COVID-19 patient hospitalized in Powell

Scores of residents stuck at home under quarantine orders

Posted 7/10/20

After dropping early in the week, the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Park County began rising again, with one infected person hospitalized at Powell Valley Hospital.

As of Wednesday, the …

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COVID-19 patient hospitalized in Powell

Scores of residents stuck at home under quarantine orders


After dropping early in the week, the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Park County began rising again, with one infected person hospitalized at Powell Valley Hospital.

As of Thursday night, the county had 48 active cases: 42 confirmed and six probable cases, according to Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin and state data. That was up from 36 active cases on Monday, but still down from a weekend peak of 53.

"Contact tracing shows that the recent increase in Park County cases is largely due to the young and healthy going out to large gatherings without a mask or social distancing," Billin wrote in a Wednesday night Facebook post.

On Tuesday, prior to the news of a patient being admitted to the Powell hospital, county officials at the commission meeting had wondered why local cases had been rising without any hospitalizations. Though Billin has said hospitalizations are expected to increase following the rise in cases, only two local residents have been hospitalized with the disease to date, with the other occurring back in May.

Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton told commissioners on Tuesday he didn’t know the reason for the low number of hospitalized patients.

He suggested it’s possible that the novel coronavirus could ultimately become more like a cold, “but in the meantime, that RNA of this virus is carrying mixes in with the DNA and cells inside of a body that’s susceptible to it; we’ve seen it can kill.”

Crampton said he’s spoken to people, including infected county employees, who “have been pretty darn miserable for longer than the average cold.”

Most people suffer mild to moderate flu-like symptoms and recover on their own — some never experience any symptoms — but the virus can be more serious. Out of more than 1,400 confirmed cases in the state, Wyoming has recorded 21 deaths; they have generally been among those who were older or had other health problems.

As of Wednesday, Wyoming had 428 people with confirmed or probable cases, with 13 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. That’s up from six hospitalized patients on Friday, but well below the peak of 23 hospitalizations recorded back in mid-April.

“Our numbers [of lab-confirmed cases] keep rising, and I think that’s of concern,” Gov. Mark Gordon said at a Wednesday press conference.

Gordon said day cares in Big Horn County have had to temporarily close because of COVID-19.

“That then has the knock-on effects of parents not being able to go to work, having to stay home, grandparents being put in a position of being compromised,” Gordon said of infections at day cares. “And I think people in Wyoming understand that it’s important that we make every attempt to make sure that we wear a mask, if we can, social distance as much as we can, make sure we use good hygiene to protect our national security and to protect our business viability.”

Crampton said Tuesday morning that there were 85 people in Park County under quarantine orders. Among them was Powell Mayor John Wetzel, who had contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. As result, he had to participate in Monday's City Council meeting remotely; his video feed cut out in the middle of a discussion about the city's prohibition on roosters, which led to the meeting being delayed for about five minutes until the connection was restored.

“I apologize for not being there in person,” the mayor said at the outset of the meeting, “but the public health department says ... I can't leave my house til tomorrow [Tuesday] night.”

At Tuesday's Park County Board of County Commissioners meeting, a couple commissioners expressed concern about the quarantine orders, which restrict what a person can do for 14 days.

The orders are issued when a person has had close contact with an infected person, generally defined as being within 6 feet of the person for 10 minutes or more. Public health officials conduct “contact tracing” to try figuring out who’s come into contact with COVID-19-positive people. That typically includes interviews by phone.

However, Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said he’s heard of instances where people were placed under quarantine without ever being interviewed — after someone said, incorrectly, that they’d had close contact with an infected person.

“To me, you’re stepping over the boundary here of a person’s rights,” Thiel said, adding that there should be a way for people to appeal a quarantine order.

Crampton said there’s no way to appeal, but that he would check to make sure his contact tracers were interviewing the people being quarantined. If someone was quarantined without being interviewed, that was a mistake, he said.

Crampton received the commission’s permission on Tuesday to add two temporary employees to conduct tracing, with the positions funded by a pot of COVID-19-specific funding that the county has received.

The impact of the quarantine orders differs based on a person’s occupation. A rancher, for instance, might be able to go about their business and have no contact with others, Crampton said, while a waiter couldn’t go to work.

The Park County Road and Bridge Department has been hampered by a couple of positive cases, which has led to other employees being quarantined. County Engineer Brian Edwards said Tuesday that he had four workers at home because, although they have tested negative and aren’t showing symptoms, they were exposed to infected people.

Thiel cited concern about private sector workers who aren’t sick, have tested negative for the disease and yet are prohibited from going to work and making money to pay their rent for 14 days.

“They’re isolated or quarantined, in their mind, for no reason,” Thiel said.

Crampton explained that, even if a person tests negative for COVID-19, they could still have the disease, as it can take up to two weeks for the virus to incubate.

Fellow commissioners and Crampton also mentioned that quarantined workers could seek unemployment benefits.

“The important thing is these [quarantine] letters are changing lives,” Fulkerson said.

Crampton mentioned a situation in Powell where an entire family tested positive and there were reports of domestic disputes amid the quarantine.

“One individual was told that they were going to go to jail if they didn’t figure something out,” Crampton said, and health officials wound up putting the person up in a hotel for five days.

If a person is not showing symptoms after two weeks, they are released from quarantine and do not need to be tested or retested before re-entering the workforce. Being released from a more restrictive isolation order — issued to people known to have COVID-19 — requires a letter from a health official.

Park County’s 68 confirmed cases since March have ranged from a woman who visited an ill family member in Utah to a bartender, a day care worker, attendees at a Red Lodge wedding, workers at a North Fork resort, several employees of an oil and gas company and five tourists, health officials have said.

Crampton added that “We have one large business in the county that we’ve been trying to reach out to and they’re doing their own testing and flying people out, so they haven’t really been reporting to us at all.”

He did not name the company at the meeting, but the description of its size and use of air travel is consistent with Kanye West’s business, Yeezy.