First lady Jennie Gordon and Gov. Mark Gordon offer Thanksgiving greetings in a video posted to Gordon’s Facebook page Nov. 25, the same day Gordon’s office announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. Jennie Gordon tested positive Dec. 3. (screenshot/Facebook)

New infections and active COVID-19 cases in Wyoming dipped this week following two months of alarming growth, but hospitalizations continued to climb at the state’s beleaguered healthcare facilities. 

The virus also reached the state’s highest office. Wyoming’s first lady, Jennie Gordon, tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, a week after Gov. Mark Gordon announced his own positive test. 

The couple has been in quarantine together since Nov. 20, according to Gordon’s office. Gov. Gordon has recovered after experiencing mild symptoms that did not require medical intervention, his office reports. The first lady was experiencing minor symptoms Wednesday, according to a press release. 

In a slowdown from the explosion of infections in mid-November, new single-day lab-confirmed cases did not exceed 1,000 any day this week. After climbing steadily for nearly two months, active cases also declined. As of Friday morning, the Department of Health reported 6,708 known active cases in the state — 43% down from the high of 11,793 on Nov. 24. 

The Department of Health also reported fewer COVD-19-related deaths. The DOH reported 42 deaths this week, on the heels of 38 deaths reported last week and a record high of 53 the week before that. Nearly 80% of Wyoming’s 257 deaths have been reported since Oct. 2. 

Natrona County leads the state with 55 fatalities. The majority of that county’s deaths, and perhaps all, have involved residents at long-term-care facilities, the Casper Star-Tribune reports

While new infections slowed, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations continued an upward trajectory, hitting a new record of 247 Monday.  

The largest share of those patients, 65 as of Thursday, are being treated at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, where staff have been working grueling hours to keep pace with the surge and wrestling with COVID-19’s deadly and lasting tolls, the Casper Star-Tribune reports

“It’s still a huge amount of sadness,” Wyoming Medical Center’s chief of staff Andy Dunn told the Star-Tribune. “But [also] feelings of, ‘What are we going to do?’ Then there’s a sense of, ‘How long is this going to last? How much more?’”

In Teton County, county commissioners and Jackson Town Council members held emergency meetings after St. John’s hospital CEO Paul Beaupre announced the hospital was at capacity, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports

Even with surge protocols, Beaupre wrote in a memo, “if we do not see a significant decrease in the number of people testing positive in Teton County, St John’s Health will quickly become overrun.”

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

In a nod to the pandemic impacts on state residents’ mental health, Gov. Gordon made $5 million in CARES Acts funds available to behavioral health providers to help expand services. The funding may be used to provide no-cost services, among other things, to residents experiencing mental health challenges due to the pandemic, according to a press release. 

“We know this pandemic and its impacts has taken its toll on the mental health of many Wyomingites, particularly those battling substance abuse,” Gordon said in the release. 

Gordon also responded to a recent resolution from the Wyoming Republican Party’s central committee calling on him to rescind his declaration of a state of emergency, and with it the legal underpinning for public-health restrictions. 

The resolution was “a very unfortunate choice on their part,” Gordon told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “[The emergency order] provides for a number of resources beyond just the ability of the health officer to issue orders … There are resources for the hospitals. There are funds that are available. There are so many other aspects to it.”

All told, Wyoming has now tallied 30,518 lab-confirmed infections. 

That includes 2,921 new cases in the last week — a much smaller weekly tally than the largest so far of 5,047 only two weeks ago. 

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Though Gordon tightened some state health orders Nov. 19, gatherings of 25 people are still allowed without restrictions. It’s too early to tell if Thanksgiving gatherings will trigger another virus spike in Wyoming.  

But on the eve of the holiday, some officials urged residents to forgo traditional dinner meet-ups. 

“With our infection rate so high these family gatherings have become one of our primary spreader events,” Dr. Paul Ebbert, chief medical officer of Wind River Family and Community Healthcare, wrote in a message posted on the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s Facebook page. “Call your family on the phone, tell them that you love them and because you love them you are staying away from them for now. You should only have an in-person celebration with the people who actually live in your house.” 

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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