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Four WMC staffers have tested positive for coronavirus since pandemic's start
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Four WMC staffers have tested positive for coronavirus since pandemic's start

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Wyoming Medical Center

People arrive at Wyoming Medical Center in January in Casper. 

A Wyoming Medical Center emergency room doctor tested positive for the novel coronavirus in late March, documents obtained by the Star-Tribune show. The provider was one of four hospital workers who have been infected with the respiratory illness, the hospital confirmed Thursday.

WMC spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer said the four employees who tested positive “followed our infection control protocols, wore proper (protective gear) and complied with Public Health contact tracing and isolation guidelines.”

According to an email between health officials on March 31, the ER doctor was the 13th or 14th coronavirus case confirmed in Natrona County. That email was provided Thursday to the Star-Tribune in response to a large record request concerning how local officials responded to the pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the Casper-Natrona County Health Department said Thursday that the provider “had been traveling and hadn’t worked in the time period leading up to becoming positive.”

Bleizeffer said the ER doctor did not work with patients or in the hospital “during the contagious period before or after his positive COVID-19 test. He was tested negative before reporting back to WMC.”

It’s unclear when the other three staffers tested positive. It’s also unclear what roles they serve at the hospital. In an email, Bleizeffer said she didn’t “have any other information at this time.” She did not respond to a follow-up email sent late Thursday afternoon.

The health department spokeswoman, Hailey Bloom, said the agency didn’t publicly share more information — like that the patient worked at the hospital — previously because the infection “wasn’t related to their work and there was never a risk for patients or staff at WMC from the case.”

As of Thursday, there have been 39 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Natrona County. Based on that figure, about 10 percent of cases so far in Natrona County have a link to Wyoming Medical Center.

The county had gone three weeks without a positive case until Wednesday.

Wyoming Medical Center is not the only facility in Natrona County with employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Some employees at Wyoming Behavioral Institute have also been infected with the virus. In total, at least 22 cases have been linked to the institute.

In general, front-line health care workers who contract the disease are among the most concerning for health officials. Not only do they interact with patients, but infected doctors and nurses mean fewer providers staffing hospitals and clinics during a pandemic that — many fear — has the potential to overwhelm hospitals. That has yet to come to pass in Wyoming, though.

The documents obtained by the Star-Tribune also indicate that some of the first cases in Natrona County were linked to international travel and an international cruise liner that had an outbreak of the virus. Last month, the Guardian reported that the Ruby Princess — the cruise liner the Natrona County patients were traveling on — had been linked to roughly 800 cases and 21 deaths in Australia alone.

More than 2,700 people were allowed off of the ship in Sydney before test results came back for the passengers, a decision that an Australia official questioned last month. A BBC report said that some of the 2,700 people were “coughing and spluttering” when they disembarked in March. A passenger told the BBC that she and her fellow travelers were not informed about the illness spreading on the cruise liner.

In March, the Star-Tribune reported that two Wyomingites were quarantined at a Marine Corps base in California after they had been exposed to the virus on the Ruby Princess’s sister ship, the Grand Princess. More than 500 passengers on that ship were quarantined at the base.

Initially, health officials said the cases were tied to “international travel.” Bloom, the county health department spokeswoman, said in an email that the two patients from the cruise liner “were part of one of the case clusters we identified early on.” She said she did not know for sure if the two Natrona County residents contracted the disease on the cruise itself or as another part of their international travel associated with the trip.

“Those cases were on an international cruise trip and were tested after returning home,” she said in an email. “Since we could never fully narrow down whether exposure and illness was tied specifically to their time on the cruise ship or their international travel, we disclosed those as simply exposure from international travel.”

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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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