Health officials are working to determine the potential spread of illness from an assisted-living facility patient in Lander infected with coronavirus, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Saturday. Meanwhile, officials said a third person has tested positive for the virus in Wyoming.
The Fremont County patient is a resident of Showboat Retirement Center and is now in isolation at SageWest Health Care in Lander, according to the Health Department. That prompted state and county health officials to conduct interviews at both facilities.
A Health Department spokeswoman said Showboat is an assisted-living facility. She wasn’t sure how many patients it had but understood it to be small.
They will recommend testing and other steps to help protect residents, patients and staff. Symptoms of the disease include cough, fever and shortness of breath.
It’s unclear how the man, the second Wyomingite identified with coronavirus, was exposed to the infection and how many others he may have exposed to it.
“Our initial follow-up with this individual found nothing that could be explained other than potential community spread of this virus in the Lander area,” Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the Health Department, said in a statement.
Community spread means the potential spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown, Harrist said. Wyoming’s first coronavirus case, a Sheridan woman now recovering at home, had traveled domestically; officials have said they believe they’ve contacted those who may have been affected by the patient and that at least two people were in self-quarantine.
“We’re reminding everyone of how genuinely critical it is to do their part,” Harrist said. “Take common-sense steps to avoid sharing your germs with others, especially with those who are more vulnerable to serious illness.”
Harrist is recommending, based on federal nursing home guidelines, that there should be no visitors or nonessential health care personnel at Wyoming assisted living centers, except in end-of-life and certain compassionate care situations.
The epidemiologist emphasized the importance of protecting older Wyomingites and the long-term facilities in which they may live. Dr. Mark Dowell, the county health officer in Natrona County, previously said that the average age of Americans who’d died of the disease caused by coronavirus, COVID-19, is 80 years old.
“This is probably our top concern and priority,” Harrist said Saturday. “There are things we don’t yet fully understand about this disease, but it is clear that older people are among those at the very highest risk of severe illness.”
Kim Deti, a Health Department spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the condition of the patient.
One of the worst clusters of COVID-19 in the U.S. is in Washington; the epicenter of the outbreak there is a nursing home outside of Seattle. Nearly 50 employees at the facility have tested positive for the disease as of this Friday, according to a Fox News report. Sixty-three patients at the facility have also tested positive, and 25 deaths have been linked to the outbreak there. Overall, 95 employees there have showed symptoms.
State officials have said that protecting and preventing spread among the state’s oldest residents is a top priority. Wyoming has one of the oldest populations in the nation.
Bill Walsh, who works for AARP’s national office, told the Star-Tribune last week that the virus — which is highly contagious — can easily spread in retirement facilities where people have close, prolonged contact with one another. The residents there also have frequent visitors, who can either bring in the disease or carry it out.
“In terms of folks in Wyoming, they should continue to follow guidelines of the local health department,” Walsh said. “They’re on the ground, they know the contingencies. I would urge older Wyomingites to pay attention to advice from local and state authorities. Even in rural areas, they don’t want to congregate.”
In a statement, a SageWest spokeswoman said the hospital had been preparing for a possible COVID-19 case for weeks and that it was safe for other patients and ill Lander and Riverton residents to come to the hospital.
Just before the Fremont County case was confirmed Friday night, Lander-based Central Wyoming College announced it was extending its spring break and preparing to move classes online. The University of Wyoming and several other state community colleges had made similar announcements before.
Third patient identified
Soon after announcing that health officials were investigating the potential spread of illness in the Fremont County case, the Health Department said a Sheridan County man had been identified as Wyoming’s third known coronavirus patient.
Health officials have linked the man to the previously identified coronavirus case in Sheridan County, according to the Department of Health.
Testing on the man was performed in Colorado, where the man was visiting, the Health Department said.
The Health Department is following up to learn more about the man’s exposure risk and who he may have been in close contact with, the agency said in an announcement. People he was in contact with will be monitored for symptoms and could be tested if needed.
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