Week 31: The pandemic in Wyoming from Oct. 10-16

Wyoming’s COVID-19 surge showed little sign of abating this week as active cases reached a new high of nearly 2,000 and single-day counts of new lab-confirmed cases registered triple digits for eight consecutive days.

As the state’s infection metrics continued their unprecedented growth, a new survey shows anxiety about the virus is also on the rise.

By Thursday, active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — hit 1,958. That’s up 36% from last week, and 225% from a month ago

The two-week average of daily lab-confirmed cases also hit a new high of 114, a 16% growth from last week, while the percent of COVID-19 tests with a positive result sits at 5%. The Department of Health reported three new deaths.

The number of statewide hospitalizations reported by the DOH did fall to 51 from last week’s all-time high of 56 (though the state dashboard, which relies on hospitals to self-report, is missing numbers from St. John’s in Jackson and possibly others).

This graph shows the daily number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming since July 13, 2020. Active cases nearly reached 2,000 this week. (Wyoming News Exchange)

The DOH’s hospital numbers include 19 hospitalizations at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, where officials say the facility is under intense pressure. 

“This is not going to go away for the next several months,” Dr. Mark Dowell, the Natrona County health officer, said in a press briefing, according to the Casper Star Tribune. “I think it’s going to get a lot worse. I think our hospital is already stretched, and we are not even seeing the amount of COVID we are going to see.”

Public concern over the virus appears to be on the rise again after dipping late summer, according to the results of a new University of Wyoming Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center survey

Over one-third of Wyomingites say they’re very or fairly anxious about the spread of COVID-19 in the state, an increase of seven percentage points from September, according to WYSAC. 

While just over one-third of Wyomingites say the worst is yet to come in the United States, 39% say the worst is yet to come in Wyoming — an increase of 10 percentage points since September. Only 17% think the worst is behind us, a decrease of 9 points.

Despite the growing anxiety, self-reported face-mask use did not increase. That number remained steady at 61%, senior research scientist Brian Harnisch said in a release. 

“This compares to roughly 85% of the national population that say they have worn a mask or covering all or most of the time when in stores or other businesses,” Harnisch said. 

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All told, Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 7,089 by Friday morning with 1,058 added. This is the first time cases have grown by more than 1,000 in one week. Total recoveries reached 5,427. That number grew by 669 over the last week. 

The DOH reported three COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the death toll to 57. These included an older Lincoln County man, an older Washakie County woman and an older Albany County woman. All three died earlier than this week but were just added to the rolls. 

The department also told the Star-Tribune that 15 long-term health facilities in the state are now dealing with ongoing COVID-19 situations, up from seven last week.

To help track infections, Wyoming has ponied up to offer at-home COVID-19 tests to all residents.

The state used CARES Acts funds to contract with Vault Health on the initiative, Gov. Mark Gordon said in a press release, purchasing 75,000 tests for residents (with the option to procure more.) Residents can order the tests at Vault’s website; the fee will be waived for all kits shipped to a Wyoming address. 

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The at-home test “is another tool to help Wyoming slow the spread of this virus,” Gordon said in a statement. “It’s one more way we can help protect our vulnerable populations, keep businesses open, and make sure our hospital beds are available to those who need them.” 

In Yellowstone National Park, which saw a busy summer tourism season, some overnight lodging is closing ahead of schedule as a precaution, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports. Park concessionaire Xanterra also announced that lodging won’t be available at Old Faithful for the first winter since 1972 due to pandemic concerns. 

The Wyoming Legislature has begun to hash out its own pandemic accommodations for an in-person January session, meanwhile, which might not include a requirement for lawmakers to wear masks, the Star Tribune reports. 

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