Two Wyoming counties enacted mask mandates this week as virus threats reached the state’s highest office, forcing the governor into quarantine.
As Tuesday’s election dominated much of the state’s attention, Wyoming’s surge did little to abate. Virus numbers broke records for a ninth week with nearly 140 hospitalizations and active cases surpassing 5,000 for the first time.
Some cases were high-profile. Lee Spoonhunter, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, announced Monday he had tested positive and had mild symptoms.
Spoonhunter attended a pandemic roundtable at the Wind River Hotel and Casino Oct. 28 with tribal and state leaders as well as White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx.
Gov. Mark Gordon, who sat near Spoonhunter at the event, has since tested negative twice and is in quarantine. Health workers conducted contact tracing for other participants deemed at risk of exposure, DOH spokeswoman Kim Deti told WyoFile in an email.
The DOH did not contact a WyoFile reporter who participated in a short round of questions at the event.
State Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Casper) also announced he had tested positive, though in a more flippant fashion that referred to conspiracy theories of the virus’s origin.
“I wanted the committee to know that I am participating in and fully engaged in the Chinese communist chemical warfare experiment from Wuhan,” he said at the beginning of a Joint Minerals, Business & Economic Development meeting Thursday. “I tested positive Nov. 1. My wife and I are both engaged in this experiment from Wuhan and it’s not a pleasure.”
Wyoming’s virus numbers, meanwhile, continued to mount at dizzying rates. Single-day lab-confirmed cases, active cases and hospitalizations all broke new records, and the state announced 18 COVID-19-related deaths — some new and some added from previous weeks — bringing the state death toll to 105.
Wyoming has now tallied 12,954 total lab-confirmed infections. Nearly 75% of those, 9,568, have been reported since Sept. 5.
That includes 2,365 new cases in the last week — the largest weekly growth yet. New single-day infections also broke records again this week, with 431 reported Oct. 30 and 421 reported Monday.
By Friday morning, active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — reached 5,595, a 34% increase from last week.
The number of statewide hospitalizations reported by the DOH hit a new record of 138 Tuesday. As of Thursday afternoon, the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper reported the most COVID-19 patients in the state, 39, while the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center was caring for 33.
In light of spiking cases, two counties enacted mask mandates. Laramie County’s order went into effect Monday, and Albany County will follow suit late Friday.
They join Teton County and the Wind River Indian Reservation in making masks mandatory in public. Laramie County led the state in active cases with 892 as of Friday morning, and Albany County had the second-highest number at 867.
Campbell County tallied the fourth-highest active case count. Active cases have exploded there in recent weeks, from 92 on Oct. 1 to 824 by Friday morning — a 796% increase. Officials in that county do not plan to pursue a mandate, a spokesperson told WyoFile on Thursday evening.
“We really continue to heavily emphasize the importance of personal responsibility in all of this,” Campbell County Public Information Coordinator Ivy Castleberry said.
In Albany County, the University of Wyoming accounts for much of the caseload. By Wednesday, the university reported 239 active cases among its community — including 27 students living on campus, 188 students living off campus and 24 employees. That’s the largest number of active cases since the pandemic began, according to the school.
Wyoming’s prison system also reported a new outbreak. Recent testing resulted in 80 new positive cases at the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp in Newcastle, 73 among inmates and seven among staff.
Teton County is back in the “red” zone for high risk thanks to a significant uptick in cases there, according to a Thursday press release.
With 158 new cases within the last two weeks, the county has experienced its largest increase in new cases to date, according to the release. Health officials there urged residents to significantly limit close contact with people outside of their households.
“Based on the percentage of cases that have been identified as close contacts of another known positive case, we are asking community members to evaluate how they are interacting with coworkers, friends and family who both live in Teton County and who are visiting,” Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell said in the release. “If you are in a close, confined space with others, please wear a mask. When people feel comfortable letting down their guard on personal protective measures that’s when we begin to see more cases.”
Andrew Graham contributed reporting.