EVANSTON — Uinta County’s confirmed COVID-19 case numbers have more than doubled since the afternoon of Thursday, June 4, with five new cases confirmed that afternoon, another five new cases confirmed over the weekend and additional cases confirmed Monday morning. Uinta County now has 22 confirmed cases and another three probable, with 12 listed as recovered by the Wyoming Department of Health.
Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said the new cases were “kind of a slap in the face” because they came when local health officials were feeling fairly optimistic about the county’s numbers and the possibility that the county could avoid some of the tremendous impacts COVID has had on other areas. She said, however, that it won’t be surprising for the numbers to increase in coming days. “We’re right at the point where sickness would be showing up after possible exposures over Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “Those that were exposed this week will probably show symptoms this coming weekend or next week, so I think it is likely that our case count will continue to grow.”
Although Wyoming and Uinta County have been urging and conducting increased COVID testing in recent weeks, the new cases this week cannot simply be attributed to increases in testing because, according to a release from Uinta County Public Health, there were actually far fewer tests conducted last week than the previous week, with total tests of approximately 90 down from 140 previously.
With the jump in new cases, Proffit said it’s currently “all hands on deck” for public health staff working on contact tracing to identify other people potentially exposed to those with confirmed infection and determine which other individuals need to be quarantined. Proffit said all those deemed at risk for exposure will be contacted directly by public health staff.
“If you’re not contacted, then you’re not considered at risk for possible exposure during the contagious period,” she said.
Complicating matters is the fact that several of the new cases have the potential for large impacts in terms of numbers of other people exposed and the health status of those exposures. Proffit said the large impact potential is due to multiple factors, including where the positive cases work, as well as household sizes and places visited or events people attended during the contagious period.
Wyoming Department of Health Public Information Officer Kim Deti confirmed that one of the positive cases is a new hire at the Wyoming State Hospital who tested positive after participating in orientation at WSH earlier in the week. Deti said that person did not have any contact with patients and “appropriate action and follow-up did occur with the staff who were in contact with the individual.”
Proffit said the cases are also concerning because of the lack of a known source of infection.
“Few of our positive cases seem to have connections with each other or to other known cases, which means we are seeing the virus circulate more within the community. That means it will make a significant difference to wear masks in public, to continue to mind social distancing and to continue to restrict travel that isn’t necessary,” said Proffit.
“We really want to be done with these things, but I think these new cases indicate the importance of keeping it up.” Proffit further said Uinta County has thus far been lucky not to have any cases of severe illness among those with confirmed cases, with all but one case in adults and all cases so far isolating and recovering at home. She said many rural areas are just now starting to see a surge in cases and there is concern that as case numbers and exposures increase, so will hospitalizations.
According to Proffit, some of the new cases were in people who were asymptomatic, while most were in people who had self-referred after experiencing symptoms.
Proffit reiterated that public health orders are still in place, including those requiring servers in restaurants and bars to wear face coverings and those requiring patrons in restaurants and bars to be seated at least 6 feet apart from other tables. Proffit said public health had been receiving questions about whether those orders were still in effect, as well as complaints about some local businesses not complying.
“We’re really asking businesses to comply,” said Proffit. She said law enforcement will not likely be conducting routine checks but stressed that if an outbreak were to be tied to a business, that business can be held both criminally and civilly liable for any damages.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 also continue to impact the state as a whole, as the pandemic has only hastened and exacerbated the state’s economic woes. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced on Thursday, June 4, that all state agencies have been instructed to take immediate action to reduce spending and prepare for deep cuts in the coming months.
Gordon’s announcement said state agency directors have been tasked with identifying programs to eliminate by July 1, as well as with explaining those programs and the consequences of eliminating them. “These cuts will likely lead to some employees losing their jobs,” reads the announcement, which also said agencies have been asked to “consider salary reductions, furloughs, reductions in benefits and other options.”
Gordon’s statement said the Wyoming Legislature is facing an unprecedented challenge. “We are in uncharted territory. We have just experienced the largest loss of income in our history just four years after our second largest loss of income. But, even if every state employee was let go, or if we closed the prisons, eliminated all money going to the courts, and stopped funding persons with disabilities, we would still run out of funds at the end of the biennium.”
Gordon referenced the substantially decreased revenues from energy production, including coal revenues that are down 25% and continue to decline and projected oil revenues that have dropped more than 50% in the past three months. “Gas is selling for 1970-level prices and there is no new production. Compounding this, sales tax revenues (also largely driven by mineral development) are in steep decline.”
Gordon said spending cuts alone will not be enough to address the problem and said he is committed to working with the Legislature on other ways to fund “an appropriate level of government services,” including use of the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), the Special Investment and Projects Account (SIPA) or revenue enhancements.”
As the state tackles its fiscal woes, relief is available for Wyoming small businesses in the form of programs created during the recent special legislative session. Wyoming businesses are able to apply for grant relief from the Wyoming Business Council with $325 million in funding allocated through the federal CARES Act. Further details and information on how to apply for the grant dollars is now available at wyobizrelief.org.
There is also funding available for Wyoming residents having difficulties making mortgage or rent payments due to loss of income because of the pandemic. The Wyoming Community Development Authority has announced the launch of the Wyoming Emergency Housing Assistance Program, which can help qualified individuals with one month of emergency rent of mortgage payment assistance up to $2,000, with subsequent assistance dependent upon an approved application. Further information and an application are available at www.wyomingcda.com.
Finally, Evanston’s annual July 4 Fresh Air, Freedom and Fun Festival has become the latest victim of COVID-19, after the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department announced the festival will not take place this year. The festival itself is canceled, as are the annual kids’ parade and concert; however, the 5K Fun Run and Walk will take place on the morning of July 4, with more details to be announced at a later date.
As of press time, there were 734 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming, with another 213 probable cases. A total of 757 cases are listed as recovered and there have been 17 fatalities. Cases have been reported in all 23 Wyoming counties. A grand total of 27,702 tests have been conducted in Wyoming.