New COVID-19 case pauses Campbell County's effort to reopen restaurants and bars

GILLETTE —Campbell County’s 16th confirmed COVID-19 case has put a hiccup in the county’s variance application to reopen area bars and restaurants.

The new case, announced Wednesday afternoon, is a teen female who is now quarantined at home. Her situation is concerning for the county Public Health Department and Wyoming Department of Public Health because she had contact with a large number of people who are considered high risk if they get the novel coronavirus.

As of Wednesday evening, 40 contacts have been tested with 31 more scheduled for Thursday, according to a county press release. To expedite the testing process, commissioners arranged for a county employee to transport the collected tests to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory this morning.

Because of the scope of the potential contacts from this new case and the fact that it isn’t known how the teen contracted COVID-19, the state has paused its review of the county’s variance application.

In an email to commissioners, State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said she needs to see how those contact tracing tests fall out before making a decision on allowing Campbell County to reopen restaurants and bars with restrictions to maintain social distancing.

“I am, in general, supportive of the provisions in the orders but think that we need more time to understand the current situation before they get signed,” she said.

That could mean the variance may either be denied if it turns out the tracing tests reveal more cases of the coronavirus or that it’s approved, but not in time for businesses to reopen for the weekend.

“The faster high-risk contacts can be tested, the faster we will know what we are dealing with in our community,” said county Public Health Executive Director Jane Glaser in the press release. “The test results will likely be a factor in Dr. Harrist’s decision on the requested variance, and we should know in the next 24-48 hours if any of the tested contacts have a positive test.

“If we are fortunate and do not have any contacts test positive, which we are all hoping will be the case, the state health officer and the Wyoming Attorney General may approve the requested variances soon.”

Commission Chairman D.G. Reardon said he understands residents are frustrated and want to get the local economy reopened again, but that the county will do what’s necessary to maintain public health.

“We were saddened to hear we have another confirmed case and that so many high-risk folks could be impacted,” he said in the press release. “This is a difficult situation and there are no easy answers.

“Everyone – the board (of commissioners), Public Health and many others – are working hard to help get businesses open while trying to balance the health of our vulnerable and immunocompromised populations. No one wants to be in this position trying to balance a public health strategy and an economic health strategy.

“But we will continue working hard to address the needs of the whole community. I understand this is frustrating.”