Events affected as local leaders urge public to take coronavirus seriously

The above map, provided by the Wyoming News Exchange, shows the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state by county as of Wednesday, Nov. 11. The number of infections statewide and regionally has soared as public health officials plead with residents to comply with health guidelines to try to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

EVANSTON — The deeply concerning nature of Uinta County’s COVID-19 spike has resulted in a joint statement from Uinta County Public Health, Evanston Regional Hospital and Uinta County School District No. 1 asking everyone in the community to do their part to slow the spread of the illness.

“The next few weeks will be critical to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” reads the statement. “We jointly ask that everyone in our community do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19. … Evanston is a wonderful community and we have a long history of rallying together to look out for one another. This time is no different. It is our pleasure and privilege to serve this great community. Thank you for supporting us as we navigate these uncharted waters and put the needs of our community first.”

The numbers in the county are indeed concerning. Throughout the first eight months of the pandemic, the most confirmed cases ever reported in Uinta County in one week was 52. Since last Friday, Nov. 6, 130 new cases have been confirmed, with 111 of those cases coming in the first three days of this week.

Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said testing has absolutely increased throughout the county; however, the percentage of positive tests has increased above 10%, which is cause for concern and indicates the increase in cases is not simply the result of increased testing.

The public health, ERH and UCSD No. 1 statement asks the community to help combat the spread in a few different ways. First, be familiar with the many and varied symptoms of COVID-19. While cough, fever and shortness of breath are probably the best known, other symptoms can include fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and loss of taste or smell. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms is asked to stay home from work, school or any public gatherings.

Secondly, anyone experiencing any of the above symptoms is urged to get tested. Testing allows to individuals with confirmed infection to be isolated from others and for those who have been exposed to quarantine so as not to infect others. Drive-through testing is available at ERH from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the front entrance of the hospital.

The statement reads, “You never have to leave your car. You’ll likely have to wait your turn to be tested, as the testing line has been very busy. Once you reach the front of the line, call the posted number. A staff member will take your demographic information over the phone. Then a tester will come out to your vehicle dressed fully in personal protective equipment.”

There are two types of COVID-19 tests available through local providers. The first is a rapid antigen test that provides results the same day. This test is most appropriate for individuals who are symptomatic and is not recommended for those without any signs or symptoms of illness. The second type of test is a PCR test, which is more sensitive and better able to pick up positive cases from those without any symptoms. Results from this test usually take three to four days to receive. All negative rapid tests are also sent to the Wyoming State Lab for confirmation.

After you have been tested, it is critical to quarantine until results are known and symptoms resolve. “This means no running to the grocery store or going out to eat,” reads the statement, which also urges people to stay home if they’re symptomatic even if their test is negative. “Even if you don’t have COVID-19, you should stay home until 24 hours after symptoms have gone away. Flu and strep are also highly contagious.”

For anyone with a positive result, the person and everyone in the household should quarantine immediately. “That means children should be picked up from school. Spouses should also leave work. The likelihood of others in the family developing symptoms is high, which is why everyone should stay home.”

In addition, those exposed to a confirmed case through work, school or elsewhere, should quarantine for at least 14 days from the date of exposure, even if a person has tested negative early during the quarantine time frame. A person can test negative on day five after exposure, for example, but go on to develop symptoms later on. The full quarantine time is necessary to ensure people are not out in public while contagious.

For households, the quarantine time can differ. “The first person in the household who tested positive needs to stay home and do their best to isolate from others until 10 days have passed since the start of their symptoms and they have marked symptom improvement, with at least 24 hours of being fever free without the use of medications. If a person has had no symptoms, they should stay home for 10 days from the date of the positive test.”

“Other household members who do not have any symptoms at that point should stay home for at least 14 days from the date of last contact with the person who tested positive.” This could mean that a parent caring for a COVID-19 positive child, for example, would need to quarantine for an additional 14 days after the child has recovered. “If household members do begin to show symptoms, they should isolate for 10 days from the beginning of those symptoms and seek testing.”

“Please don’t wait for public health to call you and tell you to do this. Because we are experiencing such a high volume of cases, they cannot talk to every positive case immediately.”

The statement also pleads with people to limit social gatherings and wear masks, a plea echoed directly by Proffit herself.

“We are all impacted by the decisions others make. Please make an effort to limit your social gatherings in the next few weeks. Wear a mask when around others outside your immediate household. Properly wearing a mask means it covers your mouth and nose, with no gaps. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. These are the tools we have at our disposal to protect ourselves and each other, especially those who are at high-risk,” reads the statement.

Proffit said it is critical at this time for people to do everything they can to slow the spread of illness in Uinta County. “While we saw spiking cases throughout the state in the past several weeks, as well as in Utah, there was hope that we would be able to stay on top of our numbers and manage the rate of transmission through testing and contact tracing. The healthcare providers in our communities who offer testing stepped up and increased their testing capacity and speed in important ways for our community. Public Health increased their contact tracing capacity. Despite these efforts, the rate of transmission has picked up momentum and we have joined the counties around us in reporting an alarming rate of increase of new cases.”

Proffit said the increase is concerning for several reasons, including potentially overwhelming healthcare systems, including hospitals, medical supplies and the public healthcare system. “At this time, Evanston Regional Hospital reports adequate space, staff and supplies,” said Proffit. “However, as new case numbers increase, hospitalizations will follow, and we need to do all we can to protect that capacity. Many of Utah’s medical centers are at critical levels of capacity, and those numbers concern us with our proximity to and reliance on those hospitals.”

Proffit stressed that hospitalizations typically follow a week or two after a surge in cases and she is very concerned for the next couple of weeks if the pattern continues. She also said that, given the conditions and exponentially increasing case numbers throughout the country, there is again talk of shortages of needed medical equipment. From a personal standpoint of someone working in public health, Proffit said it’s very difficult to speak to somebody on the phone to check on their condition and have them seem to be doing OK and then find out two days later that person has been hospitalized due to the severity of their illness.

In addition to the risks of hospitalization, especially for those at higher risk, Proffit stressed the concerning information that continues to come out about long-term effects of COVID-19 infection, even for those with mild illness.

With the Thanksgiving and other holidays right around the corner, Proffit emphasized the need to weigh carefully any decisions about gathering with loved ones. “Please put a lot of thought into the level of risk for those in your family and the precautions you’re planning on taking,” she said. In particular, she urged people to strongly consider small gatherings instead of large gatherings with many people from several different households and especially many generations. She also asked that people try to quarantine for at least a week beforehand and/or consider getting tested prior to gathering. In addition, people are encouraged to have separate tables or even rooms for separate households at dinner gatherings and to wear masks at all times other than when eating.

She also recommended that young people who may be returning home from college for the holidays do everything they can to minimize exposure beforehand, including quarantining for at least a week, preferably longer, if at all possible. This advice coincides with an announcement from the University of Wyoming that all classes will be going entirely online beginning Monday, Nov. 16, due to increasing cases on campus.

Both Proffit and the joint statement recognized the difficulties and sacrifices that come with quarantine and isolation, social distancing and the strong dislike of mask usage by some, but they also emphasized that such actions are necessary to not only protect community members from illness but keep the community functioning. “Asking individual families to quarantine allows our schools to stay open for everyone else. It allows our economy to stay open and healthcare providers to not be overwhelmed,” reads the statement.

“Quarantine and isolation are not enjoyable for anyone, really, and no one wants to have to disrupt their lives and their kids’ schoolwork, but we risk a lot, including have schools close down, if we don’t make these sacrifices for a couple of weeks,” said Proffit. “At this time, we really need all members of the community to join in and help slow down the spread of the virus. How the pandemic in our community goes really depends on us. Masking is a relatively small thing we all can do that will have a large impact. Encourage your families, your coworkers and your customers to wear a mask in public spaces.”

“Avoiding gatherings is difficult, especially as we head into cold weather and holidays, but these social events have driven a lot of our community infections,” she said.

Two public events scheduled to take place this weekend have already been put on hold due to the county’s COVID spike. The Sagebrush Theatre’s fall play, “A Gift to Remember,” which was to have opened this weekend, and the Evanston Youth Club’s annual Casino Night, which was to have taken place Friday, Nov. 13, will not be taking place this weekend.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has scheduled a press conference to address Wyoming’s current COVID-19 crisis at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 13. It was announced this week that Gordon is directing $10 million of federal CARES Act funds to bring additional medical personnel to the state to meet the needs of healthcare facilities and hospitals as hospitalizations around the state approach 200. One month ago only 56 patients were hospitalized.

At press time, there were more than 8,000 active COVID-19 cases in Wyoming. There have been more than 10.5 million cases in the U.S., with more than 240,000 fatalities. More than 140,000 new cases were reported in the U.S. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, with more than 1,400 deaths and more than 65,000 hospitalizations.

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