Wyoming’s spike in COVID-19 cases continued this week as the number of active cases surpassed 1,000 for the first time.
New lab-confirmed cases broke single-day records for the third week in a row. The Wyoming Department of Health announced 162 new cases on Sunday, shattering the previous two single-day highs of 137 and 104.
The two-week average percentage of tests coming back positive reached 5.1%, and COVID-related hospitalizations hit new highs. The DOH reported three COVID-19-related deaths.
Despite worsening metrics, Gov. Mark Gordon eased state health orders on restaurants — citing the importance of supporting that business sector. Under the changes, restaurants no longer have to space out seating in booths, and can permit up to eight patrons at a table.
“Even in the face of a rising number of active cases, we recognize that the restaurant industry has faced challenges throughout this pandemic,” Gordon said in a release. “Nevertheless, they have really responded to ensure the safety of their customers. These are important steps that will help our restaurants recover and safely welcome more customers throughout the fall and winter.”
DOH data shows that sit-down dining in restaurants has not significantly contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in Wyoming, the governor said in a press release.
All told, Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 5,107 by Friday morning with 619 added this week. That’s 67 more new cases than were added the previous week. Total recoveries reached 4,109. That number grew by 412 over the last week, 109 more than the week before. Known active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — hit 1,177, a 32% increase.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations reached a new high of 27 on Thursday, with the majority, 14, at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. Hospital capacity remains ample.
The state’s virus-related death count reached 53 with the announcement of three additional deaths. These included an adult Natrona County man with underlying health conditions, an adult Campbell County man with underlying health conditions and an older Natrona County man who had been hospitalized, according to DOH.
Reports of new case clusters continue to come out of K-12 schools, including in Pinedale, Lander and Casper, but have yet to prompt closures.
State officials touted the success of K-12 precautions as they relaxed school guidance. The guidance no longer requires schools to implement quarantine of close contacts if both the infected individual and those in contact were wearing masks.
The Wyoming Education Association was quick to criticize that measure, the Casper Star Tribune reports.
“Taking one step forward and two steps back in terms of recommendations and policy around COVID-19 safety isn’t going to keep our schools safe,” Grady Hutcherson, the head of the education association, said in a statement quoted by the newspaper. “If we want our schools to remain safe — if we want our schools to remain open — now is the time to stay the course and remain diligent in exercising every possible safety precaution to stem the spread of COVID-19.”
At the University of Wyoming, students and staff entered phase three of the college’s reopening plan. This entails an expanded mix of on-campus and hybrid instruction, the opening of campus buildings to their full capacity and more in-person activities. It also entails heightened pandemic precautions, according to UW.
In a statement, UW president Ed Seidel celebrated the landmark but preached caution.
“In many respects, our biggest challenge begins now,” Seidel said. “In order to successfully have eight full weeks of in-person instruction and activity on campus, all of us must recommit ourselves to the basic behaviors that science has shown will limit the transmission of the virus: wearing face protection; maintaining appropriate distance to the degree possible; using proper hygiene practices; complying with testing and self-screening requirements; and avoiding gatherings where the requirements are not followed.”
The college will conduct a rigorous program of testing and surveillance as it moves forward, according to UW.
As of Thursday, UW reported 139 active cases, most off campus, and 240 recovered cases. It has conducted more than 27,000 tests. Albany County, home to UW, currently leads the state in active cases, with 211.
Wyoming Cowboy football will have a season this fall. Officials plan to allow 7,000 fans into War Memorial Stadium during the Cowboys’ first home game, the Casper Star Tribune reports. That’s roughly 24% of the stadium’s capacity.