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Wyoming News Exchange 

Coronavirus cases tops 100, only 16 hospitalized


March 26, 2020

Wyoming’s coronavirus case count topped 100 Tuesday morning as 14 cases in seven counties brought the state’s total to 109.

The Wyoming Department of Health reported new cases were detected in Campbell, Fremont, Johnson, Laramie Natrona, Sheridan and Teton counties.

The number of cases has more than tripled in a week, but Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said that as of Monday, only 16 people had been hospitalized with the disease and some of those patients have been released.

Harrist, speaking during a news conference Monday with Gov. Mark Gordon, said the number of cases increased dramatically from last week largely because of increased testing around the state along with the spread of the disease.

Harrist said health officials have been able to track the origins of the illness in most patients.

“There are others with an unknown source, meaning it is likely they acquired it Wyoming through interactions with their communities,” she said. “That means we are talking about community spread.”

Harrist’s comments came during a news conference that also saw Dr. David Wheeler, a Casper neurologist and president of the Wyoming Medical Society, urge Wyoming residents to heed the state’s recommendations to stay at home.

Wheeler said unless Wyoming residents practice social distancing, COVID-19 will spread rapidly, eventually overwhelming the state’s health care system and leaving people without basic medical care.

“This is a grim outcome, but we can avoid this if we start working together today,” he said. “If we flatten the curve now, our hospitals will have more time to prepare. If we flatten the curve now, fewer people will be sick at any given time. If we work hard during this time to surge hospital capacity and at the same time slow the spread of the disease, many more of us will make it through to the other end of this.”

Wheeler also estimated that three to six weeks of social distancing will be needed before the number of new infections seen on a daily basis begins to drop.

“Then there’s an additional multiple week tail-off on this,” he said. “It’s very important to understand that even once you hit the apex on this, you can’t then relax your social distancing standards. If you do that it will immediately start to grow again and all the hard work and sacrifice that we put in getting up to that point will be lost and things will get much worse again.”

Wheeler predicted “aggressive” social distancing will need to occur for six weeks, followed by a gradual relaxation in the two months after that point.

Gordon and Harrist have issued three statewide orders aimed at curtailing gatherings, one that closed schools and businesses likely to draw more than 10 people, one closing businesses that provide personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, and one banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

Last week, the orders were extended until April 17. President Donald Trump has recommended that federal social distancing guidelines remain in place until at least the end of April. Gordon said he and Harrist would continue to review Wyoming’s situation to determine whether the state order should be extended.

Gordon announced during his news conference that he had signed an executive order allowing restaurants with liquor licenses to sell alcohol with the meals sold for curbside takeout or drive-through service.

Gordon also repeated his plea to Wyoming residents to stay at home if at all possible.

“Regardless of where you are, regardless of the circumstances, you need to stay at home,” he said. “You need to respect social distancing, you need to practice exceptional hygiene. That doesn’t mean you all go to the Walmart or some other store at the same time."

Fremont County continued to lead the state with the number of coronavirus cases as of Tuesday morning at 25. Laramie County had 22; Teton had 20; Natrona had 12; Sheridan had 10; Johnson had seven; Carbon had three, and Campbell and Sweetwater had two. Albany, Converse, Goshen, Park, Sublette and Washakie counties each reported one case.

The Wyoming Department of Health also reported that 26 of the patients with coronavirus have fully recovered.

In other developments:

Business assistance: Two state agencies on Friday offered $300,000 in grants to help Wyoming businesses avert or shorten layoffs, but officials said the limit for grant applications had been reached by Monday morning. Gordon said he was working to find more resources to put into the “layoff aversion” program being run by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and Wyoming Workforce Development Council.

Economic impact: Wyoming economists reported that while business closures and social distancing might have a short-term negative impact on the state’s economy, the impact will be far less than if no action is taken and business is allowed to proceed as normal.

“It’s fair to say that social distancing is worth it,” said Linda Thunstrom, a University of Wyoming economist and co-author of a report on the impacts of the economic slowdown.

Stop raids: The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Wyoming officials to request that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement temporarily stop raids used to capture undocumented immigrants. The ACLU said the incarceration of people picked up by ICE could quickly lead to the spread of coronavirus through rural jails in Wyoming.

High school sports: The Wyoming High School Activities Association announced it would extend the suspension of high school sports until April 20, given the extension until April 17 of Gordon’s order closing schools. The WHSAA said no practices would be allowed to occur during the suspension.

Relief fund: Several organizations are teaming up in Cheyenne to create a relief fund to help city residents facing financial hardships. The City of Cheyenne, economic development group Forward Greater Cheyenne, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and United Way are creating the “Greater Cheyenne COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.”

The groups will begin by raising money for the fund and then applications for assistance, which will be distributed in the form of grants, will be accepted beginning April 13.


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