As COVID-19 infections drop across Wyoming, the number of people seeking tests for the virus has fallen, too.
When the number of virus cases peaked in November, testing naturally skyrocketed as well. At one point, the Wyoming State Public Health Laboratory was processing more than 2,000 tests a day and commercial labs were running nearly 8,000.
Those combined efforts are now processing roughly 2,000 tests a day on average.
In Natrona County, the decline has been stark as well. County residents were responsible for an average of 800 daily tests during the November surge. Now, those tests hover between 200 and 300. Anna Kinder, executive director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, last week told the Board of Health she expected the trend to continue.
County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell said the trend makes sense. Infections have dropped, so there are fewer people with symptoms to test. This month, the state’s case increases have fallen to rates not seen in Wyoming since mid-September. But Dowell said fewer tests does make the data somewhat harder to parse out.
He said they know infections are down dramatically and that the decline in testing hasn’t overly skewed the numbers because hospitalizations and severe illnesses from the virus have plummeted as well.
Seven people were hospitalized at the Wyoming Medical Center for COVID-19 Thursday afternoon. “Some of that is very serious,” Dowell said, but added it’s a vast improvement from the more than 70 virus patients the hospital was treating in mid-November.
Statewide, just 20 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Thursday.
“When you combine that and you look at the various factors, there’s no doubt in my mind we have improved … but that can create a false sense of security,” he said.
Dowell is optimistic about the community’s progress but stressed residents need to remain vigilant and get tested for the virus if they have symptoms or if they’ve been in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Those tests not only help public health officials gauge the community’s position with cases, but they can also ensure an individual gets adequate medical care if they do contract the virus.
“If we intervene early we potentially could keep them out of the hospital and help them survive,” he said of why tests are still crucial despite the plunging caseload.
The virus is still spreading in Wyoming and things will not return to pre-pandemic operations for months, experts say, but the state continues to record lower risk levels based on federal metrics.
For the last two weeks, the state has been in the “moderate” risk category laid out by the White House Coronavirus task force. Previously, Wyoming and many counties were still in the upper echelons of that transmission ladder, which color-codes transmission risk into six categories ranging from light green to dark red.
Wyoming and most of its counties now fall in the bottom three tiers of that ladder. Fourteen counties are now in the two lowest risk categories.
Just Carbon County is in the high transmission category.
Dowell said as the risk continues to decrease, the state is slowly loosening restrictions on gatherings. Thursday, the state eliminated additional restrictions on personal care businesses.
Dowell said he is assisting with those efforts on the local level. This weekend’s high school state wrestling tournament at the Casper Events Center will be a test for that work.
“If that is successful, it’s a template for other events,” he said. “Everything is moving forward, but you don’t go from pretty restrictive to wide open immediately.”