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Ten coronavirus cases linked to 'significant' Wyoming Behavioral Institute cluster
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Ten coronavirus cases linked to 'significant' Wyoming Behavioral Institute cluster

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Snow falls on Wyoming Behavioral Institute on Wednesday in Casper. Ten cases of the novel coronavirus have now been linked to the facility.

There have been 10 cases of the novel coronavirus linked to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute as of Thursday night, a Natrona County health official said.

The number of cases associated with the facility has more than doubled in short order; an official with WBI told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday that the facility had four cases, three of which were adult patients and the fourth was a staff member.

The 10 cases confirmed Friday are five patients and five staff members. In a Friday press conference, Casper-Natrona County Health Department spokeswoman Hailey Bloom provided details on several of the WBI-linked cases. The patients there include two females in their 50s; a male in his 20s; two males, whose ages weren’t described; two females in their 20s; and a female in her 40s.

“The patients are in strict isolation,” Emily Quarterman-Genoff, WBI’s head of business development, said in an email. “We have followed the Health Department’s treatment and notification requirements. The staff members are at home under strict isolation. We have reduced hospital capacity to ensure everyone’s well-being, creating isolation areas while still being able to meet the needs of those in crisis.”

The 10 patients make up nearly 50 percent of the 21 confirmed coronavirus cases in Natrona County, a count most recently updated Friday evening. Dr. Mark Dowell, an infectious disease expert and Natrona County’s health officer, called the situation at WBI “very significant” and said it was an example of the danger of people who have no symptoms exposing others to the respiratory disease that’s sickened at least 166 Wyomingites as of Friday.

“It’s an example of asymptomatic shedding,” he said, adding that the spread of the disease there was not the fault of anyone at WBI. “You can be spewing virus for up to two or three days before you become ill, and that’s what we think happened there.”

WBI and other county officials declined to offer any specificity on the number of cases there Thursday. Bloom said that officials believe there are three distinct clusters in Natrona County: one linked to domestic travel, another to international travel and the third to WBI. She declined Thursday to say how many patients were in each cluster and said that information would be provided later.

The hospital previously said it was testing patients frequently and many were negative. Dowell said the facility was a high priority for testing, which has been rationed to only high-risk populations.

Dowell said it’s unclear how much of WBI’s facility was exposed to the virus. According to state data, the hospital has 90 inpatient beds. The hospital says it has 85 beds.

WBI doesn’t treat only patients from Natrona County, nor can it discharge all of its patients because they may have mental health issues that make them a danger to themselves.

“It’s a tricky situation because they take people from all over the state, and they take patients that are not safe at home with psychiatric issues or substance abuse,” Dowell said. “We’re trying to find what you can do to discharge. Some of them are not safe to be discharged, they have nowhere to go or they’re a suicide risk.”

He added that the number of patients tied to WBI “could” increase.

“It might, sure,” he said.

Health officials have warned that the worst place for the virus to spread is within long-term facilities and hospitals, where people are in close quarters and where health care workers and those with chronic health conditions are susceptible to infection.

WBI is the second-known cluster within a health care facility in Wyoming. The first, at a Lander assisted-living facility, led to one of the worst outbreaks here. Only in recent days has the case total there been surpassed by cases in Cheyenne and Teton counties. But health officials in Fremont County say that hundreds of patients with symptoms have been directed to self-isolate and assume they’re sick.

Photos: Casper copes with 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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