With schools reopened, a general election around the corner and the COVID-19 pandemic still very much alive in Natrona County, officials worry a lack of compliance with mask wearing and social distancing could cause a significant spike in the community.
“We are in a whole new level of hell, really,” Anna Kinder, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, told Natrona County commissioners in a work session Tuesday.
“The only thing we have is social distancing, number one, that is the one true fail-safe we have, the second one is face coverings,” Kinder told the Commissioners.
Statewide, health officials have looked at the reopening of schools with cautious optimism as the first week concluded without any school-wide outbreaks anywhere in the state.
But in Natrona County, cases community-wide have surged in recent weeks.
The county has experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the month, with 65 new cases reported in the county since Sept. 1. That’s more cases than were reported in the entire month of August, when Natrona County tallied 63 new positives.
Several times during Tuesday’s meeting Kinder stressed the extra work her department has been doing, adding that with schools back in session, contact tracing is immensely more difficult.
“It’s an everyday situation we’re dealing with,” at the schools, Kinder explained, saying contact tracing a high school student who has multiple classes with different students, plus after-school activities, creates a large burden.
The department has used CARES money to hire four new temporary contact tracers, Kinder said, and Casper College’s nursing program is providing manpower by allowing students to assist the department. But Kinder isn’t sure that will be enough to meet the new workload created by in-person instruction.
“I don’t know how we’re going to continue to keep up,” she said.
Kinder gave the update Tuesday just after the county’s risk manager, Matt Kowalski, presented an update of his own regarding face masks.
County employees have not been mandated to wear masks by the commissioners. Lacking a mandate, mask wearing is inconsistent among county employees, Kowalski said.
He said he’s received complaints both from employees who wish their peers in other departments would wear masks, and from employees who are opposed to the practice.
The commissioners first asked Kinder her thoughts, during which she stressed the need to wear masks to limit COVID-19 transmission. The commission agreed that county employees should follow Centers for Disease Control and local health department guidance.
Commissioners discussed the potential impacts of an entire department being quarantined because of an outbreak and how that would affect the county’s ability to maintain operations, but left the issue at following recommendations, rather than imposing a requirement.
Commissioner chair Rob Hendry said there hadn’t been any cases within county staff, and that the organization was so far healthy, “but if we have one case in here that can be spread, things are going to change.”
No commissioner except for Hendry wore a mask during the meeting, and Hendry himself said the only reason he was wearing one was because he’d come down with a cold.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites
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