Pandemic restrictions remain in place
April 23, 2020
With the peak of the pandemic expected to arrive in early May, Governor Mark Gordon has reminded the public that it’s vital to stay the course. Wyoming is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of its COVID-19 timeline, he said last week.
“I want to remind everyone that Wyoming saw COVID-19 arrive late,” said the governor, explaining that Wyoming is not in sync with its surrounding states regarding the expected peak of infection numbers.
“Ours comes in a couple of weeks and South Dakota’s comes in June.”
This means that Wyoming’s response cannot mirror what’s happening in surrounding states, Gordon said. Action taken is in the best interest of everyone’s health.
“It is critical that we continue to stay the course and adhere to the public health orders that are now in place,” said Gordon, announcing that public health orders will remain in place until April 30 as planned.
On Tuesday, four more deaths due to COVID-19 were announced, bringing the total to six.
The decision to ease restrictions “will be driven by data”, the governor said, and the state is already working to ascertain the right data to use while the governor himself has been meeting with neighboring states to talk about how the public health orders should be changed.
“If we ease up and fail to adhere to the guidance currently in place, if we think this will turn off like a switch, we may not be ready to ease any restrictions,” he said.
Gordon said that he believes in the people and common sense and that the Wyoming community is ready and willing to determine what sort of future this state has.
Guidance will be sought to move forward while protecting public safety. The state’s COVID-19-related business task force will be looking at how to implement changes to public orders, he said.
The state is now transitioning to a stabilization mode, looking at data to inform whether orders need to be extended, loosened or modified, he said.
“We’re really looking at how that landscape is going to roll out after May. We’re looking at that in consultation with our neighboring states,” he stated.
As of April 21, the number of lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming was 320, with 237 of those said to have recovered and 116 probable cases. Around the state, Laramie County had the highest number of confirmed cases at 75 with 32 probable cases, followed by Teton with 62 official and 28 probable, Fremont with 51 official and 6 probable and Natrona with 38 official and 10 probable.
Campbell County had 14 official and 4 probable cases. Only Platte and Weston Counties are now reporting no official or probable cases.
What Comes Next?
However, the governor also announced that the state’s attention is now turning to what comes next. There are many questions about how the transition will be made from mitigation to relaxation of restrictions and recovery, he said.
“We will be living with this virus for some time to come,” said Gordon, stressing that the economy is not the same as it was in February.
While it’s encouraging to see how businesses are adapting and continuing to operate around the state, Gordon said it is unfortunate that Wyoming is facing big challenges in the fall of oil and gas prices to unprecedented lows and that, “Tourism we anticipate will take an enormous hit”.
“I want to push back against the notion that we need to open Wyoming, because Wyoming has been open,” Gordon said. The state has endured tough restrictions, he continued, but a number of accommodations have been made to help economic activities continue.
“There is not one single data point that we can rely on, but rather we need to consider the entire picture,” said state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist. It will be necessary to see sustained trends in the data to be sure that the decisions made are based on the correct facts.
“Social distancing isn’t going to go away,” said the governor. Wyoming is going to have to think about what school will look like next year, how life will continue and what new realities we will face.
“I think it’s important that the people of Wyoming start to come up with good ideas,” he added, for such issues as keeping barbers and cosmetologists safe while allowing them to go back to work.
Though Wyoming has been devastatingly hit by the virus, Gordon said, “We are a unique people, we are a strong people and we will move forward with courage and conviction and we will make a better Wyoming.”
According to Harrist, social distancing has not been the only powerful tool available to Wyoming during this outbreak. “Contact tracing” has been and will continue to be vital in stemming the spread and helping the state get back to normal, she said.
“Wyoming has been contact tracing since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Harrist. It involves locating and reaching out to anyone who has had close contact with those who test positive: household members and anyone who has been within six feet of the patient for at least ten minutes.
Contact tracing is also being used for “probable cases” which are defined as people who are exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID-19 and are known to have had exposure to the disease, but have not been tested.
The Wyoming Department of Health has five staff members performing contact tracing on a regular basis, said Harrist, and county health partners are also very involved.
“Due to the nature of this disease, nothing is foolproof,” she said. However, she believes contact tracing has been effective in helping to slow the spread and will also be important to contain the disease in moving forward with recovery.
Of the cases identified so far, said Harrist, contact tracing has been performed for all of them.
“We really have been able to contact, interview and issue orders for everyone involved so far,” she said.