Update: On Friday afternoon, the Department of Health reported 381 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 infections, breaking the previous single-day record of 248 set on Oct. 16.
Wyoming’s COVID-19 surge continued at an unprecedented pace this week as new lab-confirmed cases dwarfed previous records, active cases reached almost 3,000 and officials warned that hospitals will soon be under severe strain.
“Our current COVID situation is very concerning,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said during a Wednesday press conference.
To illustrate how dramatically the situation has changed, Harrist compared current state data with that of six weeks ago, right around the time the ongoing surge began.
While the 14-day average of new daily lab-confirmed cases numbered 28 on Sept. 8, by Tuesday it had reached 152, she said — a 442% increase. The percentage of tests to come back positive, meanwhile, increased from less than 2% on Sept. 8 to more than 5% Tuesday. COVID-related hospitalizations jumped from 18 to 67 during that time, she said. And while five long-term care facilities were dealing with COVID-19 infections Sept. 8, that number had reached 23 by Tuesday.
“Six weeks ago Wyoming was in a much better position with this virus than we are today,” Harrist said.
Wyoming’s trends are even capturing national attention. Several states and the District of Columbia have added Wyoming to a list of states under travel restrictions due to COVID-19 surges, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.
All told, Wyoming’s has seen 8,537 lab-confirmed infections by Friday morning. This was the second week in a row with more than 1,000 new cases. That included the largest yet single-day count of 248, on Oct. 16, as well as 235 new lab-confirmed cases Wednesday and 232 Thursday.
A total of 6,158 people have recovered. That number grew by 731 over the last week.
By Friday morning, active cases — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — hit 2,831. That’s up 45% from last week, and 364% from Sept. 8 — the day Harrist used as a point of reference.
The Wyoming Department of Health reported 11 COVID-19-related deaths — some new and some added from previous weeks — bringing the death toll to 68. These included residents of Park, Fremont, Johnson, Albany, Crook, Goshen, Campbell, Uinta, Natrona and Laramie counties.
The number of statewide hospitalizations reported by the DOH hit a new record of 81, a 58% increase from last week, and officials across the state grew more vocal about the strain on facilities and healthcare workers and the increasing difficulty of transferring patients.
The Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, which recently stopped accepting non-emergent patients transferred from outside Natrona County, opened its COVID-19 surge unit for the first time this week, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center had 16 patients with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, president and CEO Tim Thornell said Wednesday, including three in the ICU and two on ventilators. “Back in March, April, May, the most we ever had was 10,” he said.
The state can’t immediately help hospitals add healthcare workers, Gov. Mark Gordon said.
“As we see hospitalizations rise, we will see health care workers further strained possibly to the detriment of their own health,” he said.
In Laramie County, where active cases have skyrocketed to more than 400, the Cheyenne-Laramie County Board of Health asked the county health officer to issue a mandatory mask order, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.
On the Wind River Indian Reservation, where the tribal stay-at-home order includes a mask mandate, officials urged young people to stay home, avoid gatherings and heed health precautions in the midst of a recent spike.
“We’re asking you, please, no more bonfires, no more parties, no more passing bottles, no more sharing cigarettes,” Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said in a medical update broadcast on Facebook. “We really need your help today.”
“We all know that everyone right now feels coronavirus fatigue,” Spoonhunter said. “We’re tired of staying home, we’re tired of wearing masks, we’re tired of social distancing, but more than ever we need your help.”
Gordon also echoed the power of social distancing, mask wearing and sanitation in reining in the virus.
“We’ve lost our discipline, we’re a little bit scattered at this point and it’s my belief that it’s up to us to get this spread under control,” Gordon said. “I will say that when we act irresponsibly … we put our liberties, we put our economy and we put our government in jeopardy. This is something that every Wyoming citizen should take seriously.”