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Gordon: COVID-19 spike in Wyoming shows “very serious deterioration”

By Margaret Austin

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE – While coronavirus cases in Wyoming appeared fairly steady throughout the summer, the state is now seeing a spike across the board, including Laramie County.

In fact, Laramie County was one of four counties in the state with more than 100 active cases as of Monday, and the state’s 14-day average for new COVID-19 cases, now at 98 per day, is the highest level since the pandemic began.

Gov. Mark Gordon was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist at a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss the spike in cases, increased contract tracing efforts and modified rules related to visits to long-term care facilities.

“A few weeks ago, our experience seemed to be going so well, vigilance seemed to slide a little bit,” Gordon said. “But now, we have seen some very serious deterioration in conditions. We are trending in the wrong direction, both in new cases and in hospitalizations.”

In Laramie County, the number of active cases totaled 134 as of Monday afternoon, with the total cases up to 784. A large number of those cases have no known source of infection.

According to Wyoming Department of Health data, more than 30% of confirmed cases in Laramie County came from community spread, which Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Director Kathy Emmons said means COVID-19 is more prevalent in the community.

“We’ve just never seen numbers this high,” Emmons said.

She added that a number of residents tested Monday were already showing symptoms of COVID-19 at levels they had not seen previously.

While some new cases came from clusters, like at Laramie County Community College and in Laramie County K-12 schools, Emmons said another contributing factor is complacency by residents when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing.

“They’re just not being as diligent as they had been in the last month or so, and we’re now seeing the results,” Emmons said.

The number of COVID-19 cases poses a health risk for many, and Gordon said it’s also bad for the economy. People shop and eat out more when they feel safe, which has been threatened by the rising number of cases.

In addition, Gordon said school closures due to cases are problematic from the economic standpoint of working parents. Already, Laramie County School District 1 has seen a number of positive cases and more than 100 students sent home to quarantine before the state changed the rules.

“Our economy cannot do well or return to normal until we have a better control on this virus,” the governor said. “We have loosened our restrictions because we thought that people in Wyoming would do the right thing, and I continue to believe that they will. Because we don’t want to see us go backward; we don’t want to lose the high ground that we have.”

Even with the rise in cases, Harrist announced that visitation restrictions on long-term care facilities would be eased, allowing for inside visits at such facilities. Last week, the restrictions on restaurants were loosened, though other orders like mask requirements in schools and at hair salons were extended.

In long-term care facilities, outdoor and compassionate care visits have been allowed in Wyoming since June, and Harrist said the new visitation guidelines call for even more caution.

“We know that the risk of outbreaks at facilities are related to the extent of spread within our communities. When people don’t follow our recommendations, the risk for spread and for the consequences can be high,” Harrist said.

Harrist noted the state has seen outbreaks at these facilities, including Casper’s Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Hospital, as well as in a number of other areas: schools, workplaces and social gatherings. With such increases, the contract tracers who identify positive patients’ contacts and sources of infection are dealing with an increased workload.

To assist Wyoming’s contract tracing team, Gordon announced his authorization of the Wyoming National Guard for the next 30 days or less.

“We have had some strains on our system, our ability to do contact tracing. The county health departments and Wyoming Department of Health have been severely strained,” Gordon said.

To help slow the spread, keep hospitals at capacity and protect the economy from further harm, Gordon reinforced the message that has been preached by health officers across the country: wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance and stay home when sick.

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