Wyoming’s pandemic metrics took a significant turn for the worse this week as active cases surpassed 800 and single-day case counts broke records for the second week in a row.
The Wyoming Department of Health’s announcement of 137 new lab-confirmed cases Wednesday broke the previous single-day record of 104, which was set just a week before, and pushed the state’s number of active cases up to 842. On Thursday, DOH reported 120 new cases, which ratcheted active cases up once more, to 891.
Before Sept. 15, the largest single-day count of new confirmed cases seen in Wyoming was 67.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations reached 23 Monday, matching the previous high last seen on April 21. The percentage of Wyoming tests coming back positive rose to 4.2% by Friday.
It’s not welcome news, Gov. Mark Gordon said during a Thursday press conference, but it’s also “not a tremendous surprise” as it comes in the wake of schools reopening across the state, including the University of Wyoming — where many recent new cases have been identified.
“Those are concerning trends. But Wyoming has wanted to make sure that we stay the course, we don’t react to what happens on an immediate basis,” said Gordon, who appeared less concerned about the current spike than previous upticks this summer. “Wyoming has stepped up before, and I know we will step up again.”
The state hopes to ease restrictions on restaurant seating by the end of the month, Gordon said. Later, he pointed out that while he takes the virus very seriously, Wyoming has fared very well compared to other states.
The governor’s position may reflect changing attitudes across the state. According to the results of a new University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center survey, Wyoming residents have grown less concerned about COVID-19.
Just 30.4% of Wyomingites now say they are very or fairly anxious about the spread of COVID-19 in the state, down from 44.7% in an August survey. The percentage of people who report being very or somewhat worried that someone in their immediate family might catch COVID-19 dropped 8.6 percentage points, to 51%.
The percentage of residents who report they would be extremely or somewhat comfortable in groups of up to 250 increased by 8 points, to 54%, while support of state policies to slow the spread of COVID-19 decreased.
A majority of respondents, 51%, still support state limits on public gatherings, and 62% report they always or often wear face protection in indoor public places.
All told, Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 4,488 by Friday morning with 552 added this week. That’s 175 more new cases than were added the previous week. Total recoveries reached 3,697. That number grew by 303 over last week. The number of active cases, meanwhile, grew by 288 from the week before — a 48% jump.
The state’s death count reached 50 with the addition of an older Big Horn County man who had been hospitalized after contracting the virus. He had health conditions known to put patients at higher risk of complications, according to DOH.
In the face of rising numbers, some local officials have pleaded for residents to take precautions. “Community spread of COVID-19 is now a serious issue in Sublette County,” the Sublette COVID-19 Response Group wrote in a recent email to the community, noting that there is no hospital in that county. “We need to stop spreading this virus to each other.”
Other leaders moved in a different direction. In Weston County, where there are fewer than 10 active cases, commissioners passed a resolution “to refrain from health-related mandates,” the Newcastle News Letter Journal reports.
No school has closed due to an outbreak, though infection clusters continue to disrupt life across the state. Positive cases of six Sheridan students prompted the quarantine of a large number of their peers, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. At the University of Wyoming, officials closed the law school after COVID-19 cases were detected among students there, and halted cheer team competitions after three athletes tested positive.
Albany County, home to UW, currently leads the state in active cases, with 196.
Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell in August for the fourth month in a row. The seasonally adjusted rate decreased to 6.6%, down from 7.1% in July, according to the Department of Workforce Services.
Compared to August 2019, however, unemployment rates rose in every county, with the largest increases in Natrona, Sweetwater, Converse and Campbell counties.
With the start of flu season on the horizon, DOH officials stressed that getting a flu shot has perhaps never been more critical.
“As much as we would like to wish it away, coronavirus is still with us and remains a threat that we cannot overlook,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said during Thursday’s press conference.