National data company gives Wyoming worst grade in social distancing

EVANSTON — Wyoming gets an F in social distancing practices. 

National data company Unacast has utilized cellphone location data to rank every state in the nation on social distancing practices in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 25, Wyoming was the only state in the country to earn an F grade. 

The average grade of all 50 states is a B. 

The grades are based on measures like how many cell phone signals are gathered in one place at the same time, changes in average travel distances and how much time people are spending at home. 

Within Wyoming, 14 of the state’s 23 counties, including Uinta County, also earned F’s.

As the importance of social distancing to prevent rapid increases in the number of people seeking healthcare for COVID-19 continues to be stressed, the data showing county residents are not following the guidance of expert health professionals is cause for concern. 

As of the morning of Thursday, March 26, the confirmed case count in the U.S. stands at just under 82,000, with more than 1,000 fatalities. 

Globally, the number of cases is increasing exponentially. 

The global confirmed case count topped 100,000 on March 6, months after the virus was first discovered in China. Cases topped 200,000 12 days later on March 18; 300,000 on March 21, after only three days; 400,000 on March 24; and as of March 26 have topped half a million. 

Approximately one quarter of those are listed as completely recovered. Wyoming stands at 56, up from the 26 reported in the Tuesday, March 24 issue of the Herald.

Those confirmed cases include 14 in Fremont County; 15 in Laramie County; eight in Teton; six in Natrona; four in Sheridan; three in Carbon; and one each in Albany, Campbell, Johnson, Park, Hot Springs and Sweetwater. 

There have been no deaths reported in Wyoming and at least five of the reported Wyoming cases have recovered. 

There are still no confirmed cases in Uinta County. However, Uinta County’s lack of a confirmed case does not mean Uinta County residents do not need to practice social distancing. 

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has now issued three orders closing various public spaces, with the latest order issued on March 24 closing personal service establishments, including nail and hair salons, barbershops, cosmetology services, massage parlors and tattoo and piercing shops.

In addition, during a Wednesday, March 25 press conference, Gordon pleaded with Wyoming citizens to stay home except for when absolutely necessary to venture out. 

He emphasized that, “voluntary actions and discipline are going to make the difference as to whether we can slow the spread of COVID-19,” and stressed that “public participation could alleviate the need to implement more stringent measures.” 

While Wyoming’s increasing case count and Gordon’s orders certainly impact Uinta County, perhaps equally important are conditions in neighboring Summit County in Utah. 

In a public health order issued on March 25, Summit County residents were ordered to stay at home other than for essential activities, including obtaining groceries or medical care, participating in outdoor exercise provided it is only in small groups with immediate household members and working in essential businesses. 

Essential businesses include healthcare, emergency services and law enforcement, infrastructure and grocery stores. 

The Summit County order notes that “the county’s rate of occurrence of confirmed COVID-19 cases generally rivals that of New York City and continues to grow exponentially. In fact, the county’s per capita rate is 20 times greater than the second most affected county, Salt Lake County.” 

With the order, Summit County citizens join the ranks of approximately one billion globally who have been ordered to stay at home or shelter in place, which includes millions of residents of 21 states, including neighboring Idaho and Colorado. 

To understand what is meant by social distancing, it is helpful to compare it to other terms being frequently used during the current pandemic. 

The following information is taken from Johns Hopkins Medical Center. 

  • Social Distancing: Social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. The recommended practice is to remain at least 6 feet away from all people other than members of your immediate household. 
  • Self-Quarantine: Individuals who may have been exposed to the virus may be asked to self-quarantine, which means staying home, not sharing towels or utensils with anyone in the household, not having visitors, practicing good hygiene and staying at least 6 feet away from everyone, including people in the household. 
  • Isolation: Those with confirmed illness will be asked to isolate at home unless hospitalization is required for severe illness. Isolation involves staying completely removed from everyone, eating and sleeping separately, using a separate bathroom and generally having no contact with anyone unless medical assistance is necessary.

While it may be tempting to visit family or friends or allow children to have play dates with a couple of neighborhood kids, every single contact creates a chain that could spread illness. 

For those working in essential businesses, it is advisable to wash hands or use hand sanitizer multiple times a day and upon leaving work and returning home. 

It is also recommended to change clothes after returning home. 

For visits to the grocery store, it is important to maintain 6 feet of distance between other shoppers, shop only for necessities and try to make a list to get all needed items in one trip every 10 days or so rather than make repeated visits to the store. 

Grocery stores such as Smith’s have announced changes to policies to help prevent the spread of illness, including allowing associates to wear masks and gloves while at work, installing plexiglass partitions at cash registers, installing floor decals to promote maintaining six feet between people in check-out lines and enhancing daily sanitation practices. 

Smith’s has adjusted hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and a sign at the local Smith’s store announced the store has temporarily discontinued the use of reusable bags to help prevent the spread of the virus.