Novel coronavirus now in Wyoming: Case confirmed in Sheridan County


Wyoming has its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus, state health officials announced Wednesday night. 

The patient is a woman from Sheridan County who recently traveled within the U.S., according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

“We expected to identify a case in Wyoming at some point because the reach of the disease is clearly growing,” Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist, said Wednesday. “Travelers to certain affected locations and close contacts of ill people are still overall at the highest risk of becoming ill.”

The department said it's following up to learn more details about the Sheridan County patient’s exposure risk and to identify and communicate with anyone who may have been in close contact with her. “Known contacts will be monitored for symptoms and tested if needed,” the department said.

Harrist said the current risk of transmission for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Wyoming remains low for most residents.

“Our state has been planning for this situation for weeks and we will continue our coordinated efforts to address this threat,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in Wednesday night’s release. “I pledge to work closely with our state agencies, federal partners and local officials to ensure we are implementing all the necessary steps to protect public health.”

The news comes as the number of COVID-19 cases across the country has risen — with 938 confirmed cases and 29 deaths across the country as of Tuesday — and as the disease has begun to cause significant disruptions to public life in the U.S.

The World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a “pandemic” on Wednesday, in recognition of the worldwide spread of a new disease. Additionally, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation temporarily prohibiting foreigners from traveling from Europe to the U.S.; travel from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea had previously been restricted.

After a player with the Utah Jazz preliminarily tested posted for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the NBA announced the indefinite suspension of its season, while the NCAA basketball tournaments are set to be played before generally empty stadiums. Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have canceled  large campaign events and some colleges and universities have closed their campuses.

In remarks to Congress on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended against holding events with large crowds. The director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, recommended Tuesday that decisions about whether to cancel large gatherings be made on a case-by-case basis — including “what is going on in the locale where the event is being held.”

While Wednesday night announcement of a confirmed COVID-19 case in the state may change things, it has so far been mostly business as usual in Wyoming and locally.

The State Spirit Competition went forward on Wednesday in Casper and the Class 3A and 4A state basketball tournaments are set to begin Thursday, featuring 32 teams and drawing hundreds of spectators from around the state.

“All State Events will be held as scheduled,” the Wyoming High School Activities Association had posted to Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, adding that it was in contact with the Department of Health.

As part of their precautions, both the University of Wyoming and Park County School District No. 1 officials have had preliminary discussions about how they might hold classes online if the need arose; Northwest College has been issuing frequent updates to its students and staff about the new coronavirus, saying in an earlier Wednesday message that the college “remains open and operational at this time.”

Meanwhile, Powell Valley Care Center is restricting visitation, asking people not to visit if they have a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Leaders in the Wyoming Legislature have also been “closely following” the new coronavirus. A handful of state lawmakers — including state Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell — attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., in late February, where one attendee later tested positive for COVID-19. 

That case has led to members of Congress and President Trump’s incoming chief of staff to self quarantine, because they either did interact or may have interacted with the patient.

However, according to a Monday news release from Wyoming legislative leaders, Harrist advised it wasn’t necessary for the state lawmakers to quarantine themselves, as they never came into contact with the infected person at CPAC. Laursen said the individual was apparently on a different floor of the conference.

Laursen said Wednesday afternoon that, 11 days removed from the conference, he was feeling fine.

“I didn’t bring it home,” Laursen said of the coronavirus, though he, like state health officials, thought COVID-19 would eventually reach Wyoming.

“We’ll just keep it out … as much as we can,” he said.

In Monday’s release, Senate President Drew Perkins and Speaker of the House Steve Harshman said that, “It’s important to note that as coronavirus becomes more widespread, many individuals will likely come into contact with someone affected by the disease — be that on a plane, at a concert or sporting event, shopping center or any place large numbers of individuals gather.”

“It is important to stay diligent and follow the health advice of healthcare professionals including regular hand washing and stay home when symptoms arise,” Perkins and Harshman said.

There have been some early indications that COVID-19 could be more infectious and deadlier than traditional influenza, but in a Wednesday morning email, Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton noted that the situation is “fluid and fast moving.”

“... what was believed to be a certainty last week, may be completely or significantly different this week as more research is being done,” Crampton wrote. “And few of the studies coming out have been peer reviewed or duplicated so right now we go with what we know, recognizing that it may change as times go on.”

“H1N1 was predicted to have a 4% mortality rate in the beginning. Turned out at the end it was [less than] 0.1%,” he said.

Symptoms reported with COVID-19 are familiar: fever, cough and shortness of breath, Harrist said. There are many different coronaviruses, some of which cause the common cold in people and others that circulate among animals.

Experts believe COVID-19 spreads mostly between people who are in close contact and through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People are thought to be most contagious when they are most ill with obvious symptoms, the Department of Health says.

“A person may also get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes,” the department said.

It recommends these precautions:

— Avoid close contact with sick people.

— While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.

— Stay home if sick.

— Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

— Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.

— Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol. 

The CDC also says older adults and travelers with underlying health issues, who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, should consider avoiding non-essential travel and crowded places.

The Wyoming Department of Health website has more information about coronavirus disease 2019 at a state level, while the CDC offers information on its website on a national scale.