EVANSTON — In some exciting news for Uinta County, the Wyoming Department of Health announced on Monday, May 4, that a large special testing study conducted at the Wyoming State Hospital found no new cases of COVID-19.
A Community Protection Initiative Team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently visited WSH as part of a national effort to visit areas with low incidence of the disease to help support infection control efforts and hopefully keep infection rates low. During that visit, the CDC team recommended WSH participate in a point prevalence study, which involves testing a large number of people at the same location in a short-time period.
A press release from WDH states, “CDC team members and WSH nursing staff collected samples from 46 patients and 172 staff members on May 1 using supplies provided by the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne, also part of WDH. Samples were tested over the weekend at the same lab. All 218 patients and staff tested negative for COVID-19, with only one specimen untested due to a labeling issue. The voluntary testing amounted to a 61 percent sample of both patients and hospital employees.”
The study was important not only to assess possible asymptomatic infection at WSH but also within Evanston and Uinta County since so many area residents work at the facility.
State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said, “With the unique challenges involving infection control within a psychiatric treatment facility and the state hospital’s role as an important employer in the Evanston community, we all welcomed this opportunity when it was offered by the CDC team.”
Bill Rein, WSH administrator, said the results were very encouraging and issued this statement with the WDH press release: “CDC team members complimented us on the processes we had in place since the pandemic began and recommended we continue following our established protocols as the pandemic continues. I want to commend hospital staff for their hard work and thank the CDC team members, local public health representatives and the staff at the state laboratory for their help with this project.”
Infection control measures utilized at WSH and noted by the CDC include multiple levels of screening before admitting new patients, testing of patients before admission and discharge, limiting attendance at in-person meetings, increasing sanitation, taking special precautions when transporting patients, fit-testing staff for masks early in the pandemic, and establishing quarantine and isolation units and processes to safeguard patients and staff.
The encouraging news likely supported plans for Uinta County officials to request a variance to further ease restrictions from the statewide public health orders that were continued last week by Gov. Mark Gordon. Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit verified county officials are working on a variance request to submit to Harrist for approval; however, she said specifics of that variance request are not yet certain.
During a COVID-19 Joint Incident Command Response Team situation update video meeting held on Friday, May 1, Proffit detailed the considerations that would be used to help determine if the county would seek a variance to either ease or tighten restrictions. Those considerations include capacity, data and consequences.
Capacity includes the ability to test everyone with COVID-19 symptoms and quickly get results. Proffit said the county does not have access to rapid testing (providing results in minutes) but the availability of testing has improved and the turnaround time for testing from the state lab has improved drastically to as little as 24-48 hours. Capacity also includes the number of hospital beds available, as well as ICU beds and ventilators. Proffit said the county is very close to being on target to the desired number of 20-30 beds per every 10,000 people in the county. Having adequate supplies of personal protective equipment is also an element of capacity that Proffit said has improved in recent weeks.
Finally, the ability to trace contacts of those with confirmed cases to institute quarantine and/or isolation orders is also a key part of capacity. Proffit said Uinta County Public Health has eight nurses trained and able to conduct local tracing.
In terms of data, the county tracks the number of new positive cases, the percent of positive cases out of tests being conducted and the percent of cases attributed to community spread (meaning there is no known origin for a positive case). At press time, the WDH website reported Uinta County has had six confirmed positive cases with two probable, for a total of eight cases, with seven of those listed as recovered. As of Friday, the county had an approximately 3% rate of positive cases out of those tested, although that was prior to the WSH survey results. Other than the first two positive cases that were attributed to community spread, all other cases in the county have had a traceable source.
Consequences involves assessing the risks involved with easing restrictions and social distancing measures against the likelihood of increased transmission and the impacts increased transmission could have on individuals or communities.
Proffit stressed during that meeting that eased restrictions will continue to depend on public compliance with health recommendations, including social distancing practices of maintaining space between people in public settings, the use of cloth face masks in public and continuing to avoid gathering in large groups. She said increased numbers of cases could result in a return to more severe restrictions in the future and emphasized public health experts everywhere are preparing for a possible “second wave” of infections in the fall.