Karen Clarke, Kenda Ford, Vicki Gilmour and Heidi Gross of the Gillette Chamber Singers keep in sync as they practice at a safe social distance on Gilmour's back deck during a routine gathering. The coronavirus pandemic forced the group to cancel its annual Christmas show. (Mike Moore/Gillette News Record/Wyoming News Exchange)

Wyoming’s pandemic metrics took a significant turn for the worse this week as active cases surpassed 800 and single-day case counts broke records for the second week in a row. 

The Wyoming Department of Health’s announcement of 137 new lab-confirmed cases Wednesday broke the previous single-day record of 104, which was set just a week before, and pushed the state’s number of active cases up to 842. On Thursday, DOH reported 120 new cases, which ratcheted active cases up once more, to 891. 

Before Sept. 15, the largest single-day count of new confirmed cases seen in Wyoming was 67.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations reached 23 Monday, matching the previous high last seen on April 21. The percentage of Wyoming tests coming back positive rose to 4.2% by Friday.

It’s not welcome news, Gov. Mark Gordon said during a Thursday press conference, but it’s also “not a tremendous surprise” as it comes in the wake of schools reopening across the state, including the University of Wyoming — where many recent new cases have been identified. 

“Those are concerning trends. But Wyoming has wanted to make sure that we stay the course, we don’t react to what happens on an immediate basis,” said Gordon, who appeared less concerned about the current spike than previous upticks this summer. “Wyoming has stepped up before, and I know we will step up again.” 

The state hopes to ease restrictions on restaurant seating by the end of the month, Gordon said. Later, he pointed out that while he takes the virus very seriously, Wyoming has fared very well compared to other states.

The governor’s position may reflect changing attitudes across the state. According to the results of a new University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center survey, Wyoming residents have grown less concerned about COVID-19. 

Just 30.4% of Wyomingites now say they are very or fairly anxious about the spread of COVID-19 in the state, down from 44.7% in an August survey. The percentage of people who report being very or somewhat worried that someone in their immediate family might catch COVID-19 dropped 8.6 percentage points, to 51%.

The percentage of residents who report they would be extremely or somewhat comfortable in groups of up to 250 increased by 8 points, to 54%, while support of state policies to slow the spread of COVID-19 decreased.

A majority of respondents, 51%, still support state limits on public gatherings, and 62% report they always or often wear face protection in indoor public places. 

All told, Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 4,488 by Friday morning with 552 added this week. That’s 175 more new cases than were added the previous week. Total recoveries reached 3,697. That number grew by 303 over last week. The number of active cases, meanwhile, grew by 288 from the week before — a 48% jump.

This graph shows the daily number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming since July 13, 2020. (Wyoming News Exchange)

The state’s death count reached 50 with the addition of an older Big Horn County man who had been hospitalized after contracting the virus. He had health conditions known to put patients at higher risk of complications, according to DOH.  

In the face of rising numbers, some local officials have pleaded for residents to take precautions. “Community spread of COVID-19 is now a serious issue in Sublette County,” the Sublette COVID-19 Response Group wrote in a recent email to the community, noting that there is no hospital in that county. “We need to stop spreading this virus to each other.”

Other leaders moved in a different direction. In Weston County, where there are fewer than 10 active cases, commissioners passed a resolution “to refrain from health-related mandates,” the Newcastle News Letter Journal reports

No school has closed due to an outbreak, though infection clusters continue to disrupt life across the state. Positive cases of six Sheridan students prompted the quarantine of a large number of their peers, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. At the University of Wyoming, officials closed the law school after COVID-19 cases were detected among students there, and halted cheer team competitions after three athletes tested positive. 

Albany County, home to UW, currently leads the state in active cases, with 196. 

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Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell in August for the fourth month in a row. The seasonally adjusted rate decreased to 6.6%, down from 7.1% in July, according to the Department of Workforce Services. 

Compared to August 2019, however, unemployment rates rose in every county, with the largest increases in Natrona, Sweetwater, Converse and Campbell counties. 

With the start of flu season on the horizon, DOH officials  stressed that getting a flu shot has perhaps never been more critical. 

“As much as we would like to wish it away, coronavirus is still with us and remains a threat that we cannot overlook,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said during Thursday’s press conference. 

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. It drives me crazy that WyoFile of all publications, do not explain the numbers you are reporting about Covid.
    A “case” is a positive test. It has no relationship to the severity. A person who is a “case” could be a positive tested person without symptoms (the far majority) or someone in the hospital.
    An “active” case is the number of people who have tested positive. They remain active for 10 days. “Recovered” cases are the number of “active” cases minus the number of people who are in the hospital or died at day 10. Individual cases are NOT tracked to be label “active” or “recovered” especially since most never have symptoms.
    You also do not make the distinction between those who die “from” Covid and “with” Covid. There is a very large difference and to ignore that is negligent.

  2. i am dismayed that people in the state I love dearly are still not taking it seriously. I came to Vermont in December, which has almost exactly the same number of people as Wyoming. We locked down early and are now have restaurants open. But because we locked down early and because people have routinely been wearing masks, and not gathering in groups larger than 10, we have had less than half the cases of Covid as Wyoming. We still have two or three a day in the state, but we have excellent testing and contact tracing. I will not be returning to wyoming until Wyoming gets its act together. I know what good policy and good government look like.

  3. It would be nice and helpful to hear about those who recover as it’s always the negative, never the positive! It’s time for that! I see fear ruling lives of many, afraid to do this or that! Maybe it’s my age, but living in fear is not for me! The deaths have mostly been older ones with other health Issues. I’ve given myself the motto that I read, “Faith over fear, God is near!” I don’t purposely try to catch it, but will not give up things I find enjoyable. The ones with whom I associate are careful!