Wyoming sees first COVID-19 death

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon speaks during a press conference giving community updates on the COVID-19 situation Wednesday, April 8, inside the Capitol. (WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE/Michael Cummo)

Local health official defines terms crucial to slowing down coronavirus

EVANSTON — Wyoming has had its first COVID-19 related death, ending its status as the only state in the nation without a recorded fatality related to the pandemic. The Wyoming Department of Health reported the fatality was a hospitalized older man in Johnson County, who had health conditions that put him at increased risk of complications and severe illness due to COVID-19.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon issued a statement following the man’s death, stating, “I am saddened to learn that we have lost our first Wyoming citizen to COVID-19. This one was close to home and sadly serves as a grim reminder of the importance of following public health orders and guidance so we can reduce the number of serious illnesses and deaths in our state. Jennie and I extend our thoughts and prayers to this gentleman’s family and friends.”

On Thursday, April 9, Gordon requested a federal disaster declaration for Wyoming, which would allow all 23 counties and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes to access funding and assistance during the pandemic. President Donald Trump approved the Wyoming disaster declaration on Saturday, April 11, meaning that for the first time in U.S. history, all 50 states are under a major disaster declaration.

As of Monday, April 13, the current confirmed case count in Wyoming stands at 275 with another 98 probable cases; 17 new cases were confirmed over the weekend, and 140 cases are now listed as recovered. Uinta County has four confirmed cases with no reported probable cases. Three of the four Uinta County cases are listed as recovered.

As the pandemic continues, it is easy to be confused by some of the terminology used by those referencing the crisis, including the terms quarantine, isolation and recovered. Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit explained these and other terms in a press release.

Proffit said whenever there is a confirmed positive test in Uinta County, public health officials conduct a disease investigation, interviewing the person with a confirmed case to identify others who may have been in close contact with that individual. A close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of a person, while that person was likely contagious, for 10 minutes or more.

Close contacts are then contacted and asked to quarantine at home for 14 days from the last time that type of contact occurred. If no symptoms develop and the two-week time period has elapsed, that person is released from quarantine. A quarantine means staying at home and not leaving for any reason other than to seek medical care if needed, as well as trying to avoid other people within the home as much as possible.

Isolation, in contrast, is what is required of those with a confirmed positive test who do not require hospitalization or those awaiting test results. Those in isolation must stay home other than to seek medical care, similar to those being quarantined, but also involves staying completely isolated from others in the home with very little, or preferably, no contact with anyone else. Isolation is required until either a test returns as negative or the individual has recovered from COVID-19.

Being listed as recovered from COVID-19 basically means that at least a week has passed since the onset of symptoms, at least 72 hours have passed without a fever — without the use of fever-reducing medications — and any cough is either gone or markedly improved. If all of those conditions are met, a person is considered as recovered and no longer contagious.

Proffit emphasized that it is impossible to know if people in public settings have been exposed to the virus and therefore it is extremely important that everyone continue to abide by social distancing practices of only venturing out when necessary, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between other people and wearing a cloth face mask in public settings like grocery stores.

In order to help with social distancing, local grocery stores have announced additional measures being taken. Smith’s Food & Drug stores announced they will now be limiting the number of customers inside a store to 50% of the building’s calculated capacity, utilizing technology, including infrared sensors and predictive analytics, to determine how many people are in a store at any one time.

These limits are in addition to other recent measures, including frequent sanitization, plexiglass partitions at checkout stands, educational floor decals to keep customers distanced in checkout lines and encouraging associates to wear protective masks and gloves. Some stores are also piloting one-way aisles to determine if that would also help with physical distancing.

Walmart has also announced similar measures, including limits on the number of customers in a store at one time, floor decals, sneeze guards at the pharmacy and registers, increased cleaning measures and restricted entrance options to reduce the instances of multiple people in one space going opposite directions.

With more Wyoming residents finding themselves unemployed due to the pandemic, the Wyoming Department of Health has issued tips on how to apply for Wyoming Medicaid. In-person applications are not currently being accepted; however, applications can be submitted by phone at 1-855-294-2127 or online at www.wesystem.wy.gov.

Eligibility guidelines for Medicaid are based on family size and income, with the federal poverty level (FPL) a key factor. The FPL for a family of four is currently $26,200. People who may be eligible for Medicaid in Wyoming include children, pregnant women, family care adults and those who are aged, blind or disabled. More specific information on eligibility is available online at health.wyo.gov or by telephone. For those whose income level is too high for Medicaid eligibility, Kid Care CHIP is another health insurance option for children.

Uinta County Human Services Coordinator Jim Hissong shared information on Facebook regarding other forms of emergency assistance for Uinta County residents who are low income and/or newly unemployed, including some assistance with rent, lot rent and/or utilities, though available funds are limited. For more information, residents can call (307) 789-7194, extension 3, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Lines may be busy, so please leave a message if necessary.

Uinta County School District No. 1 students in grades K-12 began online schooling this week, joining millions of other students throughout the country in elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities. For University of Wyoming students who have transitioned to an entirely distance format, UW Extension Offices around the state are offering access to free Wi-Fi in extension office parking lots.

The Uinta County UW Extension Office at 228 9th Street in Evanston is one of those locations offering free Wi-Fi access to UW students. The Wi-Fi is password protected and students who need to access the network can reach out to contact Bridger Feuz at [email protected] or via phone at (307) 783-0570 for the password.

Confirmed cases globally are rapidly approaching 2 million with more than 100,000 confirmed fatalities. As of April 13, the United States has nearly four times more cases than any other nation, with more than 575,000 and more than 23,000 fatalities. While some experts have predicted that cases may peak in hard-hit urban areas like New York City as early as this week, other areas, including Wyoming, are likely to peak far later. Several state health officials have reportedly stated cases in Wyoming are not likely to surge until late April and peak in early to mid-May.

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