The spread of COVID-19 continued to accelerate in Wyoming this week as residents prepared for Fourth of July celebrations that will be modified in some places to adhere to pandemic safety guidelines.
Daily case counts continued to rise by double-digits each day, a trend that began in early June. The recrudescence prevented Gov. Mark Gordon from further easing state restrictions as he had hoped to, he said at a press conference Wednesday.
Instead, Gordon extended the current health orders until July 15. When he took that action Monday, it marked the first time in six weeks that orders had been extended without being relaxed. That, Gordon’s office said, is a reflection of the nearly 300 cases identified over the past two weeks — more than 25% of the state’s total confirmed infections since the pandemic began.
“It is clear from the recent increase in cases statewide that the dual threat of COVID-19 to both the health of our citizens and the health of our economy is not going away,” Gordon said in a statement.
All told, the state added 111 new confirmed cases since Sunday, which is six more than the previous week’s count. The state’s total confirmed case count is 1,233 as of Friday morning. Wyoming is one of just eight states with fewer than 5,000 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The number of COVID-19-related deaths, at 20, did not increase. Eight people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Thursday, according to the Department of Health. The percentage of tests that prove positive, meanwhile, remained low at 2.5%, according to WyoFile calculations.
There have been 893 recoveries of confirmed cases, suggesting the state has close to 350 known active cases of the virus.
That number, Gordon said Wednesday, alarms him.
“What is disappointing about that number is that we continue to rise,” he said. “I was thinking for some time that we were doing pretty well in the 150-220 range, now we see these cases continue to rise.”
As hot spots erupt in states across the U.S., including neighbors in the Mountain West, Gordon said some states are forced to reconsider closures.
“This is something we don’t want to do,” he said. “It really does depend on the people of this state, as it has right from the beginning, to exercise good judgement, to do the right thing, and I know you will.”
The state is now “detecting cases at the highest rate we have seen at any point in this pandemic,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said. “We also believe Wyoming is in a better position to respond to the cases that we identify than we were a few months ago. We know more about the virus, our healthcare system is more prepared and we can test more people.”
In fact, she said, Wyoming recently purchased 50,000 saliva-based tests that will be used to expand surveillance testing to some high-risk facilities. The Department of Health continues contract tracing, and Gordon announced Wednesday that residents can download a free app called Care19 Diary aimed at tracking a person’s movements to help prevent community spread.
Harrist continued to emphasize the importance of social-distancing and wearing face coverings.
Masks are also at the center of discussion in Teton County, where District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell is seeking state approval of an order to require people to wear masks indoors and certain other circumstances. An increase in cases prompted Riddell to seek the order, the Casper Star-Tribune reports; it is awaiting state approval.
During a special meeting Monday, the Jackson Town Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the mask requirement.
In Laramie County, officials began conducting COVID-19-related compliance checks of public places. Check-in visits to two restaurants that residents had complained about to the county health department did not result in citations, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. In Yellowstone, a fourth round of surveillance testing on employees came back negative; that program has tested nearly 600 employees since late May.
Celebrations are planned across the state for the Fourth of July, though many have been cancelled, diminished or altered due to COVID-19. This includes a “pirate parade” in Lander and the Cody Stampede Rodeo.
Gordon, who will lead the Dubois parade with First Lady Jennie Gordon, admonished residents to celebrate the holiday safely. Harrist echoed the sentiment, stressing social distancing and face coverings.
“Our attention to these precautions this weekend could very well have significant impacts on the course of the outbreak and our ability to further ease restrictions,” she said.