Vehicles line up in Powell on Aug. 18, 2020, for a large food giveaway organized by the Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in conjunction with the faith-based nonprofit Convoy of Hope. Volunteers distributed 21,000 pounds of meat and cheese during the COVID-19 relief event to a steady flow of cars and trucks. (Greg Wise)

This story was updated Friday afternoon to reflect new death reports. —ED.

After two weeks of gains against COVID-19 infections, Wyoming lost ground this week. The state mourned seven deaths as active cases crept back over 600, and officials reported infections in inmate and university populations.

New confirmed cases hit a new single-day record of 67 late last Friday. The Department of Health reported 59 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, 40 Monday and 59 Wednesday. 

All told, Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 2,940 by Friday morning with 313 added in the last week — 110 more than the previous week. Total recoveries grew by 202 from last week to 2,389 — 16 fewer than the previous week. 

Known active cases of the disease — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — grew by 112, from 490 to 602 on Friday morning. 

Hospitalizations also grew to 19 — up from 13 last week.

The state’s death toll reached 37. The Department of Health announced three new deaths Monday, one Tuesday and three Friday afternoon. These included a Goshen County woman with health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19, a Fremont County man who also had underlying health conditions and an older Laramie County man with underlying conditions, the DOH reported.

Four Wyoming residents who died in out-of-state long-term-care facilities were also added to the tally: an older Sheridan County man who died in Montana, an older Sublette County woman who died in Utah, as well as an older Platte County man and older Carbon County man who died in Florida. 

Surveillance testing detected troubling clusters of new cases among Wyoming prisoners, and also turned up positives amid University of Wyoming students — both populations officials are monitoring cautiously. 

The Wyoming Department of Corrections on Tuesday reported 67 active cases among inmates and seven cases among staff of the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. This was a notable jump from four days before, when DOC reported 18 active cases among inmates and five among staff of the WSP. 

The University of Wyoming, meanwhile, reported 46 active cases among students and staff Friday. 

Cases were detected through the university’s pre-return testing, which has screened more than 11,000 samples, according to UW. Among the active student cases, only two were on-campus, UW reports. They were moved to isolation housing. Eight are UW employees living off-campus, who also are isolating, and 36 are students living off campus, most outside Laramie.

Some 51 people total are under quarantine orders after being in close contact with students or staff who have tested positive. 

“As we have seen across the country, many of our peers are having to pivot to online environments because of infection outbreaks,” UW President Ed Seidel said in a release. “We believe we have one of the best programs in the nation to monitor and intervene to limit the virus spread, so we can continue to offer a strong on-campus program. It will take the efforts of everyone to execute our plan and have a successful semester while protecting the health of the university and local communities.”

A major test piece of resuming normal operations took place with the state’s primary election Tuesday. More than 140,000 residents cast ballots in the election. The turnout was well above the 114,000 who came out in 2016 and was on par with 2018, Secretary of State spokesman Will Dinneen told the Casper Star-Tribune. 

Nearly half of voters cast absentee ballots, Dinneen said. 

At precincts around the state, pandemic precaution was on display with sneeze guards and personal protective equipment in use by election judges and floor markers indicating 6 feet of social distance for voter lines. 

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Not all voters masked up as they visited the polls, but state residents are growing more supportive of mask use in public, a new survey by the University of Wyoming Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center shows.

A majority (61%) now say they have changed their daily routine by wearing personal protective equipment in public, according to the WSAC survey. That represents an increase of 8 percentage points since mid-July, and increase of 15 percentage points since April. Support for mask requirements has also grown.

The majority (67%) of survey respondents continue to be “very concerned” about the pandemic’s economic impacts. Respondents also continue to hold more favorable views of local governments’ response to the crisis than that of federal officials.  

While 67% of respondents approve of the way Gov. Mark Gordon is handling the pandemic, 52% approve of President Donald Trump’s response and 76% disapprove of the way Congress is handling it.

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. Kevin, thanks for the thoughtful post. As an administrator (not at U.W., or any large organization), my thinking is that we aim at goals and having a lofty goal isn’t problematic. The University of Wyoming should have lofty goals.

    john a.

  2. Here are a couple of observations of some relevance to the pandemic.

    We think of ourselves in Wyoming as being particularly lucky in this pandemic, and the Governor even said some weeks ago that Wyoming residents must be doing something right. New York State was ground zero for the worst of covid-19 cases and deaths for a long time. However, since their problem has settled down this summer, they have spent months at a rate of around 800 new cases per day. In Wyoming we have lately been averaging around 20 cases a day. This is a ratio of about 40:1 which is equal to our population ratio. The same can be said, roughly, for the ratio between Wyoming and Colorado. Other than the huge difference in the first wave of sorts, we are all doing about the same, and not all that badly.

    We have not had a big setback lately. The University required a huge number of people to be tested in the past two weeks, and it is entirely expected that more testing will find larger “case” numbers. By the way, the tests involved, according the website of the test originator I visited, has an unknown rate of false positives and negatives. In fact, the label on the packaging of these tests had the disclaimer “This is not for purposes of diagnostic procedures. For research only.” So, these are provisional “cases”. Thus, depending on a number of factors, a positive test might be very weak evidence for truly having covid, and other facts are really needed to settle the point. We may see some adjustments of this case data.

    The University has explicitly stated a goal of preventing the spread of the disease. This seems not realistic and expensive to me. Time will tell.