Week 11: The pandemic in Wyoming from May 24-29

Medical Assistant Brad Nagel of Emerg+A+Care collects a sample from Reed Chambers at a community coronavirus testing event at the Teton County Fairgrounds in Jackson on May 28, 2020. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr/WyoFile)

Lawmakers confronted more staggering budget projections as officials cancelled six of the state’s signature rodeos — a move that’s expected to bring painful financial repercussions — during the 11th week of the pandemic in Wyoming.

Meanwhile, case counts climbed and health officials conducted mass testing in several locations across the state, a move that may signal the new paradigm of response as testing capacity increases. 

By Thursday evening, the state reported 667 confirmed and 209 probable COVID-19 cases. Health workers have conducted more than 22,000 tests. The COVID-19 case count rose by 59 cases since the previous week. There have been 634 recoveries, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. 

The state’s death count rose by three — from 12 to 15. All three deaths were associated with long-term care facilities. Two of the deceased were residents of a facility in Worland, where an outbreak had already resulted in the death of one resident and 22 positive cases among residents and staff. The third fatality was a Natrona County man who had been a resident of a nursing home in Casper, according to the Department of Health.  

The number of patients hospitalized for the disease also grew — from 11 Sunday to 15 Thursday, according to the DOH’s hospital capacity dashboard. 

Despite that, four out of five metrics the state is using to guide its decisions, including hospitalizations and the percentage of tests coming back positive, remain stable, according to the DOH. 

Spurred by these metrics, Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday announced new orders that further ease health restrictions. The orders will allow outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people with social distancing and increased sanitization measures in place. 

“We are not out of the woods yet though, so please use good judgement and don’t jeopardize yourself and others by acting recklessly,” Gordon said. 

That step toward opening was tempered by news that six of Wyoming’s signature rodeos won’t happen this summer. These include events in Cody, Casper and Sheridan and as well as Cheyenne Frontier Days. The “Daddy of ‘em All” bills itself as the largest outdoor rodeo of its kind in the world.

“The financial and emotional impacts are immense,” Gordon said. “But it’s the right thing to do.”

It will mark the first time in the Frontier Days’ 124-year history that it has been cancelled, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. Cheyenne residents expect the ramifications to be enormous. The loss of the city’s largest annual event means “the nail in the coffin” for the local economy this year, Mayor Marian Orr told the newspaper. 

That’s not the only dire economic news that befell the state. After convening a special meeting to revise its projections, the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group now expects a $1.5 billion reduction in revenues through June of 2022.

In a preliminary report released this week, state budget director Don Richards pointed to falling energy prices as well as the pandemic’s impacts. His report included a caveat that accuracy cannot be guaranteed. 

“Several factors are unknowable at this time,” the report reads. “Uncertainty surrounds the duration and spread of the health impacts of COVID-19, as well as the duration and severity of changes in consumer behavior and impacts from both government restrictions and subsequent fiscal and monetary actions.”

There were glimmers of positive economic news, however. Nearly 100 furloughed miners returned to work at the Decker Coal Company on Tuesday, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Memorial Day visitation to Yellowstone National Park through the two open gates, meanwhile, showed just a slight decline from 2019 numbers, according to the National Park Service. Yellowstone will open its Montana entrances June 1. 

Mass testing also took place across the state. Some 300 staff and residents at two Casper facilities where cases had been discovered were tested, with no new positive cases, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Teton County, meanwhile, invited all residents to a mass testing event Thursday at its fairgrounds.

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And at least one prominent Wyoming physician and politician does not believe the nation or state will need to close down again.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso told the Buffalo Bulletin he doesn’t expect another shutdown. 

“The idea of the shutdown was to be able to be prepared with adequate testing, adequate personal protective equipment and adequate mindset to realize what we need to do,” he told the paper. “If there’s a spike, we have the hospitals, we have the respirators, we’ve learned the lessons.” 

Barasso did underscore the peril posed by the virus. 

“In Washington where there are lots of new cases every day, I have a mask wherever I go, as do other people,” he said. “There’s a value in social distancing, hygiene, masks.” 


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Katie Klingsporn: Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic Adventure and Patagonia's Cleanest Line blog.