Week two: The pandemic in Wyoming from March 20-27


By the end of the second full week since the Wyoming Department of Health announced the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, the virus was still tightening its grip on the Equality State. The DOH’s official number of confirmed positive cases went from 29 Monday to 70 by Friday morning. 

Wednesday marked the state’s single biggest increase of known infections in one day, with a 70% increase over 24 hours, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. On Friday, DOH reported 17 people had recovered from the virus.

However, public health officials warn the numbers aren’t indicative of the virus’ true spread because of the dearth of testing. Public health experts consider COVID-19 to be more widespread in the state than the Department of Health’s numbers indicate. The numbers are likely to rise as testing increases, officials said.

Gov. Mark Gordon noted the testing shortfall in a Wednesday press conference, and earlier in the week, he wrote that “there are unquestionably more cases out there,” on Twitter. The governor emphasized calls for people to stay home to “flatten the curve” of new infections. The state needs to keep cases down to avoid overwhelming a rural hospital system that is already thin, he said. 

“If we see a surge of cases we could see our healthcare providers be overwhelmed with patients,” Gordon said. “More importantly if our first responders and our healthcare professionals are themselves infected they take themselves off the line, further complicating issues.”

Dire economic numbers also came to light this week. The U.S. Department of Labor reported more than 3 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week, a record number. Wyoming saw 2,339 claims last week, up from 517 the week before. According to a New York Times analysis, the state averages around 500 per week.

“It’s as if an economic umpire had blown the whistle to signal the end of playing time,” wrote The New York Times. 

Wednesday’s unemployment figures too, likely fall short of the reality. Many gig workers and contractors who’ve lost income aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits and thus go uncounted. 

“It’s definitely a gauge for how things are going and how many people are without jobs but it’s not the total picture,” Department of Workforce Services spokesman Ty Stockton told WyoFile

Gordon continued to resist issuing a statewide shutdown order, saying he was doing his best to avoid a shelter-in-place order. People’s embrace of distancing measures and compliance with orders banning gatherings of more than 10 and the order for some businesses to close would impact his decision making, he said. “We are trying not to shut down Wyoming,” he said.

People across the state hunkered down to wait out the pandemic. Ingenuity and kindness abounded as communities turned to each other for support — from craft distilleries beginning to produce hand sanitizer to people serving food to the needy. Truckers kept trucking while someone in Park County used Christmas lights to post a “wash your hands” message on a fence. 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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