Health officer urges personal responsibility as state sees 1,000th coronavirus case

CASPER — The Wyoming Department of Health announced the state’s 1,000th confirmed case of the coronavirus on Wednesday. It comes as the state’s growth in cases continued its recent uptick.

The state, which officially has 1,016 confirmed cases, has added more of those cases in June than any other month, despite there being six days remaining. In the past 10 days, Wyoming has recorded 222 total cases and 175 confirmed cases — both of which are record highs. The state has had 10 single-day increases of 20 or more confirmed cases; four have come in the last week.

It has been 105 days since the coronavirus was first reported in Wyoming. The state took 21 days to record its first 100 confirmed cases. Its most recent 100 confirmed cases came in less than a week’s time.

The surge prompted state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to comment on the situation in written statements Wednesday.

“We expected to see more cases over time and believe we are in a better position to respond now than earlier,” Harrist said in a news release from the Health Department. “However, this virus has shown us simple actions and choices that might not seem like a big deal at the time can harm others and quickly change the disease picture within a community. That’s why we need people to be mindful of what they can do to slow the spread of the virus.”

Just over two weeks ago, the state concluded a 10-day span during which fewer than 70 total cases had been added — the smallest stretch of case counts since the state began announcing probable cases. Now, the state is adding cases at triple that rate.

However, the increase hasn’t resulted yet in a spike at Wyoming’s hospitals. As of Wednesday, seven COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide, with four of those at Wyoming Medical Center.

Harrist said in the news release that health experts have a better understanding of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, than they did when it first reached Wyoming in March.

“We now know some individuals can transmit the virus to others before they feel or show any symptoms,” she said. “This is very important because it means people can spread the virus to other people without realizing they are infected.”

“It’s also become increasingly clear the virus spreads mainly between people when they are close to each other,” she continued. “When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, the tiny respiratory droplets they produce can spread through the air to people who are nearby, typically within 6 feet.”

She emphasized that people need to isolate themselves if they are experiencing symptoms consistent with the disease and that physical distancing in general is recommended “whenever practical.” Additionally, she stressed the need for people who have been given personal isolation and quarantine orders to follow them.

“With summer arriving, more people are enjoying outdoor events,” she said. “We encourage people to take part in these activities safely, by staying 6 feet away from people in other households and wearing face coverings.”

The state’s spike over the past few weeks was initially fueled by a dramatic surge in Uinta County cases. Now, however, the county’s numbers appear to be plateauing somewhat.

County health officials said Tuesday night that they had recorded just one new case over the previous two days.

“Hopefully that is an indication that things are slowing down a little, but we also recognize that that may in part be due to less testing over the weekend,” Uinta County Public Health said in a Facebook post. “Waiting to see how (Wednesday) goes.”

The state Health Department announced four newly confirmed cases in the county Wednesday afternoon. (Sweetwater County added the most, with seven.) According to the state’s numbers, Uinta County added no new confirmed cases in two of the past five days. The county began the month with nine confirmed cases and currently has 124 — 81 of which came in a 12-day span.

The county still has the most active cases in the state — 72, according to the department’s post. Uinta County has had 716 cases per 100,000 residents, second in the state to Fremont County (834).

As of Tuesday night, the county had conducted 188 tests since Friday, with 6% testing positive. Six people in the county have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and four remain admitted. Some of those patients were admitted to out-of-state hospitals.

“One of the concerns with spiking high and fast is the pressure it puts on healthcare capacity,” the department said in the announcement. “While we haven’t exceeded our capacity, the county is feeling the pressure and strain from a lot of cases in a short time. We are grateful for the precautionary measures many have taken, including mask-wearing, distancing and making thoughtful decisions about gatherings and indoor functions. This kind of community effort will be an important part of slowing the rate down.

“Much of what we (and others) are all learning from our experience,” the post continued, “is that the virus can spread quickly and relatively easily, the situation can change rapidly, our actions can affect others, precautionary measures work and no one is insulated. Hopefully, we can also show how well a community comes together and brings it under control.”

The county currently has 33 probable patients — third most in the state. Officials define probable cases as close contacts of lab-confirmed cases with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.