CCPH approach questioned

Public health insists goal is health of public, not harm to local businesses

Series: COVID-19 | Story 39

Last week, Carbon County Public Health (CCPH) raised eyebrows as they appeared to change their approach in how they respond to cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Throughout the pandemic, CCPH and the Carbon County COVID-19 Incident Management Team have been vague when reporting confirmed cases of the virus. On Tuesday, however, two specific businesses in Rawlins were mentioned as possible points of community exposure.

An email sent to media outlets on September 8, and posted on social media, by CCPH read “Attention Carbon County Residents, If you were at either of the following locations on Wednesday, September 2, CCPH has reasonable cause to believe that you may have been exposed to a communicable disease that affects the public health: Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19).”

The email then listed the Hole in the Wall and the Peppermill Bar and Grill in Rawlins as the potential exposure sites.

Since March, CCPH has often been very vague as to where new confirmed cases may be located within the county. When asked in August on social media why cases weren’t more location specific, Jacquelin Wells, Public Information Officer for the Carbon County COVID-19 Incident Management Team, cited the sparse population of some of the communities and the concern of violating the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Wells commented in various social media threads that COVID-19 had been throughout the county. When asked by the Saratoga Sun in early August, she had confirmed that there had been confirmed cases within the Platte Valley.

Additionally, CCPH could not confirm cases among the staff and population of the Wyoming State Penitentiary until the facility had done so first. In recent weeks, confirmed cases from the penitentiary have contributed to an increase in Carbon County’s overall total.

Following the announcement from CCPH about the potential exposure sites, many county residents questioned the actions of the agency and their approach and cited potential revenue loss for both establishments.

On September 11, Amanda Brown, CCPH Nurse Manager, issued a statement in an attempt to explain the process used by the agency in regards to cases within Carbon County.

“When an individual is tested for COVID-19 at any of the testing sites in Carbon County, they will receive their results from the ordering provider. This provider then notifies the Wyoming Department and Health and Carbon County Public Health of the positive (case). Wyoming Department of Health and Carbon County Public Health will contact the positive individual as soon as possible, our goal is within 24 hours,” wrote Brown.

Brown added that, following contact with the positive individual, CCPH then notifies employers, schools, daycares and other locations the individual may have been as needed.

“During this investigation, if it is found that an individual has visited a local business, we will notify this business and evaluate the risk to employees and the visiting public. In most cases, this would be a low risk exposure depending on the nature of the business and the precautions made by that business,” Brown wrote. “After further investigation, some information has changed regarding the possible exposure at the Hole in the Wall and the Peppermill Bar and Grill on September 2.”

Brown added that the exposure window was “much smaller” than had been initially reported and, therefore, decreased the risk to patrons of both establishments. She also wrote that no cases have been linked to either the Hole in the Wall or the Peppermill Bar and Grill.

“In the past months, we have had other types of exposures which resulted in local businesses closing for a short period of time,” wrote Brown. “Each situation is different and these decisions do not come easily but they are usually influenced by the nature of the exposure and if the positive individual was a patron or a staff member.”

The CCPH Nurse Manager wrote that the agency could not control if an individual who had tested positive for COVID-19 chose to share the result of their test and with whom they shared it with.

“We encourage them to notify their close contacts as soon as possible. We encourage anyone who has a possible exposure to reach out to our office for further instructions,” Brown wrote. “We encourage individuals to answer our questions as factually as possible, but this does not always happen. We will always err on the side of caution; it is possible someone will be quarantined as a precaution and then later released from quarantine after further investigation has taken place.”

Brown also provided a list of increased risk for exposure to COVID-19 in a restaurant or bar setting with the lowest risk being food service limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out and curbside pick up and the highest risk being on-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating and seating capacity not reduced nor tables spaced at least six feet apart. She added that bars were among the highest risk “due to the lack of people wearing a facial covering and it is harder to maintain social distancing.”

“Due to this recent exposure being a higher risk, we chose to notify the public of the exposure and offer testing for close contacts,” wrote Brown. “I want to reassure the public that our priority is to protect the health of the public, not to harm our local businesses.”

As of Tuesday morning, Carbon County had a total of 170 confirmed cases since the pandemic began and 26 possible cases. Of those, there are currently 11 active cases with local residents and 157 of the 170 total cases have recovered from COVID-19.


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