Powell patient infected with COVID-19 recovers; Testing efforts underway

Posted 6/2/20

A local woman who was hospitalized in Billings after becoming infected with COVID-19 has recovered and been released from the hospital, Park County’s health officer says.

The woman tested …

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Powell patient infected with COVID-19 recovers; Testing efforts underway


A local woman who was hospitalized in Billings after becoming infected with COVID-19 has recovered and been released from the hospital, Park County’s health officer says.

The woman tested positive for the respiratory disease at Powell Valley Healthcare on Monday, May 18 — shortly after visiting an ill family member in Utah — and was hospitalized in Billings the following weekend, health officials have said. However, on Friday night, Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin announced that the woman “has recovered and has been discharged from the hospital.”

The only other Park County resident to have a confirmed case of the disease — a Cody Regional Health employee — made a full recovery at home back in March.

As the tourist season begins to pick up, bringing more people from around the country and globe, local health officials are hoping to use testing to stay a step ahead of the novel coronavirus.

With a “steady supply” of same-day tests now available in Park County, Billin said they plan to begin randomly testing a few employees each week at certain businesses that “have a high level of contact with visitors.”

This voluntary “surveillance testing,” Billin said, “will allow the early identification and isolation of any outbreaks that may occur.”

Beyond that, he said the Wyoming Department of Health has asked all nursing homes and assisted living facilities to test 20% of their staff and residents every two weeks.

Powell Valley Care Center announced last week that the facility “will be testing ALL residents and staff.”

“Even though we have not had any cases in our facility, we will still test everyone,” said a Facebook update from the care center.

The precautions follow an outbreak at a Worland nursing home, where more than 20 residents and staff have been infected with COVID-19 and three residents have died.

“As the rest of us work on getting back to normal, we must continue to protect our vulnerable populations,” Billin wrote in his post.

The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are the most at-risk to suffer serious health problems from COVID-19. Most people who become infected recover at home and some never experience any symptoms. However, it can, in rare cases, be deadly to anyone. The Department of Health announced Wyoming’s 17th coronavirus-related death on Sunday — a woman from Fremont County who “did not have any known conditions that would have put her at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.”

Fremont County has been hit the hardest by the disease, with 252 of the state’s 700 confirmed cases and eight of the deaths.

Park County, meanwhile, “has had an extremely low incident of COVID-19,” Powell Valley Healthcare officials noted in a Facebook post last week. A total of 549 tests have been run on county residents since the pandemic began, with only the two positive tests.

Officials are also testing local sewage in an effort to look at a broader picture of how much of the virus is being shed by infected people.

The City of Cody planned three initial tests. The first sample — collected on April 28 — came up negative, suggesting the virus was not present in the Cody community.

“If we have two more negatives, we’ll be sitting pretty,” Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton said last week.

The city is currently awaiting test results on the second sample, Billin wrote Friday night. He also said that “sampling will be added in Powell and Meeteetse.”

The City of Cody has offered to let Powell and Meeteese use its sewer testing equipment to detect COVID-19. Cody spent $9,500 on a portable automated composite sampler, which collects samples from a sewage stream every hour.

Powell City Administrator Zack Thorington said the city is interested in using the equipment, but needs to find an affordable provider to analyze the samples. Cody has been using a private lab, Biobot, to analyze the samples, and the company has been doing the work for $120 per test. Starting in June, however, the company is no longer offering the testing pro bono and will charge $1,200 per sample.

The tests provide an indicator if people in the community are carrying the virus. Since only municipal sewer systems are being tested, it wouldn’t indicate if carriers of the virus are out in the county, but it’s still useful as a possible early warning system for the spread of COVID-19.

Crampton said health officials are looking into the possibility of using a state lab, which would provide the testing for free.

“We anticipate transitioning over to a new wastewater testing program based at the Wyoming Department of Health Laboratory by the end of June,” Dr. Billin said.

The county health officer has been using his personal Facebook page to share updates since the pandemic began in March, spreading messages via various local groups. However, Billin has now created a dedicated Park County Wyoming Health Officer page at www.facebook.com/ParkCountyHealthOfficer.

He noted that everyone has been learning as they go about the new virus.

“Hopefully we can continue learning together as we keep our community safe and economically viable, while safeguarding important personal liberties. Many of the things you’ve seen and heard about in other states are not happening here,” Billin wrote. “This is a good time to live in Wyoming.”

Starting Monday, citizens across Wyoming are able to gather in groups of up to 250 people outdoors, while indoor gatherings are set to remain limited to 25 people through June 15, with some exceptions.