NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, April 20, 2020

New record low temperature set Thursday night in Cheyenne

CHEYENNE (WNE) - Thursday night, Cheyenne broke a 119-year-old record for the lowest temperature ever recorded April 16 with a low of 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The previous record was set in 1901, with a low of 8 degrees Fahrenheit, said Crystal Worley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Cheyenne.

For April, Worley said the temperatures so far are below average and are more akin to what's usually seen in January or February. But she did say it's normal to have a few late-season snowfalls in April and May.

She said usually in April high temperatures are around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows in the 30s. Even the high of 27 degrees Thursday was well below the average temperature for this time of year, though it didn't break any records.

Generally speaking, people can expect the temperatures to start warming up as the seasons shift from spring to summer as May and June roll around.

Highs will continue to move closer to normal next week, with temperatures reaching the 60s by Tuesday.

As the weather shifts, Worley said it's important for people to have a severe weather plan, because with winter ending, severe weather is always just around the corner.


Biden wins state Democratic caucus

CASPER (WNE) — Former Vice President Joe Biden handily won Wyoming’s Democratic caucuses, taking home nearly three-quarters of the total vote and more than two-thirds of its delegates. 

With 72.2 percent of the vote, Biden will now take 10 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. His main challenger, Bernie Sanders, will be bringing four after winning 27.8 percent of the vote. 

Wyoming’s four superdelegates will be automatically pledged to Biden due to party bylaws adopted in 2018, and will only vote if there is a second round of voting at the national convention. 

The caucus was conducted completely by mail-in ballot due to concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, which caused the party last month to cancel the in-person portion of its caucus.

“It’s only April and this has already been a historic year for Wyoming Democrats,” Wyoming Democratic Chair Joe Barbuto said in a statement. “We offer our congratulations to Vice President Biden and Senator Sanders on securing delegates. This record-setting rate of participation speaks to the enthusiasm among Democratic voters about this election and the benefits of ranked choice voting and voting by mail. We look forward to carrying this momentum through to November and electing Democrats up and down the ballot.”


Tribes say order is enforceable

Violators could face $150 fine or spend a month of days in jail

CASPER (WNE) — Violators of a stay-at-home order on the Wind River Reservation could face fines or jail time, though it is unclear if the court or police have yet taken such steps. 

The Wind River Tribal Court earlier this month said that violators of a stay-at-home order tribal leaders issued earlier this month could be fined $150 or spend 30 days in jail. 

The court also said tribal members must follow any medical professional “directives,” including orders to self-isolate or quarantine, relating to COVID-19. The opinion came as other agencies are grappling with how to enforce similar orders across the state. 

“The resolution is adopted pursuant to the inherent authority of the Tribes to protect the health and welfare of Tribal members and all persons within the Wind River Reservation and is made (in) response to the public health emergency resulting from the presence and community spread of the COVID-19 virus,” tribal court judge Janet Millard wrote in the court’s opinion. “Such a violation (of the order) is punishable as contempt of Court pursuant to the Shoshone and Arapaho Law & Order Code.” 

On April 1, the Wind River Inter-Tribal Council — which oversees shared government functions of the reservation’s two tribes — passed a resolution ordering all tribal members to stay home, allowing them to leave only when seeking medical care or to shop for groceries and other necessary supplies. 

Workers in essential fields, like health care, are exempt from the order. 

Tribal leaders say the measure — more aggressive than actions taken by most other governments in the state — is necessary to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a respiratory illness that many tribal members are more susceptible to because of living in crowded homes or preexisting health problems.


Campbell County hospital to cut costs

GILLETTE (WNE) — Campbell County Health is cutting costs in response to the financial pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic and also starting preparations for how to deal with the emerging economy, whenever that may be.

CEO Andy Fitzgerald said an internal task force was started last week to figure out what a return to normal operations would look like.

He believes that sometime in May or June, CCH will resume elective surgeries, outpatient radiology and other services that have been set aside during the pandemic, “but we can’t just start that. There has to be a plan.”

Fitzgerald said this should not be taken to mean that CCH is looking at a specific date to resume those services.

“We just want to put that planning into place, so when we feel we can reasonably and safely do that, we have a plan in place to execute,” he said during a hospital board meeting Thursday.

Starting this week, Campbell County Health administration also will implement cost reductions that include pay cuts and restructuring of some departments and staff positions.

Fitzgerald will take a 50% cut of his $440,000 annual salary through the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30. Senior management will take a 20% pay cut, and directors and managers will take a 5% pay cut.

There also will be a freeze on capital expenditures through the end of the fiscal year, and some departments and employees will be put on temporary furlough. These employees will keep their benefits and be brought back to work within six to 12 weeks.

Most departments will have mandatory hourly reductions, and there is a freeze on educational travel through the end of the year.


Poop patrol: Sewage surveillance in the works for COVID-19

JACKSON (WNE) — Poop, as it turns out, may be helpful in understanding how COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is spreading through the community.

"We're currently sending our poop to MIT," Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell said.

Riddell brought up sewage testing as part of a larger conversation about what a phased re-opening of the economy could look like at Friday's community update.

Doing so, he said, would, in part, require having contract tracing capacity and plans to manage cases moving forward. Officials expect a surge may happen when things begin to re-open.

Testing sewage, Riddell said, could be one way to get ahead of that surge because SARS-CoV-2, the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19, shows up in feces.

"Some studies that have shown surveilling wastewater system influent can actually track the disease," Riddell said.

Wastewater Manager Johnny Ziem found a way to have the county's water tested, Riddell said, "and he very quickly jumped on it, which I think is fantastic."

"The hope is that we can track the levels of coronavirus in our poop and moving forward if we start to see spikes in that level that could be an early signal that we're having a resurgence," Riddell said. 

Other innovations are also on the table.

"So stay tuned," Riddell said.