EVANSTON — Confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to increase worldwide, with global cases now exceeding 350,000 and U.S. cases have risen to more than 42,000. Wyoming’s confirmed case count went up to 26 over the weekend, with 10 in Fremont County, six in Laramie County, four in Sheridan County, two in Teton County, and one each in Campbell, Carbon, Natrona and Park counties.
According to a case map on the Wyoming Department of Health website, 470 tests have been conducted by the Wyoming State Public Health Laboratory and 51 in commercial laboratories. The map states that 20 samples from Uinta County have been submitted to the state lab, although there are no confirmed cases yet in Uinta County.
In reaction to the escalating crisis, late last week Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon issued two sweeping orders to prevent public gatherings. Late Thursday afternoon Gordon ordered an emergency closure of “all restaurants, bars, theaters, gymnasiums, childcare facilities, K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and trade schools” throughout the state, with certain exceptions.
Restaurants are able to remain open for drive-through, delivery and carry-out service provided there are no more than five persons picking up food in any one place at the same time. Additionally, staff members who handle cash or credit cards are not to be involved in food preparation, and “online and telephonic credit card transactions are strongly encouraged.”
Childcare centers that provide care for “essential personnel” may continue to remain open, with essential personnel defined as including staff of childcare centers; all healthcare personnel; criminal justice personnel; public health employees; firefighters and other first responders; active duty military; pharmacy staff; critical infrastructure and utility workers; public works and sanitation crews; grocery and food supply workers; postal and delivery drivers and warehouse workers; medical device and equipment manufacturers; and fuel distribution workers.
Childcare centers that do remain open are required to have no more than 10 people in a room together at any time, including during meals.
On Friday afternoon, Gordon issued a second order forbidding any gathering of more than 10 people, including “planned or spontaneous events, public or private, bringing together, or likely bringing together, 10 people or more in a single room or single confined space at the same time.” Exceptions were made for hotels for lodging purposes, livestock auctions, workers being transported to jobs, government and military facilities, jails and correctional facilities, public health facilities, food pantries and shelters, private residences, grocery stores, pharmacies, truck stops and gas stations, alcohol and drug treatment centers, healthcare facilities, long-term care and assisted living facilities, and retail establishments where more than 10 people may be present but are not within six feet of one another.
Evanston Mayor Kent Williams issued a press release encouraging residents to abide by Gordon’s orders, while also recognizing the “serious and far-reaching” impacts of those orders. Williams said, “Evanston has always been a common sense community and with that we will get through this difficult time together. Let’s continue to look out for our families, our friends and our neighbors.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals have repeatedly been admonished to stay home when sick; however, as Gordon’s orders and the orders of governors in multiple other states demonstrate, the message has increasingly shifted to become one of simply, stay home.
Millions of Americans, including those in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin, have been ordered to stay home other than essential business. On Monday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Americans that the situation is “going to get bad” this week, while begging individuals to heed orders to stay home to slow spread of the virus unless absolutely necessary to go out.
Epidemiologists and public health experts have repeatedly stressed that individuals infected with the virus may show no symptoms and therefore may unknowingly pass the virus to others. Additionally, while those who are over the age of 60 or those with underlying health problems are more at risk, multiple news outlets have shared stories of healthy individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s becoming seriously ill with the virus.
While the number of cases in the U.S. overall and in Wyoming in particular may seem small at the present time, experts warn that perhaps the most urgent threat from the virus is overwhelming the healthcare system with many sick individuals at once. As more people require emergency room care and hospital admission, the strain on limited healthcare resources becomes immense, which can then worsen outcomes for patients with COVID-19 as well as people needing healthcare for any other reason. With healthcare providers worldwide, and especially in the U.S., noting extreme shortages of personal protective equipment and increasing patient loads, the primary purpose of social distancing and isolation measures is to reduce the strain on healthcare and spread the case load out over a longer period of time, or what has become known as “flattening the curve.”
In Uinta County, local providers reacted to a WyoFile story that was reprinted in the Herald last week that detailed an Evanston woman’s unsuccessful attempt to receive coronavirus screening despite showing symptoms. Evanston Regional Hospital issued a statement regarding the WyoFile story, which reads, in part, “The coronavirus outbreak is an evolving situation. Local, state and federal agencies are working daily to update and adjust screening and testing guidelines. Our team of infection prevention leaders and physicians is monitoring the outbreak around-the-clock to ensure Evanston Regional Hospital is following all recommended guidance and providing necessary care. To date, we have not treated any patients known to have COVID-19, though we are actively screening patients for symptoms.”
The statement continued by saying, “Additionally, as a matter of precaution, we have implemented visitation restrictions to limit exposure to this virus from visitors. We have also limited entry into the hospital to screen everyone for travel history, fever, or respiratory symptoms at a designated entrance.”
Dr. Spencer Weston of Arrowhead Family Medicine said, “We are taking COVID-19 very seriously and care about our community. . . We have telemedicine services, ‘curbside’ diagnostic testing, and are actively working with government and private agencies to improve access to COVID-19 testing services.”
Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit responded to the specific concerns of the WyoFile story. “It is unfortunate that this resident felt that her concerns were not heard or responded to appropriately. It is hoped that she has recovered fully. Her efforts to reduce possible transmission are commendable.”
Proffit continued, “It seems that part of the issue was timing. Testing was not available in Wyoming until March 5, and it was limited. There were criteria for determining priority that ruled out some people who might now be tested. Our community healthcare providers are working hard and bravely to meet the challenges of this virus and to provide testing, and we are all learning a lot as we go.”
Proffit further said it’s important for residents to remember that other viruses and bacteria are also still circulating and causing respiratory illness and testing for those infectious agents will likely be conducted first prior to any screening for COVID-19.
“We are grateful for the patience and community-mindedness of the citizens of Uinta County as we together meet this difficulty,” said Proffit. “Uinta County Public Health, the county management team and WDH are committed to leading and doing all possible to mitigate the spread of this virus, as well as other social and economic impacts.”