New health orders allow bigger gatherings

Lower case rate gives way to weekend spike


August 20, 2020

There were still signs of the pandemic easing in Wyoming early last week as the daily figures stayed lower than they have been for a while and the number of active cases dropped. At the weekend, however, a resurgence saw the state set a new daily record and high numbers of new cases throughout the weekend and into this week.

Three new cases have been identified in Crook County over the last week, two adult males and one adult female. Two of the cases are symptomatic and the place of exposure is under investigation for all three.

At this time, Crook County Public Health believes there is no evidence of community spread. If you have been exposed to these cases, you will be contacted by public health or WDH.

New health orders have now gone into effect that ease the restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings. The new orders allow gatherings up to 1000 people, as long as that number does not exceed 50% of the venue’s capacity, and as long as social distancing and increased sanitization measures are observed.

Indoor gatherings, however, are still restricted to 50 people or fewer without restrictions and 250 if social distancing and sanitization measures are incorporated.

“We are seeing promising trends but we want to continue to exercise caution as schools around the state prepare for reopening,” Governor Gordon said in a press release.

“We have seen outdoor events occur safely this summer and we want to ensure that schools are able to host spectators for their outdoor activities this fall.”

Wyoming Stats

The number of active cases dropped significantly early last week, having topped 600 at one point recently. This was partly due to recoveries outpacing new positive cases for several days.

A change in the state’s method of tallying statistics also had an impact. A number of people who had been included in the “probable cases” count were reassigned as “close household contacts”, causing the total active cases to drop by 40 on August 12.

However, it was not to last. After dipping to 482 on Tuesday, the active case count once again rose over the week, reaching 603 on Monday.

This was partly due to another record-breaking day on August 14, with 67 new confirmed cases. Sunday saw 59 new cases, with around half of them attributed to an apparent outbreak in Carbon County.

August 14 also saw an announcement that Crook County had been notified of its 11th positive case, a symptomatic adult male. The place of exposure, according the Crook County Public Health, was not known.

The first of two new deaths was added to Wyoming’s total on August 11. The older Uinta County man had health conditions that are recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness.

On August 13, Wyoming Department of Health reported the death of a Big Horn County man who also had existing conditions known to increase the risk of serious illness. This brought the state’s overall total to 30 deaths.

Three more deaths were reported on August 17, including two older males who died in long-term care facilities in July in Montana and Florida but whose permanent place of residence was Wyoming. The third death was an adult woman from Goshen County; her death brought the total to 33.

Overall, however, the news has been more positive over the last couple of weeks. The case rate has dropped to 2.8%, said Gordon, which is encouraging as it had risen above 3%. There has also been a slow decline in the average number of new cases, he added, and hospitalization has declined slightly since August 1.

With state fair and other activities happening around Wyoming, Gordon said it has been exciting to see the state sort of get back into a pace.

“I think if we all…do our part, we will have a very successful fall,” he said.

The volume of testing at the state public health lab has decreased over the last few weeks, Gordon said, but they are anxious to keep doing testing. It is critical for anyone feeling symptomatic to get that test for many reasons, including the need to track the spread of the virus and the need to protect the vulnerable from infection and the economy by keeping the workforce healthy.

Teacher Testing

The governor also announced last week that the state is in the process of creating a testing program for teachers once the school year begins, similar to the one that is currently being used to track COVID-19 infections in nursing homes.

“It will be a voluntary program allowing districts to opt in if they choose to,” he said during a press conference.

State health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist explained that there is no recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control to do testing in schools, which is why the program will be on an opt-in basis. The state feels it could be beneficial, she said, and therefore wants to offer the testing because it’s something that is possible to do.

Back to School

As students head back to the classroom, Superintendent of Public Education Jillian Balow said the Smart Start plan for a return to in-person teaching has been a “critical conversation guide” as districts finalize their plans for going back to school and staying there.

Each district has created at least three tiers to address the level of COVID-19 in the community at a particular time and most are starting in tier 1, she continued, which means schools are open for in-person teaching with modifications according to state and local orders.

The goal, said Balow, is to stay in the lowest tier for as much of the school year as possible. Balow asked parents to please keep the lines of communication with your school district open and work with them as they navigate the challenges.

In Crook County, according to a letter sent to parents from Superintendent Mark Broderson, the precautions will include 500 desk sneeze guards and additional partitions to reduce the need for masks (which are expected to arrive in September) as well as face covering requirements for situations including buses and changing classes.

Asked about virtual education, Balow said, “We do not have a student count for virtual education yet.” Anecdotally, however, she said that a number of school districts have utilized the flexibility and are offering it or hybrid as an option.

We have virtual schools that existed long before the pandemic, so this is not new to Wyoming, Balow said. The state already knows how to assess such students.

“I do expect that there will be some cases among students and school staff over time,” said Harrist when asked if she believes a return to school will impact the state’s case rate. However, she continued, the measures that have been put in place are intended to stop that from happening and baseball camps and other summer gatherings have showed they can be effective.

“It certainly is a possibility and a concern and we will be monitoring the situation closely,” she said, stressing that we can all do our part to help keep schools open by staying safe outside the schools.


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