Fremont County School District #14 interim Superintendent Michelle Hoffman goes through a tote bag filled with things like hand sanitizer and protective equipment in her office on Sept. 25, 2020. The district has been conducting virtual-only school due to COVID-19. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Wyoming’s troubling spike in COVID-19 cases played out in health care facilities this week as the number of virus-related hospitalizations grew by more than 100%. 

As of Thursday, the Department of Health reported 56 COVID-19-related hospitalizations across the state (which appears to be an undercount.) That’s a 107% jump from 27 hospitalizations at the end of last week, according to the DOH’s dashboard. 

In fact, infections broke records across many metrics, making it one of Wyoming’s worst weeks since the pandemic began. Known active cases, which have more than doubled over the last month, surpassed 1,400 for the first time. The two-week average of daily lab-confirmed cases also surged, reaching 98. That’s a 292% increase over the daily average reported a month ago, and the highest since coronavirus was first confirmed in the state.

New lab-confirmed cases broke single-day records for the fourth week in a row. The Wyoming Department of Health announced 164 new cases Thursday, surpassing the previous single-day high.

“Here in Wyoming, when a few weeks ago our experience seemed to be going so well, vigilance seemed to slide a little bit,” Gov. Mark Gordon said during a Monday press conference. “Now we have seen some very serious deterioration in conditions.”

A graph maintained by the Wyoming Department of Health shows hospitalizations for COVID-19 have sharply increased. (Wyoming Department of Health)

As he has often during the pandemic, Gordon cast the virus as a threat to the state’s economy. 

“We are trending in the wrong direction both in new cases and in hospitalizations,” Gordon said. “What that means plain and simple is that fewer people are going to feel safe going out for supper and going out to the store. That will slow our economic recovery … when we need exactly the opposite to happen.”

To help with the strain the spike has caused, the Wyoming National Guard has been called in to assist with contact tracing, Gordon said. 

In addition, the DOH will begin offering free at-home saliva tests to the general population in the coming weeks through a partnership with Vault Health, State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said. The state also expects to receive 170,000 rapid tests from the federal government this fall, she said. 

All told, Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 6,031 by Friday morning with 924 added this week. That’s 305 more new cases than were added the previous week. Total recoveries reached 4,767. That number grew by 658 over the last week, 246 more than the week before. Known active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — hit 1,435, a 22% increase from the week before. 

The DOH reported one new COVID-19-related death, an older Natrona County woman, bringing the death toll to 54.

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Health officials across the state expressed concern and urged communities to heed health precautions. 

“Many of the new cases in September were due to widespread, community transmission,” the Casper-Natrona County Health Department said in a news release highlighting the spike, according to the Casper Star Tribune. “Although some cases have remained isolated to certain groups or pockets, many have not.”

In Teton County, health officials declared their community was in the “red zone” after active cases hit a new high of 89 and 11 cases were tied to an outbreak at St. John’s Health Living Center that infected staff and residents, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

The Campbell County Public Health officer compared people who break quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 to “homegrown terrorists,” the Gillette News Record reports  — a comment that at least one county commissioner took issue with.

A Fremont County press release confirming a spike there, meanwhile, noted that “the occurrences of outbreaks continue to be from enclosed social gatherings, schools, small offices, places where health measures of distancing, and masks are not followed.”

In a separate letter signed by 70 medical providers in Wyoming and distributed to the press, doctors addressed mask use. While misinformation abounds about masks, the letter read, “there is an abundance of solid scientific evidence that shows that mask wearing decreases the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

“Put those masks on. Wash your hands. Keep your distance,” the letter concluded. 

Gordon echoed that, calling the current scenario “extremely concerning.”

“Folks, this is a serious call to action,” he said. “As I said before, our economy cannot do well or will [not] return to normal until we have a better control over this virus.”

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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. This current spike in cases started on about the first of September as is plainly visible in the epidemiological curve that the WDoH keeps up to date. Any other graph, especially those that report only by date of test result, and those which smooth the data with a running average will delay the appearance of events until long after they actually occured. Thus we weren’t doing all that well a couple of weeks ago, but were well into this uptick. It is related to reopening colleges in the state, but mainly to reopening the University. Students tend to travel home at times on weekends, even though they have been told not to, and are spreading it a bit further.

    This should have been entirely expected.