A healthcare worker collects a COVID-19 test sample from a patient at a “swab station” at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Rock Springs. “Some patients have asked our swabbers if we actually touched their brain,” Mary Fischer, MHSC Laboratory Director, said in a press release. “For the record, we don’t.” (Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County)

Record-breaking tallies of new confirmed COVID-19 cases continued this week in Wyoming as statewide health orders were extended again. The state reported its 26th death, and in Teton County, where caseloads have been surging, officials recommended bars and restaurants limit their hours to slow the virus’s spread.

For the third week in a row, daily increases of new positive test results broke previous records. On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported 64 new cases — the largest single-day increase of cases yet. The previous record of 62 new cases was recorded last week. 

Active cases of lab-confirmed and probable cases, which recently surpassed 500, had reached 597 by Thursday.

“That is up substantially from where we were a few weeks ago at under 300,” Gov. Mark Gordon said of active cases during a Tuesday press conference. “If you’ve been marking this you’ll see that we’ve been starting to move up pretty aggressively, and that’s concerning.”

Gordon extended the state’s current health orders for the third time Tuesday, this time through Aug. 15. The current orders have been in place since June 15, the last time the state eased restrictions.

The fate of Wyoming’s schools and economy rests on how it contains the virus, Gordon said. He once again admonished residents to be conscientious. 

“Make no mistake, this economy can be closed if people are careless,” Gordon said. “Let’s make sure our kids get back to school. Let’s make sure that we have a successful fall. Because that’s what’s going to be important for us to get us out of this economic slump.”

“If you are just dead set on taking down Wyoming’s economy, don’t wear these,” he said, gesturing to the mask around his neck, “because these are the things that are going to keep us open and they are going to keep us moving forward.”

After dipping last week, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 crept back up. As of Thursday afternoon, 18 people were hospitalized. Hospital capacity remains ample. Just three of the state’s 182 ventilators and 54 of the state’s 119 ICU beds were in use, the Department of Health reported. 

Not all metrics worsened. The state added seven fewer new confirmed cases between Sunday and Friday this week than it did over the same time last week. Total recoveries grew by 246 from last week to 1,703. 

And while its total confirmed caseload surpassed the 2,000-milestone this week — to 2,217 by Friday morning — Wyoming remains one of only six states with fewer than 5,000 confirmed cases. The state’s positive test rate is also lower than the national average of 10%, holding at just under 3%.

The latest of Wyoming’s 26 virus-related deaths, announced Tuesday, involved an Uinta County man who had health conditions known to put patients at higher risk of complications from the virus.  

As schools prepare to open their doors, they’ll receive help from the state in the form of 500,000 face masks. Wyoming’s Office of Homeland Security and the Department of Health secured the masks through FEMA, according to a press release, and they will be distributed to school districts in early August. 

In Teton County, the only county with a mask order in place, an explosion in cases has officials eyeing further precautions. In recent weeks, Teton County’s seven-day rolling average rate of new daily infections per 100,000 people has grown from 9.1 to 39, according to the Wyoming News Exchange.

Officials there have traced cases to mass-exposure events at crowded bars and restaurants. As a result,Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell on Wednesday urged restaurants and bars to close early, at 10 p.m. Riddell also won approval from the state to extend the county’s mask order until Aug. 15.

In Yellowstone National Park, mass surveillance testing of employees continues to come back negative. However, two staff members who were feeling ill and three visitors who visited in-park health facilities recently tested positive for the virus, the National Park Service reports. 

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Tribal authorities plan to reopen the Wind River Hotel and Casino, resume non-essential government operations and lift stay-at-home-orders and curfews that have been in place since March on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said in a Facebook video Monday.

Dr. Paul Ebbert, chief medical officer of Wind River Family and Community Health Center, thanked tribal members who have been taking precautions for helping to slow the spread in cases. The community isn’t out of the woods yet, he said. 

“We still have six tribal members who are in the hospital, two of those tribal members are intubated and two other tribal members are close to needing intubation,” Ebbert said in the video. “So this disease has not gone away.”

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. Is it possible to document what “recovery” from the virus has looked like for a variety of Wyoming people? The word sounds so comforting that I wonder if it makes people take the virus less seriously. But I have read that elsewhere “recovered” patients often have to live with life-limiting side effects.

    Thanks for your reporting.

  2. Nancy,

    Exactly what order is going to protect us that Gordon needs to issue? A complete shutdown of non-essential services? A mask order?

    “Enlightened” Teton County has a mask order in place. Hasn’t stopped the virus. Things got worse. And it is impossible to know how many visitors to Teton County got the virus while there and took it home. Is it Trump’s fault that the politically left-leaning Jackson can’t behave like a responsible adult and contain the virus? What can Gordon do for Jackson that Jackson can’t do for itself? I am at a loss of ideas, honestly.

    If you have a problem in Lander, look in the mirror for the cause. No need to blame Gordon or Trump for the Bart-and-Homer sins of locals.

    Sure, the state is not without faults here but I don’t see the magic wand in Gordon’s toolbox that can fix Teton County. Or Lander, etc. He pointed out the ruby slippers. It is up to you to click them into action, locally.

  3. Thank you, Karie, for your dogged reporting. Mark Gordon’s whining and hand-wringing is getting really old. His refusal to issue any stringent orders to protect us is irresponsible and cowardly. I guess he fears a nasty tweet from Trump more than he fears alarming increases in virus cases in the state.