Cody has its first positive COVID-19 case, as the Wyoming Department of Health on Tuesday night reported four more positive coronavirus cases, including the first in the county.
Bill Crampton, Park County public health nurse, said it is a Cody woman who was treated at Cody Regional Health and is now at home in self-isolation. Crampton said she had been at home waiting the results of the tests when the news was delivered.
In a statement, hospital spokeswoman Annalea Avery confirmed the woman is an employee of Cody Regional Health.
“As per national protocol the Wyoming Department of Health and Park County Public Health are leading the investigation and providing guidance to Cody Regional Health upon next steps,” she said. “CRH Incident Command is actively involved in taking measures to ensure continued employee and patient safety.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, 105 people have tested negative for the virus in Wyoming and 15 have tested positive. Eight of those are in Lander, with others in Sheridan and Laramie counties.
With the confirmed case in Park County, officials are now looking to what’s next as far as local response to COVID-19.
“This is a disease that’s showing exponential spread and exponential growth,” Dr. Aaron Billin, health officer for Park County, said during a meeting Tuesday. “People are walking around Cody today saying, ‘I don’t see what the big deal is,’ but they’re going to get up one morning to find their world has changed.”
One particular concern keeps coming up in Crampton’s mind.
“My personal thing is finding out who’s going to get missed and making sure they’re going to get taken care of,” Crampton said.
Senior citizens are at the highest risk to acquire the virus. The average age of the 398 fatalities that have occurred from the coronavirus in Italy is 81 years old, according to the BBC.
Albertsons announced it will reserve 7-9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for at-risk members of the community to shop.
At-risk people are more likely to be hospitalized if they get the virus.
West Park Hospital only has six intensive care unit beds.
“Those six beds could be gone within two days,” said Kimball Croft, public health emergency response coordinator for Park County.
Those with preexisting conditions and fragile immune systems are most susceptible to the disease.
“We’re continuing to reach back, contacting them and asking them if someone has contacted you to offer help,” Crampton said. “If not, can we continue to contact them and offer help from our standing point.”
Park County is nearly tied with Platte County for being the third oldest county in the State of Wyoming.
“We really need to come together and take care of our senior populations,” Crampton said.
Crampton has been named emergency commander for the local COVID-19 response. An emergency operations center has also been set up in the basement of the Park County public works building. The incident command team plans on meeting twice daily for briefings.
Crampton said the county could consider the Cody Recreation Center as a field hospital, but that location has shared bathroom facilities. He said A Western Rose Motel and the Super 8 Motel may be better locations.
Crampton said his incident command team is attempting to deliver clear and concise messaging to the public so fewer people visit West Park Hospital.
“They’re calling them back or sending them home if they don’t need to be admitted to the hospital,” he said.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, fatigue, cough, aches and pains, sore throat, headaches and shortness of breath.
People who only show mild symptoms of the disease are being told to self-isolate at home, a strategy being referred to as “flattening the curve” of the disease outbreak. If someone in your household has tested positive, those people are also told to stay home. Older people and those with underlying health conditions should maintain social distancing and stay home as much as possible.
Only people with symptoms that meet certain criteria for the virus will be tested for the disease at Cody Regional Health after a phone call diagnosis. Cody Regional does not have the capability to confirm tests, so it sends results to the State Laboratory.
“In weeks to come we hope there will be more availability of these tests,” said Annalea Avery, public information officer for CRH.
Crampton said he expects the number of cases to rise as more tests are given.
The Long Term Care Center is no longer allowing visitors, and West Park Hospital is not allowing visitors 16 years old and younger.
Billin said Tuesday there have been three possible tests of the disease sent to the State Lab in Cheyenne.
Crampton said he thinks mortality rates for the disease are lower than what it is being reported because only those with serious symptoms end up getting tested. During the 2019/2020 flu season, he said there were 16,000 deaths and 20 million cases in the U.S.
“It’s not even in the same ballpark,” he said.
But unlike the flu it is unknown yet how COVID-19 will react with cold weather.
Crampton said he has been told by certain day care businesses that they are not going to close.
According to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, those who are not confirmed for the coronavirus can return to work 24-hours after fever symptoms subside, without assistance of Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
Currently, the county is following CDC’s guidelines discouraging gatherings of 50 people or more. President Donald Trump changed that order to 10 people on Monday.
“It’s nice that President Trump is putting information out, but we’re following CDC and Wyoming Department of Health guidelines,” Crampton said.
The county has no legal authority to actually stop a large-scale gathering unless it creates a public health order which is signed by the state health officer. Teton County recently crafted such a document on Tuesday, forbidding gatherings of 50 or more and recommending at least six feet spacing between public patrons. Crampton said he and the incident command team are currently working on a similar document that could be unveiled as soon as Thursday with the commissioners’ blessing.
“My hope is the community wants to take care of itself,” he said. “We’re counting on the decency of all our people to try and do the right things.”
Crampton said this order will not include any closures of restaurants or bars at this time.
Gov. Mark Gordon has already signed an emergency declaration for the State of Wyoming. Because he did this, Park County does not need to declare its own emergency notice to receive Federal emergency funding.
“You use that ‘em’ word- emergency, and everyone gets up in arms,” Crampton said.
Park County’s health agencies will also be able to access a national stockpile of personal protective equipment in the near future.
It is still difficult to say how the coronavirus will impact summer tourist travel in Cody, but even Claudia Wade, executive director of the Park County Travel Council, admitted during an online conference Monday that the number of international travelers and employees will be down.
“We’re probably going to have some challenges with workforce,” Wade said. “We rely heavily on J-1 and H-2B visas.”
There has been no advisory against traveling within the United States, but the CDC is recommending against all non-essential air travel. Wade said there are 15 large groups slated for Cody visits this summer, ranging in size from 30-350 people.
“We don’t have a lot of crowded spaces,” Wade said. “Cody and Yellowstone National Park have been and will continue to be a drive-destination.”
It was announced on Monday that Park County is at a level 2 for pandemic flu response. Later that day Crampton said the county would move to a level 3 with a confirmed case, but Billin downplayed the importance of this designation Tuesday.
“What you call the level doesn’t matter, it’s what you do,” he said.
A public health meeting was scheduled for noon Wednesday. Check codyenterprise.com for updates from that meeting.
Social distancing, frequent hand washing, covering one’s mouth after a cough or sneeze, and sanitizing surfaces are a few of the steps that can be taken to avoid the virus. Avoid contact with those who are sick if at all possible but if already sick, stay home from work.
Public Health discourages watering down baby formula in order to extend the supply and following instructions for how to use it.
Crampton said all people forced into self-isolation will need assistance from the community, a challenge he will be tackling in the coming weeks to set up a volunteer database.
“Who’s going to volunteer to shop for them? Who’s going to volunteer to take food to them?” he posed. “We need to take care of our own. The problem is every time someone hears the worse case they think of an ICU patient.”
During an emergency management council meeting – made up of local elected officials, emergency-response staff and Park County Sheriff Scott Steward – held Monday, Crampton mentioned that many teenagers and young adults who are currently out of school have been posting their phone numbers on Facebook in order to find babysitting jobs. He said he and his staff are currently working to determine a clearinghouse where people can go to for these employment opportunities without giving away their private information online.
“Can we do it here or hand that off?” Crampton mused.
What to know
All nonessential travel should be avoided at this time. Those who travel internationally will be asked to self-quarantine at home for 14 days after returning.
Cody Regional Health will be screening over the phone and is asking community members to call their emergency registration line at (307) 578-2000 if you believe you have COVID-19. Do not come to the emergency room before calling.
Go to coderedweb.com or call (207) 527-1860 to receive high-speed telephone emergency notification services through Park County.
To see an updated map of cases in Wyoming visit arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=42fd398fa8f449fb930f2d3755c5a1bb.
Dial 2-1-1 for community-based COVID-19 resources.
For further information about COVID-19 please call 307-527-1870 or visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.
(Zac Taylor contributed to this report)