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Seven Wyoming coronavirus patients identified in 24 hours as state total climbs to 17
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Seven Wyoming coronavirus patients identified in 24 hours as state total climbs to 17

Wyoming Medical Center respiratory clinic

Dr. Andy Dunn shows equipment at a station outside of Wyoming Medical Center's new respiratory clinic. Cases of coronavirus have increased around the state.

In a span of 24 hours, Wyoming health officials identified seven more cases of coronavirus, four of them in Cheyenne. As of early evening Wednesday, the state’s new total for confirmed cases of the respiratory illness stands at 17.

The new cases are four in Cheyenne, including one service member on F.E. Warren Air Force Base; a Park County woman who works for the Cody hospital; and two Sheridan County residents whose cases are linked to previous cases there.

Details vary from case to case; for the first time, entities other than the state Department of Health have confirmed cases, with the military and the city of Cheyenne each identifying one Wednesday. The Cody health care worker is a woman who’s not hospitalized and is self-quarantined at home. One of the Cheyenne cases is a woman in her 40s who was described as “healthy.”

The state’s total stands at 17 patients, all of whom have been identified in the past week. According to the New York Times’ daily tracker, there have been more than 8,000 cases across the United States as of Wednesday night. At least 143 patients have died as a result of the respiratory illness, which causes fever, shortness of breath and cough.

There have now been 68 deaths in Washington state, where a cluster tied to a nursing home has led to more than 100 people testing positive. Every state in America now has a confirmed case. In Colorado, 33 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday alone, bringing the state’s total to 216, according to state data.

In Wyoming, many of the cases are linked to others. Eight patients in Lander are either staff members or patients at an assisted-living center that’s under quarantine. Four Sheridan County cases, including the two new patients, are linked together.

Last Wednesday afternoon, F.E. Warren confirmed one of its service members had contracted the virus after traveling out of state.

“The safety and security of the men and women of F.E. Warren AFB remains our top priority,” Col. Peter M. Bonetti, 90th Missile Wing Commander, said in a statement. “I can assure you that our operations remain unaffected. We will continue to work with our local and federal partners to actively combat the spread of COVID-19.”

In Park County, a spokeswoman for Cody Regional Health confirmed in an email that the Park County patient was an employee of the hospital.

“As per national protocol The Wyoming Department of Health and Park County Public Health are leading the investigation and providing guidance to Cody Regional Health upon next steps,” spokeswoman Annalea Avery said in an email to the Star-Tribune. “CRH Incident Command is actively involved in taking measures to ensure continued employee and patient safety.”

The state has continued to change its testing guidelines as the situation in Wyoming evolves. In a Wednesday notice sent to providers, the Health Department said it was now prioritizing tests for health care workers, hospitalized patients, those living in communal settings, those who may develop a serious case of the illness and those who’ve been in contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19.

That same message told providers to send non-priority tests — like those of patients with mild symptoms — to private labs. It also told hospitals to “enact plans for enhanced surge capacity.”

“While we don’t know exactly how widespread this illness will become and how many residents will require hospitalization, we do believe it’s a good idea for facilities to be ready,” Health Departments spokeswoman Kim Deti told the Star-Tribune. “This is a quickly changing and unpredictable situation.”

How to publicize?

After the second Cheyenne patient was confirmed Tuesday night, Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr criticized how the news got out. An hour before the Health Department announced the four new cases, Amy Surdam, who owns an acute care clinic in the capital, tweeted that the facility’s “first COVID test came back” and that it was positive, referring to the Laramie County woman who would be one of the four cases announced by the state.

In her tweet, Surdam identified the female patient as a 49-year-old “healthy female.” She added that her clinic hoped to have additional results Wednesday.

Just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, Orr tweeted that Surdam breaking the news over Twitter before the department was “simply unacceptable.”

“(A)nother case has been confirmed in Laramie County and was sent via Twitter,” she wrote, directing the tweet at Gov. Mark Gordon. “Lock your agency down now, demand direct communication with locals. Please.”

Earlier in the day Tuesday, after the first Laramie County case was announced, Orr tweeted that the Health Department had taken it “upon themselves to release information to the press regarding our first presumably positive case in Cheyenne,” expressing frustration that the department hadn’t included any city or county responses in the release.

“I expect better in the future,” she said, tagging Gordon.

Deti, the Health Department spokeswoman, said the Laramie County health department was notified of that first case before the state announced it. As for the second case, the one announced by Surdam, Deti said the clinic had let the state know about the results, which — Deti said — were from a private lab, not the state-run facility.

“(If) a provider gets results from a private lab, they do need to let us know,” she told the Star-Tribune. “That did happen. But then if a private provider chooses to share that information publicly on their own, that would be that provider’s decision.”

She added that the state Health Department “will stick to our standards and practices necessary both to share relevant health information and protect patient privacy.”

The press releases from the Health Department over the past week announcing positive cases are typically relatively bare bones; they confirm the case, identify the county and gender of the patient, and sometimes generally describe the patient’s age.

Quick escalation

When the Department of Health announced four new cases Tuesday night, that made 12 new Wyoming COVID-19 cases confirmed in 24 hours. Late Monday night, the Wyoming Department of Health reported that seven new patients had been identified, all in Fremont County. All seven were tied to an earlier case involving a man living at a Lander assisted-living center. A health official in Fremont County said all were either residents or staff members at Showboat Retirement Center. Others tied to the facility and potentially exposed to the disease have been tested.

The addition of two more patients Wednesday add to this week’s mounting total.

Beyond the two from Wednesday, four from Tuesday night and the eight in Lander, three other cases have been identified by the state over the past week. The most recent was the Cheyenne man, who was reported on Tuesday afternoon. Last week, two Sheridan County residents also tested positive for coronavirus. One, a woman, was recovering at home. The second was a man who was tested while visiting Colorado. Officials say those two Sheridan cases are linked.

By Wednesday morning, the state had run more than 180 tests. Wyoming Medical Center had seen nearly 300 patients in its respiratory clinic and tested 14 of them for COVID-19. The hospital itself tested another four.

COVID-19, which is the disease this new coronavirus causes, can result in respiratory issues. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Anyone who is concerned that they may have COVID-19 is asked not to immediately head to the emergency room unless they’re having significant breathing problems. Instead, they’re asked to call their health care provider and get guidance on how to move forward.

There is no vaccine for COVID-19. Most people, those who don’t require hospitalization, will self-isolate at home for a couple of weeks. More than 80 percent of patients will have mild symptoms from the disease.

Officials have urged all residents to practice social distancing, which means minimizing close contact with others to cut down on the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19.

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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