Some semblance of normal
All seems back to business, but the virus is still here – and now, so are the tourists
May 28, 2020
Things seem even closer to normal this week as summertime arrives in Wyoming and brings with it a slow and careful return to tourist season. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to make itself felt with new cases, more deaths and a call from Governor Mark Gordon to follow social distancing guidelines as a “sign of respect” to our friends and neighbors.
Two more deaths have been added to Wyoming’s tally over the last week, bringing the total to 12. The first was announced on May 20 and involved a hospitalized adult man in Fremont County who was reported to have had an existing health condition.
The next day, the Department of Health announced another death, this time in Washakie County. The older man was a resident of a long term care facility where testing had already identified five cases among the staff and six among residents.
Data from the Department of Health suggests more than half of Wyoming’s confirmed cases have come from contact with a known case, while one in five is due to community spread. The largest age group to have returned positive lab results is 19 to 29 years, accounting for 18.9% of cases; the smallest group at 3% is aged 80 years or over.
Infection numbers have continued to rise over the last week, now in a more erratic manner than has been seen during most of the pandemic. On Wednesday and Thursday, laboratory confirmed cases stuck to double figures, climbing by 13 and 12 respectively.
Friday was the first day since the pandemic reached this part of the world on which no new cases were reported at all. However, after a relatively average Saturday with seven new cases, Sunday saw the largest increase yet at 23 new cases in one day.
Speaking last week, Governor Gordon stressed that, “It’s important for all of us to make a concerted effort at the guidelines”. He advocated for the continued importance of face coverings and keeping a six-foot distance from other people as more and more places open back up to the public.
“If we become complacent, we could well see more people getting sick,” he said, asking everyone to wear face coverings when coming into close contact with others on the basis that this will prevent those who do not know they are sick from spreading COVID-19.
It’s a sign of respect for other people, he said, and a way to help those who are unsure about coming back out of self-isolation to feel safer and more comfortable in doing so. Face coverings are not meant to be a burden, he said: they are a standard applied around the country to prevent spread when you are sick but not showing any symptoms.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer, expounded on this point, explaining that face masks are a measure to protect those people who are more vulnerable to the virus. While there are known underlying conditions that appear to worsen the effects of the illness, she said, “We can’t always tell by looking or know who among the people we are in contact with might be more at risk.”
It’s not the only proactive strategy, Harrist said. The state is especially concerned about long term cares and assisted living facilities and will be using proactive testing strategies.
In facilities where there is no current outbreak, samples will be collected of 20% of the staff and patients every two weeks. “The earlier we identify a potential trouble spot, the more we can take action,” she said.
In facilities where an outbreak has been detected, everyone will be tested weekly until it has been eliminated.
The state is also working with the National Park Service and federal agencies to ensure testing is possible in counties where there is likely to be significant tourism traffic. This, she said, will ensure cases are detected early and steps are taken to prevent outbreaks.
Speaking to an outbreak detected in the Wyoming Medical Center, Harrist said, “We are going to keep identifying more COVID-19 cases in Wyoming.” The goal is to protect the most vulnerable and ensure hospitals have the capacity and capability to care for all the patients they may need to care for, and to protect the people doing the caring.
“We really do want to keep moving forward,” she said.