Over the last week Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin and other officials have commended local, county and state health care staff and agencies, on the fast response taken to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The pandemic itself also changed quickly.
By late January Park County Public Health Nurse Bill Crampton had been making plans and coordinating with Homeland Security Director Jack Tatum, and on Jan. 31, Park County Public Health set up a coronavirus information line.
“Part of our mission objectives ... is to have information available to folks,” Crampton said. “We recognized something was going on and started ramping up.”
In February, little was said publicly about the oncoming virus, but Crampton was continuing to coordinate with state health officials behind the scenes.
“I don’t think anyone dropped the ball, it’s trying to get the bureaucracy ramped up to actually take action,” Crampton said. “For good, bad, or indifferent, Jack and I didn’t do a lot of things with the permission of the (county) commissioners.
“When you’re trying to move quickly not everything moves the way we believe it should.”
On March 4, Cody Regional Health and Powell Valley Healthcare posted first notice of the virus on social media.
Two days later, the Wyoming Department of Health described the virus as being a “low” risk to Wyoming. At that point there were 311 confirmed cases in the United States. Five days later Wyoming got its first case.
On March 12, Cody Regional began enacting closures at the West Park Hospital or to its services.
Crampton said Cody Regional may have initiated this step even earlier than necessary, possibly preventing more cases.
“We looked around and said, ‘We don’t have any cases but,’” Crampton said. “I think Cody Regional and Powell Valley (Healthcare) took appropriate action and probably in advance of what we would have been told what to do if we waited for someone to tell us.”
Five days later a CRH employee tested positive for the virus. Early last week the county started following the CDC’s orders for reduced social gatherings. On March 16, President Donald Trump recommended against gatherings of 10 people or more nationwide, but 4,509 cases were already confirmed in the U.S. by that point. As of Wednesday morning that total sat at 59,502.
By March 18, Billin had issued a formal recommendation for nonessential businesses to close and people to voluntarily desist from gatherings of 10 people or more.
The next day these recommendations became law, but not without some confusion en-route.
Around 8:40 a.m. that morning Billin posted on Facebook that the “health order was just made official” but he included no other details, drawing confusion from a number of responders. It was not until 11:10 a.m. that the actual order was released to the public.
Crampton and Tatum are considered the joint incident commanders for the local COVID-19 response. Billin is considered a source of “medical expertise” and an unofficial spokesman for local doctors.
“Dr. Billin is our information expert,” Crampton said. “He is our guide for response.”
But Billin drew a strong public response from even some health care workers when he made the comment to the Park County Commissioners last week that the whole West Park Hospital has been exposed to COVID-19.
Crampton said comments that did make him unhappy were those made by Trump on Tuesday, saying that his target date to reopen the economy would be Easter Sunday, April 12.
“We have to be cautious and don’t want a boatload of new cases,” Crampton said.
Last week Cody Regional set up a viral screening unit at the hospital, a wing of tent-like spaces specifically designated for screening the virus.
Crampton said his department took no part in setting this up and are merely a resource for Cody Regional at this point. All other decision-making is in CRH’s hands.
“We’re better prepared but not 100% and we can only do so many of them (tests),” Crampton said.
Healthy Park County and Park County Public Health has been working for several days to develop a Park County Resource list so people in need of assistance can readily see what is available. Call (307)-527-8577 to join the list.