First Wyoming case of COVID-19 confirmed in Sheridan County

A woman in Sheridan County tested positive for coronavirus Wednesday. It was the first case in Wyoming of the rapidly-spreading virus that was first detected in China. (SHERIDAN PRESS/Matthew Gaston)

CHEYENNE — The first case of coronavirus, COVID-19, in Wyoming was confirmed Wednesday evening in a woman from Sheridan County.

The Wyoming Department of Health is investigating the case more closely to learn about the person’s exposure risk and to identify anyone who has been in close contact with the patient. People who have come in contact with the person will be monitored for symptoms, according to a news release from the department.

COVID-19 is the version of coronavirus that appeared late last year in Wuhan, China. It is a respiratory virus that has symptoms similar to the common cold, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms usually appear two to 14 days after viral exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This test result is considered a “presumptive positive,” and the CDC will be conducting further testing. At this time, the virus is believed to be spread through close contact and respiratory droplets. People are likely contagious when they are displaying virus symptoms, according to the department news release.

Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist for the department, said the transmission risk for the virus still remains low for most residents.

“We expected to identify a case in Wyoming at some point because the reach of the disease is clearly growing. Travelers to certain affected locations and close contacts of ill people are still overall at the highest risk of becoming ill,” she said in a news release.

Symptoms of the virus are fever, cough and shortness of breath, Harrist said, and there are many different types of coronavirus.

In the U.S., 38 states and the District of Columbia have reported a total of 938 cases and 29 deaths, not including Wyoming’s first case, according to the CDC. Four states bordering Wyoming — Colorado, Utah, Nebraska and South Dakota – have reported cases of the virus, with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declaring a state of emergency Tuesday.

Those numbers are lower than the ones being reported by the Associated Press as of Wednesday evening, which says 38 people had died in the U.S., and more than 1,300 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

“Our state has been planning for this situation for weeks, and we will continue our coordinated efforts to address this threat,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a news release. “I pledge to work closely with our state agencies, federal partners and local officials to ensure we are implementing all the necessary steps to protect public health.”

The Wyoming Department of Health had previously tested 10 people for the virus in the past few days with no positive results as of Tuesday, said Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the department. Deti said she was unaware of what the total count was as of Wednesday evening. Deti declined to provide additional details regarding where the Sheridan woman was being treated or where she is currently located in the state.

The department will be releasing more relevant information as it becomes available, Deti said.

The Cheyenne Veteran Affairs Medical Center hadn’t tested or confirmed any cases at the hospital as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, VA spokesman Samuel House said. He added that the situation is changing on a minute’s notice.

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center has tested two people as of Tuesday with negative results for the virus, spokeswoman for CRMC Kathy Baker said. She said there wasn’t anyone tested for the virus at the hospital Wednesday.

CRMC has implemented visitor restrictions due to the outbreak, according to Baker and a CRMC Facebook post.

Visitor restrictions aren’t unusual and have been implemented in the past, Baker said. For instance, CRMC has placed visitor restrictions during bad flu seasons. Currently, these restrictions are voluntary, but may turn mandatory as the situation progresses.

The voluntary restrictions include making sure any patients coming into the hospital with a fever, cold or flu symptoms is given a mask. Visitors with flu or cold symptoms aren’t allowed to visit any area of the hospital and will be asked to leave. However, no one under the age of 12 will be allowed to visit any area of the hospital, and no more than two visitors are allowed at a time.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic Wednesday, which is a step further than their previous statement that called the spread a “public health emergency of international concern.” The virus has spread to more than 100 countries, causing the cancellation of mass events, church celebrations and sports tournaments.

The CDC and Wyoming Department of Health are recommending people avoid close contact with sick people, stay home if you’re sick, cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching the eyes or mouth, wash hands for at least 20 seconds and other illness preventative tips.

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