License plates in the Old Faithful parking lot on May 18, 2020 indicated that visitors from many states made the trek to Yellowstone National Park as it reopened. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Wyoming’s tenth week in a pandemic brought signs the virus isn’t backing off just because the state has loosened restrictions.

By Thursday evening, the state reported 608 confirmed and 193 probable COVID-19 cases. There have been 546 recoveries, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

Case counts grew steadily through the week. Officials added seven cases to the tally on Sunday, 11 on Monday, six on Tuesday, 13 on Wednesday and 12 on Thursday. 

The state’s death count also rose — from eight on Sunday to 12 by the week’s end. Two of the increases came from Wyoming residents who passed away in Colorado in March and April, according to the Department of Health. 

Half of those who have died of COVID-19-related causes here are members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Native Americans comprise 2.7% of Wyoming’s population. 

“No words can describe the losses we continue to suffer due to COVID-19,” the Northern Arapaho Tribe wrote in a Facebook post about one of this week’s casualties. The Wind River Inter-Tribal Council, which governs joint tribal initiatives on the Wind River Indian Reservation, has extended a stay-at-home order even as the rest of the state presses ahead with reopening. 

Despite the case growth, other metrics the state is using to guide its decisions, including hospitalizations, the percentage of tests coming back positive and evidence of community spread remain stable, Gov. Mark Gordon said at a Wednesday press conference. There are 10 hospitalized patients in the state as of Friday. 

With the Memorial Day holiday weekend — which traditionally brings both tourists and celebratory gatherings — approaching, state and local officials raised concerns about residents already having let down their guards. Natrona County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell tied relaxed behavior to a sharp uptick in cases in that county, the Casper Star-Tribune reported

In several incidents around the state, COVID-19 penetrated the types of institutions that most alarm public health experts — those that convene large numbers of people under one roof. 

On Sunday, the Wyoming Department of Health announced five cases among staff and four among residents at a private long-term care facility in Worland. On Thursday, the Department of Health announced one of those residents had died and that there were by then six residents who had tested positive for the disease. 

Wyoming Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist announced the state would greatly increase testing in retirement homes, assistant-living facilities and other long-term care facilities to identify and limit the spread of COVID-19 cases. 

Natrona County officials announced they would test and quarantine around 265 staff and residents at a long-term care facility in that county where a case had surfaced, the Star-Tribune reported. Staff and children at a Casper daycare are also being tested following a positive case at the center, according to the newspaper. Fifty eight people were told to quarantine in that incident. 

Over the weekend, the Legislature appropriated $450 million in federal aid money the government could spend on aiding businesses, shoring up health infrastructure and reimbursing local governments for the money they’ve expended combatting the virus. Lawmakers also created programming to stem the evictions of those who’ve lost income as unemployment skyrockets. And they ensured that workers who come down sick with COVID-19 will be eligible for worker’s compensation without having to conjure difficult proof that they contracted the virus on the job. 

Wyoming will need the economic aid and likely more. Dire news for Wyoming’s keystone energy industry continued to mount. Natural gas giant Ultra Petroleum filed for bankruptcy late last week and coal business Navajo Transitional Energy Company announced more layoffs and furloughs just a month after laying off 130 workers in Wyoming and Montana. 

Large crowds flocked to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks for their reopening, alarming some residents who worry about visitors bringing more COVID-19 to Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park rewarded those who made the trip, however: Famed grizzly bear 399 was spotted outside her den on opening day with four cubs in tow, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.

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Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. Weston County is pulling out all the stops this Memorial Day weekend. The last Covid free county in Wyoming is celebrating our unique accomplishment by hosting a ridiculously huge baseball tournament. Lets just say family traditions run deep in Newcastle. No tradition is more dear to our hearts than the national pastime except maybe our unstoppable drive to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory. Stay tuned folks this game is heading for extra innings……Play Ball!

  2. What is being done to prevent this disproportionate death rate? Half of those who have died of COVID-19-related causes here are members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Native Americans comprise 2.7% of Wyoming’s population.

    “No words can describe the losses we continue to suffer due to COVID-19,” the Northern Arapaho Tribe wrote in a Facebook post about one of this week’s casualties. The Wind River Inter-Tribal Council, which governs joint tribal initiatives on the Wind River Indian Reservation, has extended a stay-at-home order even as the rest of the state presses ahead with reopening.