At least five of the coronavirus patients in Fremont County are critically ill and breathing with the assistance of ventilators, the county’s health officer said Wednesday.
The comment by Dr. Brian Gee came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state grew to 137, an increase of 17 cases from Tuesday. The biggest increase was seen in Laramie County, which added eight cases during the day for a total of 35.
The state’s health officer, Dr. Alexia Harrist, had said during a news conference Monday that 16 coronavirus patients had been hospitalized since the beginning of the outbreak.
Gee said half of those hospitalized patients are in Fremont County.
“And more than half of them are critically ill and on ventilators,” he said.
Fremont County has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, the Fremont County Incident Management Team reported that over the last 14 days, 608 people have been directed to self-isolate because they were showing signs of the illness.
Gee stressed that some of those patients are not elderly.
“The young are not immune,” he said. “Our county currently has three patients under 60 who are seriously or critically ill.”
Increases in case counts were seen in six counties on Wednesday – Campbell, Converse, Laramie, Natrona, Teton and Sweetwater.
As of Wednesday evening, Laramie County had 35 cases; Teton County had 26; Fremont County had 25; Natrona County had 14; Sheridan County had 10; Johnson County had seven; Campbell County had five; Albany, Carbon and Sweetwater all had three cases, and Converse County had two. Goshen, Park, Sublette and Washakie counties each had one case.
In Teton County, earlier increases in the case number prompted county officials to issue what they called a called a “stay-at-home” order for the county’s residents.
The county adopted an order for residents to limit their contact to individuals within the same household.
Dr. Travis Riddell, Teton County’s health officer, said the most recent order, signed Monday by Harrist, is more of an actual requirement than a suggestion.
“For all intents and purposes, it is a stay-at-home order,” he said.
The order still allows people to leave their homes to obtain or deliver supplies, to care for someone in another household, to obtain medical care or to go to work.
Violation of the order can be punished with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.
Law enforcement officers in Teton County said they are not aggressively enforcing the orders.
“They aren’t looking for heavy-handed enforcement,” said Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith. “It’s a mechanism to send a strong message.”
Gov. Mark Gordon has resisted issuing a statewide “stay-at-home” order, saying the three statewide orders already in place are sufficient to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections. Those orders closed schools and businesses where more than 10 people are like to gather; close businesses that provide personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, and prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.
Gordon said during a news conference Monday that if he issues a statewide order, it will be very restrictive and contain very few exceptions.
“If we’re going to issue a ‘shelter-in-place’ or ‘stay-at-home’ order, it is not going to have multiple exemptions,” he said. “It will be a true ‘shelter-in-place’ order.”
In other developments:
Back-to-school: School districts across the state prepared to teach their students remotely beginning Monday, April 6. Most of the state’s school districts extended their spring breaks by one to two weeks because of coronavirus and used that time to get plans in place to provide online lessons until restrictions are lifted. Gov. Gordon’s order closing schools is in place until at least April 17.
Utility relief: Utility bills for March are being waived for Dubois residents. Dubois Town Council members have agreed that because of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus and related business shutdowns, no bills would be sent for city-provided utilities for the month of March.
Connected cases: In a case that shows how the COVID-19 virus can spread, Sweetwater County’s two coronavirus cases have been linked to cases in Natrona County. Officials with the Sweetwater County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center announced the link Tuesday during their daily briefing. Officials also said more than 50 people who have had contact with the two patients in the county are either showing symptoms of coronavirus and have been quarantined or are proactively self-isolating.
Better grade: Wyoming’s grade for self-isolating success has gone up in recent days to a “D-.” Unacast, a company that uses cellphone signals to track the movement of people, reported Wyoming residents have reduced their travel by 25% since late February and have cut back on “nonessential visits” by 55% to 60%.
The state about a week ago had received an “F” because travel by its residents actually increased slightly from late February. The state’s travel still merits an “F” in the company’s rankings, but its reduction in nonessential visits earns it a “D.”
Tracking the untested: A volunteer group is collecting information on Wyoming residents who believe they have coronavirus symptoms but have been unable to be tested. UntestedWyoming is asking individuals to use its website, UntestedWyoming.com, to report their symptoms, experiences and, if desired, contact information for delivery to Wyoming’s COVID-19 Task Force and Gordon.
Nick Schwaderer, a programmer and former Montana legislator, created the website for Wyoming about a week after launching a similar site for Montana.
Health officials have said they are prioritizing who to test for the illness because of the nationwide shortage of test kits. First priority is being given to hospitalized patients and health care providers and staff.
Re-evaluation requested: State Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, is asking Gordon to reconsider his orders closing businesses and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people. In a letter to Gordon, Clem said he can see no “end-game” to the business closures forced by the coronavirus and resulting job losses and economic impacts.
Clem suggested Gordon develop plans to send people back to work and school while focusing state resources on reinforcing the state medical community’s ability to deal with coronavirus. He also suggested Gordon call a special legislative session to deal with the issue.