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Northern Arapaho Tribe, Carbon County announce first coronavirus cases
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Northern Arapaho Tribe, Carbon County announce first coronavirus cases

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The Northern Arapaho Tribe and Carbon County have announced their first respective cases of COVID-19.

The Carbon County patient is an employee of Memorial Hospital of Carbon County. The Northern Arapaho patient is related to the other cases in Fremont County, which stem from an assisted-living facility in Lander.

“As we investigate this case and hear more about the other cases in the county we have good reason to believe that there are many more cases in the community,” Dr. Paul Ebbert of the Wind River Family and Community Health Center said in the tribe’s announcement Saturday morning.

The Northern Arapaho patient is a woman in her 70s from the Ethete area. She is in stable condition and receiving medical treatment, according to an announcement from the tribe. 

Health authorities are attempting to screen and isolate anyone who may have had contact with her.

“We are gravely concerned about the health threat that COVID-19 poses to Northern Arapaho members and the larger Wind River Indian Reservation,” Chairman Lee Spoonhunter of the Northern Arapaho Business Council said in a news release. “... Now is the time for the Arapaho people to look out for each other. With our prayers and traditional way of life, and by following common sense health precautions, we will emerge from this challenge stronger than before.”

It was not clear Saturday whether the case was in addition to the nine previously confirmed cases in Fremont County or if the patient is one of the nine. As of 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the state still listed nine confirmed cases in the county and 23 in the state. State Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said shortly after noon she did not currently have any information on a new case in the county.

“In light of this we are recommending that all tribal members stay at home this weekend unless they have an emergency of some kind,” Ebbert said in the statement. “You should not congregate in groups, you should not go to the store unless you absolutely have to, you should not go visit other tribal members who do not live in your home and should avoid gatherings of any kind.

“These are tough and scary times. I know that many of these suggestions go against tribal traditions and family structure. However it is very, very important that we not be exposed and that we do not expose other tribal members especially our elders. We asked all tribal members to please comply with these recommendations.”

The Carbon County patient is an adult man over 50.

“It is important to note that the employee does not work in a clinical area and has been self-isolated at home for the last seven days,” a statement from Memorial Hospital of Carbon County read. “Hospital employees who had contact with the individual are practicing self-isolation and none are experiencing symptoms.”

Ken Harman, CEO of the Rawlins hospital, said the employee’s role did not require him to come in contact with patients on a daily basis. The man tested positive at one of the hospital’s clinics after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, though Harman said he “was never symptomatic at work.”

“He started developing his symptoms on the weekend,” Harman said in an interview. “He never had any exposure to employees here at work. It hasn’t impacted our organization in any dramatic ways.”

The patient has not been hospitalized, but Harman would not comment on his condition.

“We are in contact with the state Department of Health and working with them to initiate all necessary precautions,” Harman said in an earlier statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to protect our employees, patients and the people of Carbon County.”

Memorial Hospital of Carbon County is using its preexisting clinics to deal with the outbreak, setting up screening stations both at the hospital and at each clinic.

“Like every other hospital in Wyoming, we have a limited supply of collection kits,” Harman said. “We’re working very collaboratively with the state and with the Wyoming Hospital Association to make sure that those that fit the criteria are receiving the testing. And the state has assured us that if we get to the point where we’ve used what we have that we’ll be able to continue to look at those high-risk individuals and provide that care.”

The CEO was not sure how many coronavirus tests the hospital had conducted.

“A fair amount,” he said.

According to a Facebook post shared by Carbon County Public Health, officials were notified late Friday of the positive case. The test had been sent to the state laboratory.

“Though this is our first case, we do not expect it to be our last,” Carbon County Health Officer Dr. Wayne Couch said in a statement. “I encourage Carbon County to stay vigilant with personal hygiene practices and social distancing. If you are exhibiting a fever, cough, and flu like symptoms please contact your healthcare provider. If you have any questions please contact Carbon County Public Health.”

As of 9:30 a.m. Saturday, the state has gathered 461 tests in Wyoming: 409 at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory, 51 reported by commercial labs and one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Carbon County is the latest county to get its first case in recent days, along with Natrona and Campbell counties. Park County also has one case.

Fremont County has nine cases, all believed to be related to an assisted living facility in Lander. Four of them have been hospitalized.

Laramie and Sheridan counties each have four cases. Teton County has two.

All Wyoming’s cases have been announced since March 11.

With Natrona County having its first case confirmed Friday evening, the virus is now in the state’s largest population centers.

As the virus spreads, all of the state’s schools have been shut down. Gov. Mark Gordon has declared a state of emergency, and he issued an order Thursday closing bars, museums, gyms and most other public spaces. Additionally, he has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, with some exceptions.

Nationwide, there have been nearly 18,000 cases as of Saturday morning, according to the New York Times. At least 239 people have died of the illness.

Follow managing editor Brandon Foster on Twitter @BFoster91

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Managing Editor

Brandon Foster is the Star-Tribune's managing editor. He joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 as the University of Wyoming sports reporter after graduating from the University of Missouri and covering Mizzou athletics for two years.

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