Weston County still COVID free; officials credit pro-active residents

NEWCASTLE — Weston County is one of only two counties in the state not to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 but that is not due to a lack of testing, said Dr. Mike Jording, the county’s public health officer. 

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, a total of 21 tests from Weston County has been run through the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne as of Sunday, April 12. None of those tests has resulted in a patient testing positive for the coronavirus. 

Jording reported during an April 8 virtual meeting with other health professionals and emergency responders that tests have been performed at all three possible places in Weston County: Hometown Medical Clinic, Monument Health’s Newcastle Clinic and Weston County Health Services. 

“I don’t know why Weston County is among those with no cases. There has been testing done with no confirmed cases,” Jording said. “I think we are lucky.” 

Public health nurse Lori Bickford credited the lack of cases to the response of the Weston County community when the COVID-19 pandemic began over a month ago. 

“I think the folks in Weston County quickly realized it was in our hands,” Bickford said. “I think that is what has happened in this county, and I am grateful for any effort to follow the guidelines from the state as closely as possible.”

In a letter to patients and friends, local physicians from all three health providers in the county stated that the fate of the county is in the hands of the people. 

“We all have a chance to make a large difference in the eventual number of us in Weston County who will get the COVID-19 virus,” the letter says. “We can also by our actions save the lives of our friends. The virus has not been found here as of this date (April 12) and it will be here soon.” 

According to the letter, early and continued prevention by everyone in Weston County is crucial in preventing the virus from spreading through the county. 

“Your local medical professionals encourage all Weston County residents to make the choice to wear any type of mask they can acquire at all times when they are out of their homes for the next few weeks until our local public health authorities tell us it is permissible to stop,” the letter says. “Please choose to start today with full time mask use when you are out of your home and continue with social distancing recommendations.” 

Employees in the Weston County Manor nursing home and the hospital recently began wearing masks constantly when in public areas or meeting with individuals, said Maureen Cadwell, CEO of Weston County Health Services. The staff is wearing homemade cloth masks, she said, and they continue to monitor their supply of other masks, gowns, gloves and other supplies.

As medical professionals in the county prepare for the eventual arrival of the coronavirus, supplies are of constant concern and preventing the spread of the disease will help to lessen the burden on health care, Cadwell said. 

“Isolation gowns are our biggest concern. If we have 12 beds full, we will need 1,200 isolation gowns a week. We probably have enough for about five weeks in stock today,” Cadwell said. 

The facility can handle an influx in patients in the short term, she said. 

Staffing remains a concern for the facility, Cadwell said. She explained that if an off-site facility were needed, the staff would be significantly stretched. Off-site hospital location possibilities include the Weston County Fairgrounds and local schools. 

Cadwell said that she was aware that Campbell County was looking at creating a regional treatment center for COVID-19 patients. 

Previously, Cadwell reported that the local hospital had the potential to house 32 to 36 patients but that she was not sure about the facility’s ability to support oxygen needs. Cadwell said on April 8 that she was unsure of the hospital’s ability to maintain oxygen levels long-term and that they don’t have the right ventilators to treat severe COVID-19 patients. 

“We continue to peel away at the issues and see what else we need to come up with,” Cadwell said. 

The medical staff has also discussed ethical decisions that physicians may need to make in an outbreak scenario.