Uinta Co. sees record number of new infections

Gov. Mark Gordon speaks during a media briefing on Aug. 12. Gordon said last week that the state’s healthcare system is already strained as active COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb. (WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE/Michael Cummo)

EVANSTON — Uinta County had its biggest increase in confirmed cases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the week from Oct. 24-30, with 52 confirmed coronavirus infections. That was a 400% increase from the week prior when only 13 cases were confirmed, and surpassed the previous high that occurred during the county’s June spike when 50 cases were confirmed from June 12-18.

Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said it’s important to note the increase in cases is not simply the result of increased testing, as the percentage of positive tests has also increased from a two-week rolling average of 7.78% positive to 11.68% of tests returning positive last week. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance states that a positive rate of greater than 10% is indicative of a high risk of virus transmission.

In a weekly COVID update report on Friday, Oct. 30, Proffit said public health officials are concerned about some social media and other chatter encouraging people not to get tested and/or not cooperate with contact tracing efforts. Proffit implored people to get tested if having any COVID-19 symptoms and to cooperate with contact tracing, quarantine and isolation orders.

“The bottom line is that it is important to have more complete information, to know the extent of where we are at with this thing, so that we are able to make the best decisions, both on a personal level and a community and state level. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, and ignoring it can truly endanger a lot of people. I hate asking people to disrupt their lives, but right now it is the right thing to do.”

Proffit said Utah hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID patients and other areas in Wyoming are also feeling the effects of the continued surge of cases. She said hospitals around Wyoming are reaching “panic mode” and public health offices in other counties are feeling as if they’ve lost control of the situation, stressing the importance of testing and tracing to prevent that loss of control from occurring locally.

Proffit also stressed that law enforcement does have the power to enforce quarantine and isolation orders but, “We really don’t want to have to go there. We truly hope that, orders or not, we all consider others in the community, that we consider our neighbors and we do the right thing to protect them.”

Public health is emphasizing the “big five” to help control the spread of the virus, consisting of consistent and correct cloth face mask usage, physical distancing of at least 6 feet from those not in the immediate household, avoiding crowds, handwashing and staying home when sick, even if only with mild symptoms. The importance of getting a flu shot is also being emphasized.

Proffit said multiple scientific studies have shown a significant decrease in infection rates in areas where masks are utilized extensively and noted that Wyoming is rated worst in the country for such mask usage. Perhaps not coincidentally, the number of daily confirmed cases in Wyoming has increased by more than 80% in the past two weeks.

With those increasing numbers, hospitalizations have also increased around the state, with more than 100 Wyomingites hospitalized with COVID-19 infection around the state as of Oct. 30. Proffit said her office is aware of three Uinta County residents who are currently hospitalized.

A press release from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon issued on Oct. 30 reads, in part, “This surge in cases in our communities is directly impacting Wyoming’s healthcare system, our businesses and industries, and straining our healthcare workforce. This is the time to recognize that our actions impact others, their lives and livelihoods. All of us have a role to play in ensuring that our hospitals can continue to care for all patients, not just those suffering from COVID-19.”

For some counties with hundreds of active cases, contact tracing has become increasingly challenging, and the Wyoming Department of Health has now contracted with Wyoming-based company Waller Hall Research to help with contact tracing efforts. The Wyoming National Guard had been activated to help with contact tracing in some counties but is now stepping down from that role.

The state is continuing to pursue broad testing of individuals in correctional facilities and other residential healthcare facilities. Such routine testing found 80 new cases in the Wyoming Conservation Camp in Newcastle and 16 cases in the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington last week. Wyoming has also begun a program of regular, randomized testing in school districts throughout the state, with 27 districts currently participating.

Gov. Gordon’s office announced the state is also considering the addition of a program to offer incentives to private businesses that voluntarily make changes to operations that enhance the safety of employees, customers and the general public.

As of Monday, Nov. 2, more than 230,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19 infection. As Proffit put it, that’s roughly the equivalent of five passenger airplanes with 200 passengers each crashing every day since March.

Proffit said she anticipates another busy week at Uinta County Public Health. “It’s hard to know how it will go, but I anticipate it will remain pretty high in terms of new cases. There does seem to be community spread right now and we will probably see results of any potential weekend spread in the next week or two. Hopefully after that we will see the results of contact tracing and see a slow down. The colder weather means more stuff is moving indoors and that seems to be having a role in continued spread.”

As of Monday, Nov. 2, Wyoming had just under 5,000 active cases, according to the Wyoming Information Sharing Platform, with 80 of those active cases in Uinta County.