COVID cases surge in Park County, Wyoming

Posted 10/6/20

Until recently, Wyoming boasted some of the best COVID-19 numbers in the country, seeing relatively low numbers of new infections while having fewer restrictions in place. But things have since …

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COVID cases surge in Park County, Wyoming

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Until recently, Wyoming boasted some of the best COVID-19 numbers in the country, seeing relatively low numbers of new infections while having fewer restrictions in place. But things have since changed, Gov. Mark Gordon said at a Monday press conference. “We are now surging and that does not bode well for us.”

More people are getting infected and being hospitalized, with some 1,300 active confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases in the state and 35 hospitalizations related to the disease as of Monday, including one patient at Cody Regional Health. Until the recent surge, the previous high mark had been 23 concurrent hospitalizations, recorded back in April.

“We are now starting to see those concerning trends that we were trying to prevent all along,” said State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist. She spoke specifically about the potential of hospitals being overwhelmed if the number of seriously ill patients continues to grow.

“In Montana, hospitals are being challenged,” Harrist said. “The largest hospital in Billings — where many Wyoming residents are frequently treated — has been forced to add beds in another older building and has been transferring some patients back to Wyoming for care.”

Last week, Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin suggested that local residents consider limiting their trips to Billings; he said Yellowstone County, Montana, has had five times the number of active cases and deaths per 1,000 people as Park County.

“... we must consider Billings as a contributor to our cases,” Billin said. “Although Montana has a mask mandate, we may be better off wearing masks and limiting our trips to Billings.”

Much like the rest of the state, Park County has seen a notable uptick in cases. As of early Sunday morning, Billin said there were 38 active cases in Park County — with 31 of those cases arising in the previous five days. That’s up from a low of just eight cases that Billin reported on Sept. 8. Meanwhile, the Wyoming Department of Health, which tracks cases slightly different, says that the number of active cases in Park County has risen from 17 confirmed or probable cases on Sept. 14 up to 58 as of Monday.

Recent testing of Cody’s raw sewage indicates that around 2.1% of those using the system were shedding the virus, Billin said last week, suggesting roughly 525 recent infections.

Billin said public health officials believe most of the recent infections have come from gatherings where people didn’t wear masks or practice social distancing.

“We remind all of the continued importance of staying home when you are sick, cleaning your hands frequently, social distancing, wearing masks when appropriate, and cooperating with contact tracing,” Billin said.

Harrist and Gordon drove home the same message at Monday’s press conference.

Gordon said it appeared Wyomingites’ vigilance “slipped a little bit,” perhaps buoyed by “the amazing amounts of bogus information out there.”

“I do know that all of this is very fatiguing, but I have to say our current scenario is extremely concerning,” he said. “Folks, this is a serious call to action.”

Wyoming has had public health orders in place since March that restrict certain aspects of daily life, including new rules for restaurants and bars and limits on large gatherings.

Harrist and Gordon relaxed those regulations over the summer and eased them some more last week. Instead of being limited to six people per table, restaurants could put eight people at tables starting on Thursday — and instead of having capacity limited, can seat patrons in all available booths, Billin said in a summary. He noted that the restrictions were being eased amid “a significant increase in cases of COVID-19 in Park County.”

Gordon called on Wyomingites to follow public health guidelines and recommendations.

As cases rise, “fewer people are going to feel safe going out for supper and going to the store,” he said. “That will slow our economic recovery and mean more people will stay isolated longer when we need exactly the opposite to happen.”

The governor opened his press conference by saying that he and First Lady Jennie Gordon are “praying daily” for a “speedy and successful and complete recovery,” for President Donald Trump, who was hospitalized after falling ill with COVID-19 late last week.

“I am encouraged by the upbeat assessments of our president’s condition,” Gordon said, “but it is still sobering to see just how contagious and debilitating this disease can be.”

Harrist said the state is getting materials for more widespread testing — including free at-home saliva kits for the general public and 170,000 rapid tests from the federal government, due by the end of the year.

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