Gov. Mark Gordon holds a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution while speaking during a media briefing Oct. 21, 2020. “If you are a patriot, if you love this country, you will recognize this is an hour of need for our country and as citizens we must all come together to fight this terrible, terrible disease,” Gordon said. “We can do that without compromising our liberty.” (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Update: On Friday afternoon, the Department of Health reported 381 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 infections, breaking the previous single-day record of 248 set on Oct. 16.

Wyoming’s COVID-19 surge continued at an unprecedented pace this week as new lab-confirmed cases dwarfed previous records, active cases reached almost 3,000 and officials warned that hospitals will soon be under severe strain. 

“Our current COVID situation is very concerning,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said during a Wednesday press conference.

To illustrate how dramatically the situation has changed, Harrist compared current state data with that of six weeks ago, right around the time the ongoing surge began. 

While the 14-day average of new daily lab-confirmed cases numbered 28 on Sept. 8, by Tuesday it had reached 152, she said — a 442% increase. The percentage of tests to come back positive, meanwhile, increased from less than 2% on Sept. 8 to more than 5% Tuesday. COVID-related hospitalizations jumped from 18 to 67 during that time, she said. And while five long-term care facilities were dealing with COVID-19 infections Sept. 8, that number had reached 23 by Tuesday. 

“Six weeks ago Wyoming was in a much better position with this virus than we are today,” Harrist said. 

Wyoming’s trends are even capturing national attention. Several states and the District of Columbia have added Wyoming to a list of states under travel restrictions due to COVID-19 surges, the Casper Star-Tribune reports

All told, Wyoming’s has seen 8,537 lab-confirmed infections by Friday morning. This was the second week in a row with more than 1,000 new cases. That included the largest yet single-day count of 248, on Oct. 16, as well as 235 new lab-confirmed cases Wednesday and 232 Thursday. 

A total of 6,158 people have recovered. That number grew by 731 over the last week.

This graph shows the daily number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming since July 13, 2020. Active cases hit 2,831 this week. (Wyoming News Exchange)

By Friday morning, active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — hit 2,831. That’s up 45% from last week, and 364% from Sept. 8 — the day Harrist used as a point of reference.

The Wyoming Department of Health reported 11 COVID-19-related deaths — some new and some added from previous weeks — bringing the death toll to 68. These included residents of Park, Fremont, Johnson, Albany, Crook, Goshen, Campbell, Uinta, Natrona and Laramie counties. 

The number of statewide hospitalizations reported by the DOH hit a new record of 81, a 58% increase from last week, and officials across the state grew more vocal about the strain on facilities and healthcare workers and the increasing difficulty of transferring patients. 

The Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, which recently stopped accepting non-emergent patients transferred from outside Natrona County, opened its COVID-19 surge unit for the first time this week, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. 

The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center had 16 patients with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, president and CEO Tim Thornell said Wednesday, including three in the ICU and two on ventilators. “Back in March, April, May, the most we ever had was 10,” he said. 

The state can’t immediately help hospitals add healthcare workers, Gov. Mark Gordon said. 

“As we see hospitalizations rise, we will see health care workers further strained possibly to the detriment of their own health,” he said. 

In Laramie County, where active cases have skyrocketed to more than 400, the Cheyenne-Laramie County Board of Health asked the county health officer to issue a mandatory mask order, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported

On the Wind River Indian Reservation, where the tribal stay-at-home order includes a mask mandate, officials urged young people to stay home, avoid gatherings and heed health precautions in the midst of a recent spike.

“We’re asking you, please, no more bonfires, no more parties, no more passing bottles, no more sharing cigarettes,” Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said in a medical update broadcast on Facebook. “We really need your help today.”

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“We all know that everyone right now feels coronavirus fatigue,” Spoonhunter said. “We’re tired of staying home, we’re tired of wearing masks, we’re tired of social distancing, but more than ever we need your help.” 

Gordon also echoed the power of social distancing, mask wearing and sanitation in reining in the virus. 

“We’ve lost our discipline, we’re a little bit scattered at this point and it’s my belief that it’s up to us to get this spread under control,” Gordon said. “I will say that when we act irresponsibly … we put our liberties, we put our economy and we put our government in jeopardy. This is something that every Wyoming citizen should take seriously.”

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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. I am going to impose on the sufferance of Wyofile here and reiterate something I wrote many weeks ago. The PCR tests used at UW, and the free tests that the Governor has offered to the state as a whole, the Vault tests, have a rate of false results. When I last wrote about this in August, the information on the rate of false tests was sketchy, but now, if a person digs far enough into the Vault site, one will find that they estimate their false rate of both positives and negatives as 1%.

    No one appears to have figured out how to make a reasonable plan for how to handle false results. If Vault is running 10,000 tests per week in Wyoming (they may be running more) then there is the possibility of 100 false positives per week. This could explain why so many students at UW who test positive also have no symptoms, and also explains the large and growing backlog of “cases” under investigation at WDH. One hundred false postives per week would be a very large problem in a small state like Wyoming. False postives are a problem when there is a low prevalence of disease, and I would guess low prevalence describes Wyoming at this time well.

    False negatives become a bigger and bigger problem as prevalence rises, and there is no need to discuss it here.

    I wish we had more transparency about what people in charge are thinking, and how they are attempting to deal with invalid information. I think they worry it is all too complex for the citizenry to handle rationally — they might be surprised.

    1. If the false positives and negatives of testing are approximately equal, they are not relevant to the rapidly rising graph line shown above. Your wishful presumption of low prevalence will not be valid for long with an exponentially-rising graph like that.

      Dithering about a plan to handle a small percentage of erroneous test results at this point is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. That’s why those in charge are not wasting our time with trivialities. Hope this helps.

    2. Scientific journals like the Lancet, MIT Medical, and Harvard Health report that the COVID tests (both the antigen and the PCR tests) have a markedly higher rate of false negatives than false positives, so it’s misguided to lump the positives and negatives together as a singular “false rate.” There are likely many more infected people who test negative than there are uninfected people with a false positive. Pandemic-weary folks may point to the false positives as a sign that things really aren’t so bad, but in fact the opposite is true – more people test false-negative, and even if they are symptomless they can spread the disease. That’s why we are all urged, and could be compelled, to take precautions; spreading disease is not one of the freedoms our civilization is founded on.

  2. Laramie Live reported the Governor’s comments yesterday, and I found it somewhat alarming that he spoke obliquely about our liberties being contingent on behaving ourselves and helping stop the epidemic.

    Stopping the spread of a pandemic may be very much beyond anyone’s control, but it becomes a problem of another sort completely when both the Governor and Dr. Harrist begin making claims that do not seem supported by any evidence. I think most people in Wyoming are doing what they can to help limit spread. From my admittedly informal survey I’d say mask compliance around Laramie is better than 85%, but there isn’t solid evidence that masks can limit spread, Dr. Harrist’s comments notwithstanding, and focusing so much attention on mask wearing may have had the perverse effect of making students ignore other strategies like avoiding crowds and keeping at least 3 feet between one’self and others. So, it would be helpful to remind folks of all this. Back at the beginning of the epidemic in March we flattened out the epicurve even before the Governor’s orders on bars and restaurants — returning focus to the spontaneous helpful behavior of those days is worth considering.

    However, this is spreading through a young population at the present time. The case numbers percentages in the age 18 and under category has jumped by 50% in the past 6 weeks and now comprises nearly one-third of all cases (WDoH covid map and stats). There are serious limitations on what one can do about spread of a disease among such young people who are gregarious by nature, and who rarely suffer severe consequences from COVID19.

    One demands authoritarian measures to fight a pandemic at the risk of making bigger problems.

    BTW, there must be some serious labeling errors in the graphs of the WDH COVID map and statistics page this morning. Surely 50% of new cases are not requiring hospitalization.

  3. As I listened to the press conference I kept thinking: What is Gordon talking about & why doesn’t he make it clear?

    It was weirdly veiled & opaque language. This photo of him brandishing a Wyoming constitution is saying something also, I reckon—but what? At least have the courage to speak openly about what he is facing & reacting to! It might help him get the support he needs as Wyoming faces this new phase of virus response.