Virus FILE Masks

CHEYENNE – As Wyoming’s number of active COVID-19 cases have continued to spike to new record levels daily over the past week, Laramie County has not been exempt from that trend.

Instead, with 255 active cases as of Monday afternoon, Laramie County has risen to the second-highest number of active cases in the state, trailing only its neighbor Albany County, which has 278 ongoing cases.

Less than a month ago, the Cheyenne area was bucking the statewide trend of rising case numbers. But over the last two weeks, the number of active cases has risen by roughly 150% – from 77 cases on Sept. 27 to 255 on Monday.

In the last week alone, an estimated 700 people in Laramie County have been quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19, Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons said Monday.

“It's no longer just isolated to Cheyenne – it’s throughout the whole county,” Emmons said. “It's just very concerning. We’re at a point now that this is what keeps me up at night.”

The most concerning aspect of the rising case numbers, Emmons said, has been "the obvious decrease in the use of masks in the community.”

“We know that (wearing a mask) is one of the things that really makes a difference,” Emmons said. “When you know what will help stop it or decrease it, and people just decide they don't want to do it, that's really disappointing. … There’s a definite cause and effect.”

The rise has so overwhelmed Laramie County health officials that the Wyoming National Guard, which was activated by Gov. Mark Gordon last week to assist with contact tracing statewide, started assisting the local contact tracing team on Monday, Emmons said.

“It's just been at an intensity level we've never seen … so today, I did reach out, and we gave the Guard at least 20 cases to go do quarantines on,” Emmons said.

Recently, Gordon has reiterated that he is not interested in imposing additional restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in his most recent press conference Oct. 5, the governor made a “serious call to action” to Wyomingites to reduce the spread of the virus.

"We have loosened our restrictions because we thought that people in Wyoming would do the right thing – and I continue to believe that they will – because we don't want to see us go backward, we don't want to lose the high ground that we have,” Gordon said. "I do know that all of this is very fatiguing, but I have to say, our current scenario is extremely concerning.”

Though Wyoming counties can request local variations to the statewide public health orders, Emmons said there isn't much interest at the county or state level to implement a public mask mandate, which 33 other states currently have in place.

“We like to make sure that people are using their individual will to do the right thing, so I don't think that there's much of a chance of having a mandatory mask requirement signed off on at any level,” Emmons said.

Emmons said Wyoming's number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, which rose to an all-time high last week, will be a major statistic to keep an eye on.

"I heard today that North Dakota has 20 beds available in hospitals in the whole state,” Emmons said. "If we get to that point, I would anticipate that something will have to happen.”

In the meantime, her team at the county health department plans to keep encouraging the most important prevention steps for residents to take.

“Think about the people around you that you care about, and do whatever you can to protect them,” Emmons said. “We know that that is simply wearing masks, social distancing and don't go to work when you're sick."

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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