EVANSTON — Uinta County now has 120 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which means the county now has the third highest total of cases in the state, more than 90% of which have occurred in the past three weeks. Confirmations continued to come in over the weekend as tests were conducted at the Wyoming Public Health Lab. The county has another 28 probable cases, which means an individual with a known exposure to a positive case who later develops symptoms but has not been tested. There have been 20 COVID-19 fatalities in Wyoming.
The new cases are almost exclusively in Evanston residents, with only one of the new cases in a person residing in the Bridger Valley. Besides being notified of the new cases, Uinta County Public Health has received confirmation of the first very serious illnesses in COVID-19 patients. At least three hospitalizations have been confirmed and two individuals continue to be hospitalized in the intensive care unit. One of those ICU hospitalizations is a patient in the over-60 age group while the other is under 60 years of age. No additional information was provided about the condition of those hospitalized or where those hospitalizations have occurred.
A statement from Uinta County Public Health said most of the latest positive cases continue to be connected to positive cases believed to have resulted from gatherings over Memorial Day weekend and the following weekend – either contacts of those who first developed symptoms or contacts of contacts - although some have no direct link to any of the other positive cases.
During a weekly community update on Friday, June 19, Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit again stressed the growing number of confirmed cases isn’t simply attributable to increased testing.
“Yes, we’re definitely doing more testing, but that’s because we have more symptomatic people,” said Proffit.
She said it’s extremely important to look at the percentage of tests that are positive. If increased testing alone was responsible for the increasing case count, the percentage of positive tests should stay the same or decrease. Instead, in Uinta County the percentage of positive tests has gone from just over 1% to more than 18% in the past couple of weeks.
Proffit also discussed the large number of people throughout Uinta County who are either quarantined because of exposure or isolated because of a confirmed infection. Last week there were more than 250 people either quarantined or isolated, and Proffit said public health has been getting calls from concerned citizens about people violating the public health orders to stay at home.
“This is about basic community responsible and respect,” said Proffit. “The orders are enforceable, and people could be prosecuted, but we don’t want to be utilizing our resources for that.”
She also once again stressed the importance of social distancing and wearing cloth face masks to protect others. “We do have some evidence of presymptomatic spread, where people were in contact with others before they knew they were sick,” she said. “Mask wearing is a ‘thing’ because of asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread.”
She also emphasized the role of individual choices in spreading the infection to others. “There has been some spread to high-risk people that has come from people working in healthcare agencies who made choices outside of work that then exposed other people.”
While many of the cases during this outbreak have been confirmed in young people between the ages of 20 and 29, Proffit said there are also several cases in teenagers. She urged caution when young people are gathered, especially if playing sports. She said public health encourages physical activity and being outdoors but said contact sports at the present time are “ill advised.”
Proffit also addressed the concept of herd immunity.
“Yes, herd immunity is a thing,” she said, “and eventually we’d like to get there, but we don’t want to do that all at once and this quickly.” “We’ve all kind of been slapped upside the head with this,” said Proffit. “This is a time for us all to take some responsibility for each other. There’s been a lot of talk about a second wave nationally, but we’re probably still in the first wave here in our community.”
When asked about the current situation at Evanston Regional Hospital and the hospital’s ICU capacity, ERH CEO Cheri Willard said the fully-equipped ICU typically has three patient beds but plans have been made to expand to 12 beds if needed in response to the pandemic.
“We routinely provide continuous monitoring and treatment of critically ill patients, including those on ventilators,” said Willard.
In addition, ERH is an affiliate of the University of Utah, which includes TeleICU services to allow ERH physicians to consult with U of U health specialists on patient condition and treatment options. This service is in place to hopefully reduce the number of patients requiring transfer to Utah hospitals said Willard.
In addition to the curbside COVID-19 screening available at ERH, Willard said hospital staff have taken other steps to meet the needs associated with the current local outbreak. “We’ve also implemented additional measures and precautions inside the hospital…This includes but is not limited to separate entrances and designated exam rooms for patients with COVID-19 symptoms. PPE (personal protective equipment) also plays a critical role in keeping our staff and patients safe. We have had months now to practice and streamline operations in preparation for this moment.”
Proffit, a member of the Uinta County COVID-19 incident management team, said it’s possible that if cases continue the rise, the county could seek a variance to make the county more restrictive to current and upcoming public health orders issued by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist. Proffit said preliminary discussions about that possibility have been held, but at this stage public health officials have been consulting with event planners and businesses and urging them to implement safety precautions that surpass those required in health orders.