In Wyoming’s fourth week of battling a pandemic, the state appeared to enter a holding pattern.
On Sunday, Wyoming had 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Friday morning there were 239 cases. The rate of growth in confirmed cases slowed significantly — case counts had doubled or more over each of the previous three weeks.
However, officials warned against finding optimism in the numbers.
“It’s too soon to tell,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in response to a WyoFile inquiry Friday. A week of data isn’t enough to paint a complete picture, especially given testing limitations, officials said. The state April 3 limited the number of tests it would process at the State Health Lab because of supply shortages.
The Wyoming Department of Health has begun publishing a new metric — probable cases that have not been confirmed with tests. Probable cases are those people who have symptoms of COVID-19, who were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the disease but who have not been laboratory tested themselves, Harrist said in a press conference Wednesday.
On Friday morning there were 81 probable cases. But though only published this week, the number is cumulative from the pandemic’s start, a DOH spokeswoman said.
Health officials elsewhere in the state using less rigorous standards have estimated much higher numbers of potential cases.
Wyoming is the only state to not have a recorded death from COVID-19. “Unfortunately I do expect that we will see deaths in Wyoming,” Harrist said on Wednesday. The state has had several patients that were “extremely ill” but recovered, she said. Four counties — Big Horn, Hot Spring, Platte and Weston — had no reported cases by Thursday afternoon.
Gov. Mark Gordon said the state’s peak demand on healthcare resources is likely to come sometime in early May. That date is consistent with predictions from a model developed by the University of Washington.
County health officers, who have emerged as key voices particularly in the harder hit counties of Fremont and Teton, also urged the state and its residents to keep up the intensity of the response.
“It’s a new virus that none of us have ever been exposed to, and we really don’t know the eventual consequences until everything’s all said and done,” Fremont County Health Officer Dr. Brian Gee told WyoFile.
The state continues to scramble to collect supplies to meet a surge in hospital demand if and when it comes. On Wednesday, the Casper Star Tribune reported that Wyoming was, so far fruitlessly, requesting large quantities of essential healthcare equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Requests for more than 75,000 N95 respirators, 97,000 surgical masks, 22,000 face shields, 74,000 surgical gowns, 500 coveralls, 2.2 million gloves and 50 ventilators have gone unfilled, according to the newspaper.
In Wednesday’s press conference, Gordon continued to defend his decision not to issue a statewide “stay-at-home” order like the majority of state governors. Gordon cited data compiled by Google showing decreases in state residents’ movements. As of April 5, the website reported trips for “retail and recreation” were down 39%, while trips to workplaces were down 31%.
Trips to “parks,” however, were up 22% in Wyoming. Google defined parks as “places like national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas, and public gardens.”
The company claims it uses “aggregated and anonymized” data to compile the statistics.
Economic impacts continued to mount from the virus and the government response. The state saw unemployment numbers continue to skyrocket this week, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Journalism in the state is among the industries being assailed.
Nationally, the pressure on food banks is up, the New York Times reported.
The McMurry Companies of Casper donated $25,000 to five nonprofits on the frontline of COVID-19’s economic impacts, including several food banks, according to the Wyoming News Exchange. The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole raised $1.4 million since March 13, $750,000 of which came from philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.
In Lingle, a resident developed a weekly town-wide scavenger hunt where houses post clues in windows and hunters roam the town by car or on foot, the Lingle Guide reported. This week’s hunt will send scavengers searching for Easter eggs, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Around the state, meanwhile, marquees on theaters, churches, bars and other buildings beam out messages of support.