This graph, part of a survey report from UW’s Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center, shows that anxiety about the spread of coronavirus in Wyoming is decreasing. (Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center)

In week 14 of the pandemic, Wyoming saw a spike in new cases that centered on Uinta County, where an outbreak that officials say originated in a bar swelled the county’s case count from nine to 98 since June 1. Though Gov. Mark Gordon continued to ease restrictions, this week’s increase prompted him to admonish residents.

“Our ability to maintain progress is dependent on the good people of Wyoming,” Gordon said during a Tuesday press conference. Though summer brings the urge to get out, he said, “this is a time when we want to mind our p’s and q’s. Don’t be careless; be thoughtful.”

Survey results from the University of Wyoming, meanwhile, show that the majority of Wyoming respondents are comfortable attending outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people, while an increasing number say they are not changing their daily routine due to COVID-19. 

Confirmed case counts rose from 841 on Sunday to 909 on Thursday evening. There have been 674 recoveries among confirmed cases, an increase of 52 from the previous Thursday. 

On Tuesday, Gordon noted that the 100-plus new cases over the previous week represented “twice what we did the first week of June.” Meanwhile, he said, the state tallied 237 active cases, “when not long ago that number was under 200 … That makes me sad, because we are now spiking.”

The numbers prompted the state to change its metric for new cases from “stabilizing” to “concerning.” The percentage of all tests that are positive, however, is now listed as “improving.” Of the 35,916 tests conducted in the state, the confirmed case count of 906 represents a positive rate of 2.5%. Eight COVID-19-related patients were hospitalized in the state as of Thursday.

The state’s death county grew by two to 20. Both were residents of a Washakie County long-term care facility who had previously tested positive, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. That facility was identified earlier as a site of a COVID-19 outbreak; six facility residents have now died in connection with the outbreak.

The state continued easing restrictions with updated guidance that allows long-term care facilities to permit in-person visitation outdoors under specific rules. The guidance limits visitors to two at a time and requires that they be screened for respiratory symptoms. 

Uinta County, which up until June didn’t even register among the counties with notable case counts, now has the third highest in the state, behind Fremont and Laramie, and the highest number of active cases. Health officials credit the roughly 80 new cases to at least one bar where young adults gathered and did not practice social distancing, state Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti told the Casper Star-Tribune.

The latest survey regarding Wyoming attitudes toward COVID-19, conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center, indicates abating fears about the virus. 

While 33% of residents say they are somewhat or extremely uncomfortable with attending an outdoor event with up to 250 people, 57% say they are extremely or somewhat comfortable doing so. A slightly smaller number, 52% say they are extremely or somewhat comfortable attending an event with more than 250 people. 

While over half (58%) say they are not attending public gatherings, that number represents a decrease of 12 percentage points since May. The segment of respondents who report washing their hands more frequently, at 58%, also represents a decrease of 8 percentage points since May. The percentage of people avoiding physical contact with others, meanwhile, dropped from 68% in May to 58%.  

Approval of the way Gordon is handling the COVID-19 crisis remains high, with 70% saying they strongly approve or somewhat approve. 

Budget cuts are just around the corner; Gordon has instructed state agencies to cut as much as possible from their budgets by June 30 to address projected revenue shortfalls. After that, State Budget Department Director Kevin Hibbard said, Gordon will continue cutting. Layoffs are expected. 

One corner of the state economy is reporting a mini-boom. Rental and real estate agents across the state report brisk business driven in part, they believe, by customers seeking homes they think will be farther from trouble. Buyers want “to get away from the bigger cities,” said one broker, noting calls from “Texas, Colorado, California, New York.” 

Yellowstone National Park officials report that June vehicle traffic so far has clocked in at 75% of 2019 numbers. For the third week in a row, meanwhile, mass testing of Yellowstone employees has not revealed any positive cases. Around the state, small farmers and others are beginning to sell their wares at farmers markets, though some look different this year. 

In Fremont County, which leads the state with 285 lab confirmed cases, health officials Thursday reported a positive development: The total percent of positive cases has dropped to 1.8% from a high of 7.2% in May. 

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This story has been updated to reflect news on Friday of two more coronavirus-related deaths in Wyoming. –ED.

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. Once again we are looking at the wrong metric. When we first began the process of social distancing, closing businesses and so forth, the stated goal was to prevent overwhelming the health care system. Then the goal slowly morphed into “saving lives”. This was a dubious goal, as saving the life of someone of great age and with co-morbidities is expensive in every way imaginable, and doing it through locking down the economy has a wide array of negative consequences. From the time we learned about which population segments were most vulnerable it was better to isolate and provide them as much support as possible. Now, we seem to be allowing the goal to morph once again into one of preventing anyone from contracting the disease. This is an absurd and unworkable strategy. We ought to focus on hospitalizations, burden on the health care system, and so forth.

    If it is true that the outbreak in Unita County is largely among young people, then that population is at less risk from COVID-19 than they are from the flu. Keep them from contacting the vulnerable, but please, let’s not allow false metrics to press us into a state-wide return to the status quo of March to May.

  2. Real nice to find some honest answers to questions I have had. I only hope you can keep it up, been looking for some honest journalism for years!!!