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Week 21: The pandemic in Wyoming from Aug. 1-7

Wyoming’s tally of new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases began to level off this week after spiking in late July. (Wyoming Department of Health)

After more than a month of troubling trends, Wyoming’s COVID-19 caseload numbers this week showed small signs of improvement.

Following three weeks of record-breaking single-day increases of positive cases — including last week’s record of 64 — new case tallies dropped off this week. The Department of Health reported 36 new confirmed cases Sunday, 31 Monday, 28 Tuesday, 32 Wednesday and 25 Thursday. 

Active lab-confirmed and probable cases, which surged passed 600 on Sunday, ticked down through the week, to 566 Thursday. 

“That’s very encouraging news,” Gov. Mark Gordon said during a Wednesday press conference. “It shows that what Wyoming people are doing is making a difference.”

The shift wasn’t enough for the state to change any of its five COVID-19 metrics to “improving” from current classifications of “stable” or “concerning.” And not all numbers improved.

Officials announced two more COVID-19-related deaths. The state’s two-week rolling positive test rate average inched up, to 3.2% from 2.8%. Hospitalizations rose to 20 on Sunday — the highest they’ve been since April 21. 

Still, after several weeks of reporting worsening trends, Gordon seemed happy to relay positive tidbits.

“We had hoped really the first of July we would be in a much better position, but we are starting to make some improvements,” he said. 

With school start dates drawing near, it’s a particularly crucial time, State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said. 

“With the calendar turning the page to Aug. 1, I know questions about schools are a focus for many Wyoming families,” Harrist said. “As a pediatrician, I know that being in schools with other children and with in-person teachers is healthy and helpful for most children. I want children to have that experience as much as possible this year. But we need to make sure our children and teachers are safe.”

Anxiety is high in many communities as parents wrestle with decisions around sending their children back to school and districts work to figure out the safest plans for resuming education. 

Harrist is confident that district reopening plans — which were due this week — are well-suited to deal with the virus, she said. 

“Will there be some cases of COVID-19 among students? Unfortunately yes,” she said, “but following our common sense recommendations can help keep the numbers lower and more manageable.”

All told, Wyoming’s total lab-confirmed caseload reached 2,449 by Friday morning. It added 232 new confirmed cases between Sunday and Friday morning — 62 fewer than the same period last week. Total recoveries grew by 266 from last week to 1,969 — 20 more than the previous week’s recoveries. 

The state’s death toll reached 28. The two people who died this week were residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Fremont County, which has experienced the highest concentration of the state’s fatalities. The first death, announced Monday, involved an older woman who had health conditions that put patients at higher risk of complications, according to DOH. 

In a Facebook post, the Northern Arapaho Business Council confirmed that she was a tribal member — making her the 11th member of the tribe to die from COVID-19 complications. Northern Arapaho members make up 42% of virus-related deaths, while just 2.7% of the state’s population identifies as American Indian. 

On Thursday, the Arapaho Council announced in a Facebook post that the woman’s husband also died of the virus. 

“Our friend, a male elder and non-Member, had been married for more than five decades to a Tribal Member who herself was claimed by the virus earlier this week,” the post read. 

The entire tribe is grieving, Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said in the post. “We offer our most heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of this couple — it is a staggering loss anytime family elders are lost,” he said.

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Across the state in Goshen County, county commissions made a political statement when they unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution urging constituents to make their own health decisions.  

Commission Chair John Ellis told the Casper Star-Tribune the resolution was intended to support the county’s residents and send a message that state officials had overreached with health orders.

“People are tired, sick and tired of it,” Ellis told the Star-Tribune. Health officials “step on their constitutional rights every time they turn around.”

Goshen has been relatively unaffected by the pandemic with 21 confirmed and 12 active cases by Friday morning.

Grim economic news continued to arrive from the energy sector, which has been walloped by a combination of market forces and pandemic-related declines. Buckskin Coal Mine announced furloughs, the Casper Star-Tribune reports; the state’s oil rig count dropped to zero; and Peabody Energy announced it will write down the value of the nation’s largest coal mine by $1.42 billion.


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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.