Days after encouraging and then ordering numerous businesses to shut down and prohibiting large gatherings, Park County’s health officer says he’s been “greatly encouraged” by the response.
Driving around Powell and Cody Saturday morning, Dr. Aaron Billin said he could see the efforts that many people are making “to protect our community.”
“[There are] fewer vehicles on the streets, restaurants have closed their dining rooms, and people are practicing social distancing. Many are going above and beyond,” Billin said in a Saturday night message, thanking community members “for the sacrifices you are making.”
Daily life has changed drastically following a Tuesday night test result that confirmed the presence of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, in Park County.
Billin said samples had been collected from at least 15 other people in Park County as of late last week, with test results still pending.
“Each of the last two nights I’ve expected a call from Dr. [Alexia] Harrist, the state health officer, about new cases of COVID-19 in Park County confirmed by the state health laboratory, but it hasn’t happened,” Billin wrote on Facebook on Saturday night. “I think what we are doing is making a difference.”
However, he also reiterated that there are likely other people in Park County who are infected with COVID-19.
“We believe that there are other people who have the virus that have not been diagnosed yet,” Billin wrote on Facebook. “This is why I have been expecting a call from the state health department. This is why people need to stay home if they are sick.”
Following the first confirmed case of the disease, the health officer has urged non-essential businesses to voluntarily close their doors and for people to limit their interactions with other people. On Thursday, Billin issued a public health order that shut down bars, employee cafeterias, pools, fitness centers, gyms, public conference rooms, museums and most daycares, among other establishments, and prohibited people from gathering in groups of 10 or more; Gov. Mark Gordon has since issued similar orders across the state.
Billin has said the public health order “doesn’t go far enough” in limiting the spread of the pandemic and that health officials want people to “understand the spirit of what we are trying to do, rather than spend their time looking for loopholes” in the rules.
Asked on Facebook whether all non-essential businesses would be ordered to close next, the doctor responded that, “I’m not sure what we are going to have to do,” noting that, “unfortunately,” other states have taken that step.
“The situation is changing rapidly,” he added.
Billin — whose primary job is as an emergency doctor at Powell Valley Healthcare — has been working around the clock on efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, disseminating information, answering questions and providing advice.
On Saturday night, Park County Sheriff Scott Steward thanked Billin for his “over and above dedication to our citizens of Park County,” specifically praising him for “working endless hours as an emergency room doctor and then switching hats as Park County Health Officer and working more tireless hours.”
When a local resident encouraged him to get some sleep last week, Billin responded that there was “[too] much work to be done.”
He’s being assisted by an Incident Management Team — led by Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton and Park County Director of Homeland Security Jack Tatum — that involves health care providers and governmental agencies from around the county.
A Monday news release said the team has been working to obtain “replacement personal protective equipment and disinfectant supplies for health care providers and other personnel who are providing services for those affected by the virus.” Team members have also been working on ways to identify and assist local residents who are elderly or more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions.
“For instance, when a vulnerable individual needs help getting groceries, a group of volunteers has been identified and one will be contacted to pick up and deliver them to the individual,” said Park County’s release. “These people have other needs and so the effort to identify the individuals, their needs, and more volunteers are ongoing.”
A list of available assistance, compiled by Park County Public Health, is online https://bit.ly/2UiRM8j. To volunteer or offer assistance, call public health at 307-527-8570.
Health officer urges precautions
Beyond the restrictions imposed in a legally binding public health order, Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin “strongly” advises local residents to follow these recommendations from the federal government.
1. Work from home whenever possible.
2. School your kids from home, if possible.
3. Avoid any gatherings of 10 or more people.
4. Avoid eating or drinking in bars, restaurants, and food courts; use drive-thru, pickup or delivery options instead.
5. If you are sick, stay home, and if your kids are sick keep them home.
6. If someone in your household is diagnosed with this virus, the entire family should quarantine inside your home.
7. Avoid all discretionary travel, including optional shopping trips and social visits.
8. Do not visit nursing homes or critical care facilities, unless it’s to provide critical care.
9. Older people and anyone with a health condition that weakens their immune system or impairs lung or heart function should stay home and away from other people.
10. Practice good hygiene: wash your hands and avoid touching your face, disinfect frequently used items and sneeze or cough into a tissue, when necessary.
“Also,” said Billin, “entities that provide essential food, vehicle fuel, electricity, natural gas, communications, etc. should take steps to put their staff at low risk of infection and ensure uninterrupted delivery of these essential services.”