At the Good Samaritan Mission in Jackson, a community shelter, Blaine Tufte and Ricky, who declined to give his last name, stay an appropriate distance apart under guidelines that seek to stem the spread of COVID-19 infection. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Amid the clamor, panic and ever-changing news of closures and COVID-19 cases, one message has emerged with increasing force: Social distancing is the key to slowing the pandemic.

“The one thing we can do is limit the spread with social distancing measures,” Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday. “It is absolutely critical that we do whatever we can to social distance when possible. This means putting at least six feet of space between you and others.”

But humans are creatures of habit, and it’s proven difficult for many to completely abandon their routines — particularly for those who don’t feel ill or who don’t have underlying health risks. After all, some may wonder, what’s the harm of going on one little outing?

Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health, has an answer to that.

“Anyone of any age can get sick with this disease and faces a chance of hospitalization,” Deti wrote to WyoFile. “Staying away from others as much as possible helps protect ourselves, our families and the members of our communities who are most vulnerable to this illness.”

This means maintaining a distance of six feet from people outside your immediate family, working from home if possible, refraining from social obligations and limiting errands. The goal is to slow the spread to avoid overloading the state’s healthcare system, she wrote.

“This matters for all of us because mothers will still be having babies and people will still have accidents and heart attacks,” Deti wrote. “We need access to healthcare to continue.”

Mountain bikers maintain plenty of distance while out on the trail Tuesday in Laramie. (Chris Rynders)

For those who feel ill or suspect they have been exposed to someone who is infected, the message is simple, said Mike Jones, public information officer for the Fremont County Incident Management Team.

“Go home. Don’t go anywhere, don’t be around groups of people. Just stay at home,” Jones said.

Amy Surdam, who runs Stitches Acute Care Center in Laramie, Cheyenne and Wellington, Colorado, has seen firsthand how important social distancing is and how some people aren’t adhering to the measure effectively. She took a break from seeing patients Tuesday to talk about it with WyoFile.

WyoFile: What is the main thing you think people do not understand, or have misunderstood, about social distancing?

Amy Surdham: The main thing maybe is that it doesn’t apply to them. They think ‘I’m not sick or I’m just going to run into the store to get a battery or I have to still work in this cubicle next to somebody.’ So maybe there’s exceptions to the rules for them. But when we have a mass amount of people making their own exceptions, we don’t have social distancing.

WF: So what I understand is that social distancing requires sacrifices. We have to change habits that are very ingrained for this larger purpose, and it’s not easy. Why is that tough for people?

AS: It’s hard for people to absorb, it’s hard for them to apply to their own lives. And we have a lot of people who don’t think it’s necessary in general.

As this disease or infection progresses, we’ll have a better understanding of that with time. When people start having more close contacts who are hospitalized — when we have the bad outcomes is when people are really going to grasp it.

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What I’m seeing is this massive increase in cough, fever or shortness of breath. I’m seeing younger patients who are very sick. These are people who were infected a week ago. A week from now, it’s going to be so much worse if people don’t shut down. The longer we don’t social distance, the longer we’re going to have to social distance.

WF: What are tips for people when it comes to maintaining mental health during this time of isolation? Should people for example go outside?

AS: I hope people can somehow find a way to embrace the gift of time that they are getting right now by being fully present with their family. Which is really hard, because we’re all on this social media obsession. Shut that down and do some things on your list, reading, exercising, getting outside and walking. Learn a new skill. Take a nap. Get rest. Try to find the positive and the silver lining in this horrific thing we’re going through. Finding the joy and the little things will help people get through this.

WF: When do you recommend people self-isolate or self-quarantine?

AS: My personal philosophy right now is that everyone should be self-isolated and self-quarantined. We need to kind of create this … fad. If we all self-isolate then other people will do it as well.

I think it should be happening now. I think it should have been happening a week ago. I think the time is now, we should all be not just social distancing but self-quarantining at this point. That’s an extreme philosophy I know, but we have to have extreme measures to get on top of this.

Yesterday at our clinic in Cheyenne we were so incredibly overwhelmed and overloaded. It’s really hard … I don’t want to do this for months and months and months and months. Already the backlog is starting to occur and it’s just going to get so much worse. The only way we can make this better is if we stop this virus. The only way we can do that is first with a vaccine … which is months away. The other is to stop the virus. The only way we’ll do that is to stop being around each other.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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  1. Thank you for this excellent article.

    So many of us have great difficulty learning from the experience of others. Hence, even with the evidence of pandemic staring us in the face, we won’t believe it until it invades our own personal sphere.

    We need to listen to the people who are on the front lines, like Ms. Surdham, and all of the other medical professionals with first hand knowledge of what is happening. Universally, they are telling us we need to adjust our conduct as much as possible in order to minimize our need for medical care during this period. To do otherwise is to risk not only our own health, but also the health of our neighbors and health care providers.

    This is not a time for people to “assemble”. Our Constitution will remain strong while we take this time to stay home, which is all most of us can do do to ease the strain on our health care system and professionals.

  2. “The one thing we can do is limit the spread with social distancing measures,” Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

    “Yellowstone has received a substantial number requests to temporarily close, from state and local partners, including the governors of Montana and Wyoming,”

    So Mark Gordon helps shut down two national parks where people can actually get away from others.

    The people who need to engage in social distancing are the vulnerable populations. We have shut down an economy, thrown millions out of work, and possibly tens of thousands out of housing in order to keep vulnerable populations from a virus that currently seems to have little effect on the majority of people. Isolate the elderly or immunocompromised from the rest of us. We ask our most financially vulnerable populations to carry a burden for which they have few resources to survive. The folks who have no understanding of that burden are deciding on the treatment. What can go wrong?

    1. What planet are you living on? 40% of the covid-19 patients who have been hospitalized are ages 20 to 49! And yes, I am in the most vulnerable, age-compromised population, and am trying to stay safe by distancing myself from others. But it does not help when, in the local Mini-mart, I asked a man twice my size to stand farther away from me and he offered to take me (at almost 67, vs his 30 something) out in the parking lot and “teach me some manners”. Sorry, but you are wrong–everyone needs to engage in social distancing! Everyone is vulnerable–you, young, old, middle-aged. How will you feel when you are “ok” but you pass it to your parents or grandparents, and they are sick or die from it? Please, listen, think and show compassion to the rest of us. It is not all about you!

      1. D Alexander:

        First off, thanks for the reply. What exactly do you disagree with?

        Considering grandparents (or possibly parents) are the very population that I say should practice social distancing, there would be no chance of me passing anything to them. Additionally, what are you doing shopping at a “Mini-mart” during a pandemic if you’re in a high risk group? That’s a viral & bacterial cesspool even without coronavirus.

        Social distancing isn’t just a 6 foot rule – that really won’t protect you from anything – that’s the suggested distance between people if YOU MUST GO OUT and your interaction with others is VERY BRIEF. The elderly and compromised should not go out. Period. They are the problem. Have sanitized food deliveries dropped off at their front door – put people to work doing that.

        Sure, anyone can get coronavirus, and anyone could die from coronavirus, just like anyone could get or die from the flu: https://gis.cdc.gov/GRASP/Fluview/PedFluDeath.html

        The CDC states very clearly that the group I mentioned is most at risk: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html

        Latest research: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/global-research-on-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov

        Please, listen, think and show some compassion. It is not all about you, D Alexander. People who think like you have helped put millions out of work, drained bank accounts, threatened family stability, pulled millions of kids from schools, possibly forced countless into homelessness, and sent retirement savings into another shock all because you want to shop at Mini Mart. STAY HOME – at least you have one. Others may soon be without one.

        There is nothing good about a pandemic, and poor choices need to be made; however, locking down the elderly & compromised is the best idea among many unpleasant options during the Corona Crisis.

    2. Last time I was in Yellowstone I would estimate that 98% of the park was devoid of humans. There were still thousands of people there, mostly congregated around Old Faithful, Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone Falls, etc. Is it possible that these large crowds are what they are trying to avoid?

      1. Hey Mike,

        “Is it possible that these large crowds are what they are trying to avoid?”

        Sure.

        That is no reason to close the parks. The park can prevent crowds by preventing access by car just like they do during the winter. No hotels in the parks are opening anytime soon and they can be prevented from doing so. GTNP can handle locals just fine. Yellowstone, too. More than 300 national parks and monuments remain open, and the government has waived entrance fees. The parks have million of acres and hundreds of miles of roads in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Grocery store workers are probably 1000 times more likely to be in danger than any national park employee, or local visitor.

  3. With respect to Ms. Klingsporn, the comments made by Ms. Surdham in this article are both incredible, and unfortunate. For my comment to be the only one so far, and for me to be the only one who is saying in this forum what needs to be said, is very sad. I never expected to see WyoFile helping to promote the mass hysteria that is pushed by the LAME stream media, every millisecond. In what professional capacity is Ms. Surdham “seeing patients”? Is she a nurse, a phlebotomist, a receptionist, or possibly an office manager? A propagandist? No mention of any MEDICAL diagnostic capability she may have is made. To be as clear as possible, in the very near future, I’d like to see people speak with one another, IN PERSON (the HORROR!!), without the supposed headsman’s axe of an imminent and terrible death hanging over their heads. Does anyone remember ANY of the ideas our country’s founders wrote for us, several (most likely MANY) of which have been nullified by this “crisis”? PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE, with your compatriots, and practice your freedoms. If necessary, REDRESS THE GOVERNMENT with your grievances. SPEAK FREELY, yet truthfully, without regard for repercussions from “authority” figures. All simple, yet all being denied.

    1. 30 seconds of searching and you would have learned that Amy Surdham is a family nurse practitioner. Her credentials are certainly more credible than your commentary, especially your repetition of the term “lamestream”, straight out of the mouths of right wing media figures