Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state health officer, speaks during a news conference held Wednesday at the Capitol. Harrist warned that the state would need to keep up measures to slow the virus’s spread. (Handout/Gov. Mark Gordon’s office)

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.”

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Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. Thanks for keeping us informed and up to date on Wyoming’s battle with C-19. One comment though about how ridiculously meticulous you really need to be for distancing and hygiene to honestly be effective in stopping viral transmission: Governor Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Harrist give a beautiful demonstration at Wednesday’s press conference (for those interested PBS has the archived footage in its entirety). Setting a good example for the people, Governor Gordon with facemask and trusty hand sanitizer at the ready is about to que up for a reporter Q&A when at 28:25 minutes into the presentation he whips out his handkerchief, wipes his nose, returns the germy parcel to his pant pocket, and repeatedly touches the podium for the next 7 minutes. At 35:27 Dr. Harrist approaches the dirty dias and begins a short dissertation on contact tracing. Jotting down a few quick notes with her lime green ballpoint pen while repeatedly touching the previously anointed lecturn. By 36:09 ( 42 seconds for those not wanting to do the arithmetic) Dr. Harrist is busy brushing some offending particle from her cheek.. While maintaining the requisite 6 feet of separation, it takes 7 minutes and 35 seconds for the two most informed and well intentioned individuals in the state of Wyoming to unintentionally swap biology.( and while specifically preaching the gospel of abstinence in front of God and all creation). If you happen to miss this particular interaction while watching the video, there are several more acts of indiscretion in the half hour that follows. I won’t spoil the tally for you here, but challenge you all to count the number of times these two volley that booger ball back and forth. Call it an interesting diversion for the (in)voluntarily sequestered…….

    1. There you have it, that’s a great example of why a contagion is so contagious.

      As my father so often told me, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”

      I applaud the Governor and the State Health Officer for their good intentions, and forgive them of their actions.