Wyoming continued to confront troubling upward trends of COVID-19 this week as hospitalizations ticked up and three new deaths were reported. Officials warned that the crisis won’t go away anytime soon.
“I know every single one of us hoped a few months ago that we were facing a short-term situation,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said during a Wednesday press conference. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 remains a serious threat and is simply not yet done with us.”
The state continued to tally daily double-digit increases of new positive test results, including 39 new cases Monday — the largest single-day increase of cases yet. That record was repeated on Thursday. COVID-19 hospitalizations, meanwhile, reached 18 by Thursday, the highest since April 21. Wyoming’s cumulative positive test rate also inched up, to 3%.
Nearly 200 recoveries were reported since last Friday. But that wasn’t enough for health officials to ease restrictions. On Monday Gov. Mark Gordon extended the state’s current public health orders through July 31.
“Our numbers … like other places of the country, are ticking up,” Gordon said during the Wednesday press conference, lamenting the backslide. “We were well on our way, well on our way, to relieving all of our orders, and now we’re seeing these concerning trends, and I think this is related to the people taking a more casual attitude toward what they can do…”
Gordon had sharp words regarding recent email he’s received. Messages that people who die of COVID-19 complications are going to die anyway, he said, offend him. The notion that people “should just get COVID and get out of the way,” he said, “I’m sick and tired of that.”
For the state and country to open up, Gordon said, people have to behave conscientiously by following official health guidance.
“There is no constitutional right to go infect somebody else … there is no constitutional right that says you can put others in harm’s way,” Gordon said. “So let’s behave and let’s be mindful of others.”
All told, the state added 138 new confirmed cases between Sunday and Friday morning — 22 more than the previous week’s count. The state has reported 1,644 total confirmed cases as of Friday, while its total recoveries sit at 1,241. By Thursday afternoon, there were 464 active cases statewide.
There have been 24 deaths related to the virus. Two of those occurred in Sweetwater County this week, marking that county’s first and second fatalities. The first was a 77-year-old Rock Springs man who was hospitalized after testing positive on July 10, according to sweetwaternow.com. He died three days later, on Monday. The second was a Green River woman in her 90s, the Casper Star Tribune reports. She died Wednesday.
The third was an older Fremont County man with underlying health conditions. He was hospitalized in another state when he died, according to the Department of Health.
Statewide hospital capacity also decreased, though it remains ample. Of the state’s 120 ICU beds, 59 were reported to be in use Thursday — 18 more than last week. Of the state’s 183 ventilators, meanwhile, seven were in use Thursday — six more than last week.
As COVID-19 numbers failed to abate, municipalities continued to hash out mask use. Sweetwater County commissioners discussed but decided against a mask mandate, the Green River Star reports. Laramie’s City Council declined to pass a resolution supporting an order to require masks in public places, according to the Laramie Boomerang.
In Teton County — where a mask order is already in place in Jackson and several businesses have closed this week due to outbreaks — District Health Office Dr. Travis Riddell has been waiting for state approval for his mask order since June 30, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports. Riddell had hoped to have it in place for the July 4th weekend.
In the meantime, many businesses have announced their own mask requirements. These include big national chains with stores in Wyoming, such as Menards, Walmart, Starbucks and Target.
Masks will also “probably have a place in schools’ reopening,” Gordon said.
Some 56% of Wyoming residents say they would support an ordinance requiring people in their community to wear a facemask when in an indoor public place, according to new survey results by the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center.
The damage to the state’s economy by COVID-19 and other factors continues to have painful effects. Gordon on Monday announced $250 million in budget cuts, including to programs serving the state’s vulnerable. The forecasted shortfall still sits at $600 million.
One aspect of the outbreak that’s improving, Harrist said, is the state’s ever-increasing testing capacity. Though the Department of Health hasn’t escaped budget cuts — it’s slated to see a 9% reduction.