Wyoming News Exchange

Wyoming News Exchange

Gordon declares state of emergency, third case of COVID-19 confirmed


By Isabella Alves

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange 


CHEYENNE - Gov. Mark Gordon declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon in Wyoming over the outbreak of COVID-19, a few hours before a second case of the virus was confirmed in the state. A third case was confirmed Saturday.

To date, a Sheridan County woman, who is being isolated at her home, is the first confirmed case of COVID-19, a new novel strain of the coronavirus.

The second confirmed case is an older adult male Fremont County resident who is currently hospitalized. His exposure risk isn't known at this time, and the Wyoming Department of Health is working to identify and notify people who had close contact with this person.

The third confirmed case is the second Sheridan County resident.   The man, who had been visiting in Colorado, was tested positive there and drove back home to Sheridan to self-isolate. As of 4 p.m. Friday, the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory had tested 22 people from COVID-19, with only the one positive test result, which was confirmed Wednesday. The second positive result followed later Friday. The third was announced via a Wyoming Department of Health news release on Saturday. 

The laboratory has the capacity to test about 10 samples for the virus per day, said Dr. Alexia Harrist, Wyoming Department of Health state health officer and state epidemiologist.

Gordon said he's declaring the emergency to help ensure a quick activation of the Wyoming National Guard if needed. The emergency declaration also allows businesses to apply for federal funding from the Small Business Association to help offset any impact from the pandemic.

He emphasized that the declaration didn't represent an escalation of concern, but being proactive. It also allows state health officers more flexibility to address community needs.

Earlier Friday, President Donald Trump also declared a national state of emergency over COVID-19 to help free up federal funds to fight the virus.

The Wyoming Department of Health lifted the requirement for getting approval from the department for COVID-19 testing. Now providers don't have to call the department to send "specimen" samples for testing, and only have to submit an online request form.

The emergency declaration also gives the department the ability to prescribe medications to large groups, Harrist said. It also gives health care providers liability protections if they're following instructions from the state health officer.

"I think that there is a possibility that there are cases out there that we have not yet diagnosed," Harrist said. "I will say that we have been prioritizing, especially testing the highest risk individuals, who based on either travel or known exposure to other cases, have had a more higher likelihood of having COVID-19. However, I do expect that we will identify more cases of COVID-19 in the upcoming days and weeks."

Harrist did add that she doesn't think there is extensive transmission of the virus that is going on unrecognized.

In addition, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center hosted a press conference Friday morning to help inform the community about what the hospital is doing to prepare, and had one of the few infectious disease specialists in the state, Dr. Hoo Feng Choo, speak on the virus.

The hospital is already practicing its emergency preparedness procedures, and regularly goes over emergency preparedness on a routine basis, CRMC President and CEO Tim Thornell said. Plans are adapted and modified to address how COVID-19 spreads and the best practices for how to combat it.

"We remain very agile and adaptable to what the situation is, so it's very important to know that we expect things to change over time, not necessarily because things are getting markedly worse, but just because we have new information coming in and new protocols that we will be following and adapting to and working with the situation," Thornell said.

In general, kids do get different types of coronaviruses that cause upper respiratory infections, Choo said. However, COVID-19 is different than other coronaviruses due to a change in the virus' genome.

At this time, people don't know if the virus is going to mutate or if people will be able to develop any natural immunities to the virus in cases such as those with other illnesses. This is why it's important that a vaccine is developed, Choo said.

"I don't think it's been around long enough for us to kind of know if it's going to mutate (or) what our immune systems are going to do with it," emergency room physician Jessica Hughes said.

Of the people who get the virus, about 80% of them will only have mild symptoms, and only 20% of patients would required further medical treatment including oxygen therapy.

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is estimated to be around 2% to 4%, and for comparison the flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%, Choo said.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also said emergency warning signs of COVID-19 are difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain like chest pressure, confusion, inability to arouse, bluish lips or face and more. If people develop symptoms such as these, they should seek medical attention immediately.

Choo said if people have COVID-19 symptoms, to call their doctor to see if they're stable enough to be monitored at home. He also stressed the importance of social distancing and quarantining to break the chain of transmission of the virus.

"It's actually saved lives," Choo said. "Social distancing saves lives."

The emergency room is also one of the main access points in the hospital. CRMC is asking people to call the hospital ahead of time if they are coming to the ER with COVID-19 symptoms if they feel they need medical attention.

People are also being asked to go straight to the emergency department and not walk through the hospital. There are also signs posted asking if people have a fever or cough, to push a designated button so someone can meet them with a mask.

Choo also stressed that hoarding supplies such as hand sanitizer is to people's detriment. He said people should be sanitizing their hands with a solution that is at least 60% alcohol. Hughes also said if she didn't have hand soap, she'd be using items such as dish soap.

"You should not stockpile," Choo said. "There's a point where, if you do stockpile it's putting others at risk, and eventually that risk is going to come back to you."

He said, for instance, stockpiling hand sanitizer leaves others without it. If those without sanitizer touch a surface and are infected, then it puts those who stockpiled sanitizer at risk.

As of right now, it's difficult to determine how long COVID-19 will continue to impact people's lives. Choo said the graph that's showing the infection rate hasn't plateaued, and it's hard to predict any sort of timeline.

CRMC is implementing voluntary visitor restrictions in some areas of the hospital, and mandatory in others such as oncology and the intensive care unit.

The voluntary restrictions include making sure any patient coming into the hospital with a fever, cold or flu symptoms are given a mask. Visitors with flu or cold symptoms aren't allowed to visit any area of the hospital and will be asked to leave. However, no one under the age of 12 will be allowed to visit any area of the hospital, and no more than two visitors are allowed at a time.

At the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center isn't allowing any visitors in its nursing home, only one caretaker over the age of 18 for people in the outpatient clinics, and only one visitor over the age of 18 is allowed in the hospital.


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