, the number of probable COVID-19 cases in Wyoming sat at 73, with 20 of those having already recovered.
In Laramie County, the department reported 53 confirmed cases and 16 probable ones, with 21 patients having recovered in total. With 53.3 cases per 100,000 residents, Laramie County ranked third in its per-capita case numbers, trailing Teton and Fremont counties.
Wyoming remains the only state in the U.S. that has yet to report a death related to COVID-19, though Harrist said she expects to see deaths in Wyoming, "which is why we're taking it so seriously."
"We have had several patients who have been extremely ill that have received great medical care and have recovered, which is excellent," Harrist said. "I certainly hope that it continues, but, unfortunately, we know this virus can be especially serious and deadly for certain people."
The effects of the virus have also devastated local businesses and their employees, as unemployment rates have skyrocketed statewide. Robin Cooley, director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, said her department may contract with a third-party call center to improve wait times for those trying to make their claims.
"We know how difficult and frustrating it is for you out there. But please be patient with us while we try to work on some of these issues with you," Cooley said.
In another effort to improve efficiency, the department has asked people to call on certain days of the week, depending on the first letter of their last name. People whose last names begin with the letters A through M should call Monday, Wednesday or before noon Friday, Cooley said. Those whose last names begin with the letters N through Z should call Tuesday, Thursday or Friday afternoon.
"I want to stress that this alphabetical sorting system that we've implemented is applicable only to claim calling in by the phone," Cooley said. "If you're able to, please file your claim online at wyui.wyo.gov
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During the news conference, Gordon, who has repeatedly defended his decision to not issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, frequently reiterated his main directions to Wyomingites: stay home whenever possible, practice social distancing and limit trips to the grocery store.
"We should all be staying vigilant and not relaxing our commitment," the governor said. "I know it's hard, particularly as the weather's getting better, but we need to stay at home and avoid gatherings."