Local virus numbers low, but spike is concerning

The above graph, provided by the Wyoming News Exchange, shows the number of active cornoavirus cases in Wyoming since July 13. While the state was able to flatten the curve early in the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 cases across the state and country have increased sharply over the last month, which has health officials concerned.

EVANSTON — Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are spiking throughout Wyoming, in neighboring states and globally, but Uinta County currently remains relatively stable and has not yet shown signs of the same type of explosion in cases. Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said she hopes that’s the result of community members taking precautions and following health guidance, although the numbers in neighboring counties and in Utah are definitely cause for concern.

As of the morning of Monday, Oct. 12, Uinta County has had a total of 305 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the first case was identified back in early April, with another 75 probable cases. Twenty-two of those 380 total cases are listed as active on the Wyoming Department of Health COVID-19 page. A total of 14 Uinta County cases have resulted in hospitalization, with only one individual currently hospitalized. Some of the active cases are in children.

The WDH site reports the 14-day average number of new cases in the state has been more than 100 for the past 10 days — the highest numbers of the entire pandemic thus far. The high case counts have resulted in a huge workload for contact tracers in many Wyoming counties, necessitating the activation of the Wyoming National Guard to help with contact tracing.

The Wyoming COVID-19 dashboard that includes six statewide metrics currently lists two metrics — number of new cases and number of hospitalizations — as red or concerning. The other four metrics — the percent of new cases attributed to community spread, the percentage of all tests performed that are positive, hospital bed availability and ICU bed availability — are all yellow or stable.

Neighboring Utah has reportedly had about 1,100 new cases reported daily for the past several days, while cases are also spiking in neighboring Montana. News outlets in Utah reported over the weekend that ICU usage is reaching a critical point, with about 75% of all available beds being utilized. In Billings, Montana, Proffit said hospitalizations are so high that Wyoming residents in nearby communities are being denied admission.

Proffit said the Billings example is concerning because it shows what can happen when hospitals in neighboring states are overloaded and unable to accept Wyoming patients, which could possibly happen in Utah if cases there continue their upward trajectory. Further, she said people in Uinta County frequently travel to Utah and could potentially be exposed and bring the virus back with them — which local public health officials believe has already occurred in a couple of confirmed cases that appear to be linked to visits to Utah.

Proffit said public health officials are urging Uinta County citizens to continue to take precautions and make good choices regarding behaviors.

“Statewide restrictions have been loosening even as cases continue to increase,” she said, stressing the importance of continuing to practice social distancing and mask usage, as well as the importance of using caution if traveling, especially to Utah.

“We’re just super appreciative of the work of community members in keeping our numbers low,” said Proffit. “I want to give a big kudos to the schools and the kids and teachers in school. They’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting right now for our community.”

Proffit said public health staff are also appreciative that people continue to get tested when they’re having symptoms and continue to cooperate with contact tracing efforts to help prevent additional community spread.

“We want to thank the community for taking care of each other and thinking more about the common good,” she said. “We’re grateful people are looking at the big picture.”

Turning again to the schools, Proffit said she’s very impressed and has had a great deal of positive feedback from people who travel throughout the state to attend sporting events. “Evanston schools in particular are doing a great job with following the rules for athletic events,” she said. “I’ve had multiple people tell me we’re doing better than any other schools in the state.” Proffit said following those rules is what will allow students to continue to play and participate, noting that in other cities and towns in Wyoming entire teams have had to be quarantined due to exposure, which hasn’t happened in Evanston thus far.

Though one case of transmission in a school setting has occurred in Uinta County, she said in that instance it’s clear that proper mask wearing and distancing precautions weren’t being utilized.

Proffit also shared details of a couple of expanded testing initiatives in Uinta County. Last week public health staff began some free broad population testing with local agencies, including law enforcement and other first responders. Through that program, local entities are able to have a small percentage of their staff tested every other week through a cheek swab. The idea is to perhaps find asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases in the community and catch them before spread has occurred. Last week 29 people were tested through such screening and all tests came back negative. Proffit said local agencies interested in participating in that screening program should contact public health.

Another expanded testing effort is through the use of rapid antigen tests that Proffit said they’re hoping to be able to use in school situations. Such testing would be offered free of charge and would allow a rapid test to be conducted at school with a result within minutes to help with rapid isolation and quarantine if needed. Proffit said such tests aren’t quite as accurate as the primary tests being used and a confirmation test would be required, but being able to more rapidly identify potential exposures to prevent spread could prove invaluable.

Proffit also emphasized the importance of people getting the flu vaccine this year. Public health experts have long expressed concerns about COVID-19 still circulating during flu season, which is October through May. Even a mild flu season occurring in the midst of the pandemic could push hospitals to a breaking point. Flu vaccinations are available through local health providers and pharmacies and Proffit said Uinta County Public Health also has the Flu Mist vaccine available by appointment for those aged 2-49. “It’s just really important this year,” she said. “Being vaccinated against the flu can make a big difference in individual health. Even if someone were to get sick, having that vaccination can mean they won’t get as sick as they would have otherwise.”

Proffit said public health staff are also working with the Uinta County Clerk’s office to develop plans for voting should people be isolated or quarantined on election day. “We want to make sure everybody is able to vote,” she said. “We’ll have plans in place just in case, but we’d also really like to encourage people to take advantage of absentee or early voting at the courthouse if at all possible. Those early or absentee options are a really good way to go.”

“This is just a slog, and it’s tiresome,” said Proffit, recognizing the difficulties in continuing to deal with the pandemic. “We’re eight months in and cases are resurging not just in the U.S. but all over the world. Everybody’s tired of it, but we just really appreciate everybody continuing to step up and take care of each other.”

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