As COVID-19 cases rise, ‘we have a small window to turn this around,’ health officer says

32 active cases of the disease in Park County as of Monday

Posted 6/26/20

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Park County continues to climb, with at least seven more people testing positive for the respiratory disease on Thursday and Friday. …

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As COVID-19 cases rise, ‘we have a small window to turn this around,’ health officer says

32 active cases of the disease in Park County as of Monday


The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Park County continues to climb, with 17 more people testing positive for the respiratory disease in results announced between Thursday and Monday. That makes 31 local cases in a little more than two weeks, after just two cases in nearly three months.

“It is no longer good enough for you and your family to do the right thing,” Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin wrote in a Thursday night Facebook post. “Please speak to those with whom you have influence. We have a small window to turn this around.”

He said Monday that the increase has largely been among young and healthy people, who, like other across Wyoming and parts of the U.S., “are venturing out to gatherings often without masks or social distancing.” Billin noted that there hasn’t been a corresponding spike in hospitalizations or deaths, but he said those could come later, “after the young and health have passed it on to those at risk.”

As for the idea that the rise in cases is simply a result of more testing, “we are doing much more testing and there have been some who have been asymptomatic,” Billin said, “but there has been a definite increase in sick people.”

Most people infected with the disease suffer mild to moderate flu-like symptoms and recover on their own, but the virus can be deadly in rare cases, posing a particular risk to the elderly and those with health problems.

Billin continues to urge people to avoid large gatherings and crowded places, to wear masks while in public, to frequently wash hands, to stay home when sick, follow the state’s health orders and to get tested for COVID-19 after experiencing symptoms or having close contact with an infected person.

Concerns about possible exposures to the new coronavirus led a couple of Powell’s eating establishments to temporarily close on Thursday while their employees underwent precautionary testing. After a bartender at the K-Bar Saloon tested positive on Monday, owner Amy Cozzens announced the bar would close for two weeks “due to the amount of cases popping up” and “for the safety of the rest of our staff and customers.”

“If you have been in the bar over the weekend you have been exposed,” Cozzens wrote in a Facebook post. “We highly recommend you go get tested and PLEASE STAY HOME, we don't want this to continue!”

Cozzens said the disease “spreads like wildfire,” with infected people not showing symptoms.

Park County reached a new high of 32 active cases on Monday, according to Wyoming Department of Health data, with 25 confirmed cases and seven “probable” cases. Probable cases are defined as people who have had direct contact with an infected person and are showing symptoms, but who have not been tested.

“It comes down to people believing that it's not going to affect them, it's not going to make them sick and so they go out and do all the things we ask them not to until we get a handle on this,” Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton said Friday afternoon. None of the recent cases have required hospitalization, “but that could change rapidly,” Crampton said Thursday. A Powell resident was hospitalized with COVID-19 last month, but she has since recovered.

As of Monday, seven people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across Wyoming. The state has had 1,450 confirmed and probable cases since March, with 1,070 recoveries and 20 deaths as of Monday. That included 36 new cases on Thursday and 29 on Monday, the two highest single-day totals yet recorded.

Park County, meanwhile, has had 33 confirmed and seven probable cases since the pandemic reached the area, with eight documented recoveries.

Billin said there have been too many recent cases to give individual details, but shared a map of their general locations — spread across Powell, Cody, Wapiti and Pahaska Tepee Resort — on Monday morning.

Crampton called the scattered cases concerning, given that public health officials felt they had contained a recent outbreak involving an oilfield company and a single case at a Cody day care.

“There's a number of folks we know that do not want to abide by the health orders. And if we continue to have cases, we really need to reevaluate what we need to do about enforcement,” he said Friday.

Crampton specifically cited the example of certain restaurants failing to abide by the state rules that require patrons to generally be spaced apart and require staff to wear face masks. He added generally that, “regardless of what it says on Facebook, face masks are very, very important.”

Billin said last week that, “This is going to get worse before it gets better.”

It has been a sudden turnaround, as earlier this month, county commissioners and health officials asked State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to ease the spacing and mask rules for Park County restaurants and bars since there were so few cases; Harrist denied the request last week because of the increase.

The recent COVID-19 activity also led some Powell establishments to have their staffers undergo testing on Thursday, causing some disruptions to businesses.

The Red Zone temporarily closed on Thursday while staffers were tested and awaited results.

“... I want to be sure all of our employees are healthy,” owner James Andrews posted on the bar’s Facebook page.

A current candidate for the Powell City Council, Andrews has been critical of the restrictions placed on businesses amid the pandemic and the economic damage they’ve caused. A sarcastic “COVID-19 notice” posted on the front door of The Red Zone on Thursday said that Gov. Mark Gordon has proclaimed himself “dictator,” Harrist “vice despot” and Dr. Billin “Duke of Park County” and asserts the health orders are unconstitutional.

It advises people who are sick to not enter the bar, adding that patrons “are reminded to ‘social distance’ at least 6 feet apart unless seated at a table with up to 6 people (or more than 6 people if they claim to all live together in the same household), because sitting at a table is magic and prevents the Kung Flu.”

The Red Zone reopened Friday afternoon, after all of the employee tests came back negative.

“I know that I am being overly cautious and I apologise for any inconvenience but we serve a clientele that are mostly good friends of mine,” Andrews wrote on Facebook Friday morning. “I know a lot of their health issues and refuse to take any chances with their health.”

The K-Bar also had its staff undergo testing on Wednesday and all of those tests came back negative, but the positive test followed on Monday.

Gestalt Studios at the Polar Plant closed early on Thursday “out of an abundance of caution” while awaiting test results, but was able to reopen Friday and testing came back negative.

Meanwhile, WYOld West Brewing Company had to close for lunch on Thursday “due to a lack of staffing.” The restaurant reopened for dinner.

Under the state’s current public health orders, employees at restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes and coffeehouses who “have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive person within the previous 14 days shall not be allowed to work.” Crampton said that applies “whether you’re positive or not, so that becomes a problem for the businesses.”

Billin said that in Uinta County — which saw a substantial spike in cases in connection with an event at a bar — more than 300 people are now quarantined and unable to go to work.

“We have seen outbreaks in other counties that slow only when county residents realize that there are consequences to their actions,” he said.