Testing of both patients and sewage indicates that COVID-19 has been spreading more rapidly in Park County in recent days; case numbers have also been rising around the state.
A total of 21 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the area in just four days — 16 confirmed and five probable, Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said Sunday. That brought the county up to a total of 27 active cases. The Wyoming Department of Health, which reports the data somewhat differently, reported Monday that the county had 44 active cases. Two patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized at Cody Regional Health as of Friday, according to state data.
Billin warned on Friday that testing of Cody’s raw sewage has shown increasing levels of the novel coronavirus; a recent test indicated that roughly 2% of the people using Cody’s sewer system were shedding the virus that causes COVID-19 — which Billin said would suggest roughly 500 people either are or recently were infected.
“The above suggests a significant increase in active COVID-19 cases in Park County within the next week,” he said Friday. “Please be conscientious in following State Public Health Orders, social distancing, and wearing masks when appropriate.”
Also on Friday, Cody’s famed Irma Hotel announced that it was temporarily closing after employees tested positive. Without naming the Irma, Billin said Monday that two employees at a Cody restaurant initially tested positive, which triggered additional testing and led to a total of nine positive tests; “most” of the workers have not had symptoms of the virus, he said. Billin added that the cases came “despite the business doing a good job complying with the state public health orders” and he praised the “responsible decision” to temporarily close.
Meanwhile, Cody Regional Health said routine, monthly testing at its long term care center turned up a case among an employee who did not and has not developed any symptoms. That individual is now in isolation at home.
“The virus is real and still a serious threat,” Cody Regional Health said in a Monday news release, saying that the organization, “is evaluating resources on a daily basis to ensure they have the ability to continue to provide high quality care to both COVID-19 positive patients, as well as other patients who are experiencing medical and emergency conditions requiring care and treatment.”
Park County Emergency Response Coordinator Kimball Croft said public health is working closely with Cody Regional Health and other healthcare entities in the county to ensure patients and the public are safe.
“We ask sincerely every resident do their part in keeping themselves safe by physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing their hands,” Croft said in the release.
In Powell schools, no new positive cases of COVID-19 had been reported as of Monday. There is one active case at the high school, said Jay Curtis, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1.
“We can’t be sure, but thus far, no spread of the virus has been traced back to spread within the schools, so that is a very positive outlook,” he said.
Those who test positive for the new coronavirus are in isolation, while students or staff members who have been exposed are asked to quarantine.
As of Monday, there were six high school students and one staff member in quarantine. The high school employee is the only staff member who is quarantined, Curtis said. At Powell Middle School, four students were in quarantine, while Parkside Elementary School had three students in quarantine as of Monday.
“Many of the quarantines expire on Wednesday,” Curtis said.
Students and staff are quarantined if they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more without wearing a mask or taking other measures, Curtis said.
The superintendent told the school board on Sept. 22 that of the 15 total people affected within the district at the time — two positive cases and 13 in quarantine — seven of them were from two families.
“Frankly, we’re keeping this fairly localized,” Curtis told the board. “... and hopefully, we can continue keeping those numbers at what I would call a manageable level.”
There is a cold going around the community, he said, and quite a few people with symptoms are getting tested for COVID-19.
“It happens to be a nasty head cold that also presents in the lungs, so it’s a challenge,” Curtis said.
It’s also a challenge the district expected as cold and flu season arrives, he added.
“The fact is, we just work through it,” Curtis said.
School leaders are asking parents and guardians to ensure their children don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19 before sending kids to school. Symptoms include a cough, fatigue, sore throat, fever and new loss of taste or smell. Schools also scan students’ and employees’ temperatures as they enter a building, and other safety measures also are in place.
Most people infected with COVID-19 suffer mild or moderate flu-like symptoms, if any at all, but the disease can cause life-threatening illness. It poses a particular risk to the elderly and those with underlying health problems.
To date, 50 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported among 5,754 lab-confirmed and probable cases in Wyoming, with 4,613 recoveries and 1,091 active cases as of Monday.