The fifth week of the pandemic in Wyoming saw another slow but steady rise in case counts, along with a rise of national and state-level restlessness over economy-damaging measures taken to staunch COVID-19’s spread.
The state’s case count climbed from 270 on Sunday to 296 today. Probable but untested cases are at 105. There have been 187 recoveries and two deaths.
The head of the Wyoming Medical Society said measures taken so far appeared to be working, but that the situation could turn quickly if people begin to congregate too early.
Case counts could still jump as the virus’s full presence remains largely undetected from a lack of testing, Dr. David Wheeler said. He pointed to a growing cluster of cases associated with the Wyoming Behavioral Institute, a residential psychiatric facility in Casper.
Patients from there have only recently begun to get sick, Wheeler said, meaning if they’re headed to the hospital, that will occur in a week or two. On Friday morning, the Department of Health announced the infection from WBI had spread across the state — two patients transferred from there to the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston tested positive for the disease.
A widely used model maintained by the University of Washington predicts Wyoming is still a few weeks out from a May 5 peak in demand on hospitals. The evolving model, however, increasingly shows the state will have the resources to withstand a surge in COVID-19 patients.
But the balance in Wyoming is delicate, Wheeler warned, given the state’s low population and thin healthcare resources. “What makes it hard for us is that little statistical blips can really make a big shift in either direction,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to work out OK, but I’m still worried that things turn,” he said.
The state saw its first two COVID-19 deaths this week. A death in Johnson County was announced on Monday, and another death in Laramie County was announced Wednesday.
The state’s first deaths did not stop a small group of protesters that gathered on Wednesday in front of the State Capitol and called on Gov. Mark Gordon to loosen economic restrictions. Those protests paled in comparison to events in other states. Measures for stricter enforcement of health orders failed in close votes by the Casper and Cheyenne city councils.
A healthcare worker in Casper whose roommate had COVID-19 attended house parties before testing positive himself. The incident in Casper offered a look at the future of virus response, Wheeler said, as health officials traced the man’s contacts and ordered attendees at the parties into quarantine. Wheeler hopes they obey the order.
Gordon continued to call for social distancing. However, the state is beginning to shift from a crisis footing to a “stabilization” stage, he said.
Government will have to shrink even as more people might need its services. WyoFile revealed dire predictions of state revenue drops drawn up by the Legislature’s fiscal analysts. Gordon froze state hiring and warned cuts were coming.
A second survey from the University of Wyoming showed more and more people are feeling the pinch from the economic impacts. Nearly 40% of residents who responded to the survey say they or members of their immediate families have been laid off or lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
The survey also captured a drop in approval for the governor’s response, though it remains high. Of the 494 Wyoming residents representing all Wyoming counties that participated in the survey, 76% approved of Gordon’s response, a drop of 12.6% from the first survey two weeks ago.
Local media outperformed national media in the survey — 66.6% of respondents said they trust local media’s reporting on COVID-19 “a great deal or a good amount.” National media only achieved such trust with 41.5% of respondents.
Charity continued around the state. Seamstresses in Douglas sewed 1,500 cloth masks and a bank in Thermopolis purchased gift certificates to struggling local restaurants and handed them out, according to the Wyoming News Exchange.
A Worland woman survived a 16-day fight against COVID-19 though doctors told her family the odds against her were steep. The woman told the Casper Star-Tribune her chief goal in life is now to “hug my children, hug my husband and have him sit with me, sit on the porch.”