Wyoming sees statewide spike in COVID-19 cases

Gov. Mark Gordon speaks during a news conference Tuesday inside the Capitol in downtown Cheyenne. Gordon spoke about an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Uinta County during a coronavirus update, and also discussed new guidelines to allow long-term care facilities to permit in-person visitation outdoors. (Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

CHEYENNE — Despite public health orders slowing the spread of COVID-19, Wyoming is now seeing a spike in cases.

Gov. Mark Gordon said despite Wyoming’s previous downward trend in cases, that trend now seems to be increasing. Statewide, there are 219 active cases, which Gordon said is sad because not too long ago Wyoming had under 200 active cases, but Wyoming is now spiking.

Gordon said there are only seven hospitalizations statewide at the moment. However, the ability to maintain this progress is dependent on the people of Wyoming, he said.

“I’m a cowboy,” Gordon said. “I know when the grass is green and the horses are fresh, we all want to run out in the pasture. This is a time when we don’t want to run away.”

In Uinta County, there have been 80 cases spiking in younger age groups, Gordon said. The spike in Uinta County can be attributed to a large gathering of young people where social distancing guidelines weren’t followed.

The group then spread COVID-19 to others who weren’t at the gathering. One of the people who contracted the virus was a health care worker, which can have devastating repercussions.

“And I think this talks a little bit about the carelessness and the recklessness, and sometimes the thoughtlessness, that can mean ... we’ll lose ground,” Gordon said.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said there was also an increase in cases in multiple Wyoming counties during the past week, which is now reflected in the current COVID-19 dashboard.

New cases are listed as concerning, a percentage of positive tests are listed as improving, and community spread, hospitalizations, hospital bed availability and intensive care unit bed availability are listed as stabilizing.

“This situation illustrates how it doesn’t take much to really change the disease picture within a community,” Harrist said. “We’ve also seen examples in other locations of one person spreading the virus among several co-workers. Depending on the size and the nature of the employer, a few sick workers – or many workers – can have potentially devastating effects on the businesses we count on in Wyoming for jobs and for services.”

Despite the case spikes, the Wyoming Department of Health issued updated guidance to allow in-person, outdoor visitations at long-term care facilities. Up to two people can visit a person outdoors at a long-term care facility – as long as they pass COVID-19 screening when they arrive – and everyone must wear face coverings.

A staff member trained in patient safety and infection control must be present throughout the duration of the visit.

In Laramie County, there are currently eight active cases, said Kathy Emmons, Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department executive director. This is up from just a few days ago when Laramie County had zero active cases.

Two of those people came from out of state, and Emmons said they likely contracted the virus outside of Wyoming. Five people had been exposed to someone else who was positive, and one person has a community spread case in which officials don’t know where that person got the virus from.

Emmons said there’s always a concern for a spike in Laramie County, and it doesn’t take long for the number of cases to shoot back up. This is why health officials keep telling people to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

Emmons said all it takes is one person in the community who is active to go to a number of restaurants and stores, and therefore spread the virus in the community and start a spike.

If people pay attention to social distancing and good hand hygiene, wear a face covering and stay home when they’re sick, it would help keep the numbers down, Emmons said.

“We’re seeing a lot of people in the community that are not wearing masks – that are not social distancing – and we all understand that people are tired of it. I’m tired of it too, but it’s not forever,” Emmons said. “I think that’s what people get nervous about, that it’s going to be like this forever. But it’s not ... (and) for the near future, the foreseeable future, it’s going to be here.”

Emmons again stressed the importance of wearing a face covering in public. She said if both people in a social situation wear a mask, it protects one person from contracting anything from the other person and vice versa.

“It comes down to basic respect,” Emmons said. “I want to respect the people I’m around. ... I want to help protect them, just like I want them to help protect me.”