Uinta coronavirus spike blamed on social distance failure at bar

CASPER — The recent spike in coronavirus cases in Uinta County is in large part attributable to patrons of at least one bar there not practicing social distancing, a health official said Wednesday.

On June 1, Uinta County had just nine cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday afternoon, that number had skyrocketed to 87 identified cases, 59 of which are still active. That’s the most active — meaning nonrecovered — cases anywhere in the state, a bit ahead of Fremont County, which still has identified the most overall cases of any county in Wyoming.

Uinta has another 17 people listed as probable cases; of those, three have recovered.

The majority of these new cases have spread outward from at least one bar where young adults — at least one of whom was apparently carrying the virus — gathered and did not practice social distancing, state Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said.

She said she didn’t know the names of the bar or bars but added that the businesses are believed to have been following health restrictions on how bars can operate and serve patrons.

On Tuesday, state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said that “many of the new cases there appear to be connected to a particular gathering at a public location where social distancing rules were not taken seriously.” Those exposed to the virus at that gathering then spread it elsewhere, she said, as has happened in outbreaks elsewhere.

Deti said that she didn’t have an approximate date when the gathering took place. A health official in Uinta County told the Star-Tribune it may have happened during Memorial Day weekend.

“I am not an epidemiologist, and so I’ve been cautious to really weigh in heavily, but I am willing to say that there certainly has appeared to be a connection between many of the cases and some local bars, particularly over Memorial Day Weekend and the weekend following that,” Kim Proffit, manager at Uinta County Public Health, wrote in an email.

Outbreaks in multiple states, including Alabama and California, have been tied to Memorial Day gatherings.

Uinta County health officials posted to their Facebook page Monday saying that they had been “overwhelmed” by the spike. The majority of the new cases, the officials wrote, are in “the category of the 20-29 age group.” There has been at least one hospitalization linked to this latest cluster; most of the new patients “report some illness, some moderately severe, including high fevers, painful body aches and difficulty breathing,” the department wrote.

Younger, healthier people typically recover well from the virus, which is most deadly for older, sicker people. The vast majority of coronavirus deaths in Wyoming have been described as older residents.

Prior to this spike, Uinta County’s positive rate — the number of positive tests divided by the number of overall tests run — was roughly 1 percent, well below the state average of roughly 2.5%. With this recent spike, officials wrote in their Facebook post, the infection rate has climbed to 4%.

“Without being alarmist, we do want people to know that 3% is a pretty big change in a short time, and when percent positive is climbing, we’re spiking,” officials wrote. “If you look at the percentage of positive tests compared to total tests in two week chunks, it is also helpful. In the last two weeks of testing, we have had 16.72% positive test results. Thankfully that is down from 20% a couple of days ago. Anything over 10 indicates a spike.”

The agency added that it had expected an increase with things opening back up.

“But this big of a growth in such a short time wasn’t expected,” it continued.

In a separate post, officials wrote that “it is very important for all of us, but especially our restaurants and bars, to follow the recommendations for spacing, masking and hygiene.”

State and local health officials said that the Uinta spike is illustrative of how quickly the virus can spread if a group of people are exposed to it and aren’t following social distancing guidelines.

“It was a rude reminder,” officials continue. “We’re in this now, and we’ve got to work to level this out. It has a lot of potential to grow quickly.”

Wyoming has continued to reliably identify new batches of cases each day. But since the spike in Uinta County, the majority of the new patients have been confirmed there.