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CDC visits Wyoming Behavioral Institute, approves of Casper facility's measures
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CDC visits Wyoming Behavioral Institute, approves of Casper facility's measures

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Snow falls on Wyoming Behavioral Institute in early April in Casper. Epidemiologists from the CDC visited the facility earlier this week.

Epidemiologists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveled earlier this week to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute, the site of one of the largest coronavirus clusters in Wyoming.

The facility, an inpatient mental health hospital in Casper, has 22 confirmed cases linked to it as of Wednesday. Initially, the cases were contained to staff and patients, but county health officials indicated that it’s now spread beyond direct links.

It’s unclear what proportion of the 22 cases are staff and patients and if any of the three Natrona County cases confirmed Thursday are related to WBI; a hospital spokeswoman directed questions to the Casper-Natrona County Health Department; a spokeswoman for the agency said investigation into the cases is still ongoing.

The hospital said in a Thursday press release that it was still “open and admitting patients” and that all referred cases are screened for symptoms. New patients are quarantined in the facility for 72 hours.

In a press release, hospital CEO Mike Phillips said that the CDC staffers “reviewed and approved” all protocols put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19. WBI has not allowed visitors into its facility since March 13, and it’s been screening staff and patients as they enter the building, checking their temperature and making sure they don’t have any coronavirus symptoms.

“Any employee feeling unwell is asked to be away from the workplace,” Phillips said. “Any employee exposed to COVID-19 and exhibiting symptoms is encouraged to go to Natrona County Testing Centers for testing.”

Patients are screened twice a day for symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and any with symptoms are isolated.

Of the hospital’s 40-plus employees, 80 percent have tested negative, Phillips said. Most of the patients who have contracted the virus have recovered. WBI has enough masks for patients to wear, and the hospital has changed how it delivers treatment to practice social distancing.

“County and CDC health officials have reviewed hygiene, screening and isolation protocols at WBI and have given their approval,” Phillips said in the statement. “Testing is provided by health officials daily at WBI if there are patients whose health is in question.”

The CDC sent a team of five people — including four epidemiologists — to Wyoming earlier this week to help the state keep its coronavirus case load low. Currently, Wyoming has 296 confirmed cases, which is the lowest in the nation. The state also has one of the lowest per-capita case loads of anywhere in the U.S.

It’s unclear which members of the CDC’s Wyoming-deployed group visited WBI and why. A hospital spokeswoman said only that the visit “was part of the agency’s planned trip to Wyoming to assist the state with COVID-19 containment efforts.”

At least 11 people — five of them homeless — have been discharged from WBI recently and have been quarantined at Westwood Elementary School, which has been repurposed to act as a temporary isolation facility for those who can’t safely quarantine anywhere else.

“Effort is being made to discharge as few patients as possible to congregate care settings,” the hospital said.

At least one person who doesn’t work at the facility has contracted the virus after exposure to a WBI staffer. That person was described by Mayor Steve Freel on Wednesday as a health care worker who lives with a WBI employee. That roommate was tested on Friday, continued to work that day and attended multiple parties last week. On Monday, the roommate was confirmed to have COVID-19, and the other people at the parties the roommate attended have all been quarantined.

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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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