Only going to get worse

Carbon County Public Health gives sobering update to commissioners on November 10


November 18, 2020

*Editor’s Note: On November 17, Carbon County Health Officer Wayne Couch issued a county-wide mask mandate effective immediately. The Saratoga Sun will have more information next week.*

“We have a lot of holidays coming up, a lot more social events, and that’s where we’re seeing a lot of the spread within Carbon County is small family units and social events. So, we’re asking the public to be more socially responsible.”

During their rescheduled November 10 meeting, the Board of Carbon County Commissioners (BOCCC) heard updates from Amanda Brown, nurse manager for Carbon County Public Health, about active cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) within Carbon County.

The number of active cases, which were at 65 at the time of the meeting, continue to increase even as Carbon County Public Health has to rethink contact tracing procedures.

“We usually average three to five positive cases per day, some days it’s up to 10. Yesterday (November 9) we had 14 and it’s only going to increase. We are getting more and more positive cases,” said Brown. “The concerning part about this is, the biggest we’ve seen in Carbon County before were associated with large clusters. When we have an outbreak at the State Pen (Penitentiary), for instance, we see a lot of positives per day but these aren’t large clusters.”

Brown added that change from large clusters, such as when the Wyoming State Penitentiary was reporting large numbers, to the smaller clusters was concerning as it showed that many of the cases being reported were as a result of community spread.

In a chart provided to the BOCCC by Brown, the amount of cases at the time were broken down on region with approximately 71 percent of the cases in the Rawlins and Sinclair area, approximately 28 percent of the active cases coming from the Valley and one and one-half percent coming from the Hanna, Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow area.

In an email from Jacquelin Wells, public information officer for the Carbon County COVID-19 Incident Management Team, Wells informed the Saratoga Sun that there were 20 active cases in the Valley and five active cases in the Hanna area.

“I also wanted to share that we have made quite a big shift in our contact tracing procedures. As the numbers are increasing here, they’re also increasing all over the state. We’re having a hard time keeping up. Even with getting more staff, and the state is using a contractor, we just cannot keep up,” Brown said. “So, they are making some changes to help us be more effective in what we’re doing instead of trying to spread ourselves too thin.”

As was previously reported (see “County at 86 active cases” on page 1 of the November 11 Saratoga Sun), a press release from Governor Mark Gordon on November 6 announced the change in contact tracing procedure for the State of Wyoming.

“Before this, we were trying to contact all of our positives and contact trace for every single positive that we had. Sometimes, that’s households, three or four people, sometimes it’s 30 to 40 people. Trying to contact everybody in a timely manner wasn’t happening,” said Brown. “So, they basically pulled back a little bit and they want us to focus on more of contacting the positive cases, helping those cases contact their close contacts and their families and then focus our contacting on high risk groups. So, congregate settings—nursing homes, schools, hospitals, jails, prisons, things like that—is where most of our contact tracing is going to take place.”

Brown added that Carbon County Public Health was working closely with school nurses in both Carbon County School District No. 1 and Carbon County School District No. 2 in regards to active cases within the schools. 

“Instead of public health doing it all, we can work with school nurses and principals to figure out what students need to be notified, monitored, quarantined. Things like that,” Brown said.

When BOCCC Chairman John Johnson commented on how troubling the rise in cases was, Brown stated that Carbon County Public Health believed it was “only going to get worse over the next few weeks.” It should be noted that, as of November 15, Carbon County was at 125 active cases according to the Wyoming Department of Health with 18 positive cases confirmed within a 24 hour period.

“Think about what you’re doing and where you’re going. Don’t go to work sick, don’t go to school sick. Even though you may be feeling okay now, you don’t know if you’re within that 48 hour window and you’re going to get symptoms two days from now,” said Brown. “People need to be aware of that. Just take those few extra steps; wear a mask, keep social distance, do what you can because everybody’s got to do their part to help slow the spread.”

As the cases throughout the state have continued to rise, other counties have passed mask mandates with Laramie and Albany counties being the most recent to do so. Additionally, 22 of 23 county health officers in Wyoming sent a letter last week to Gordon requesting a statewide mask mandate.

“Are we ever going to approach that kind of thing? Are we going to do more of a stern, friendly reminder for social distancing, that kind of stuff? Is there going to be a ramped up media campaign for that?” asked Commissioner Travis Moore.

“We are working on a new media campaign. So that will be coming over the next few weeks, focusing on breaking down the best practices one-by-one and say, ‘This is how to best wear a mask, this is when you wear a mask’. Things like that. We want to educate more,” Brown replied. “As far as a mask mandate. We talked about it. We don’t feel it’s necessary for Carbon County yet but we continuously talk about it.”

Commissioner Byron Barkhurst asked Brown if there was a particular trigger point in regards to numbers in which Carbon County Public Health would issue a mask mandate. Brown, in response, said that public health likely wouldn’t be looking at just a number.

“I think there’s a lot of things that would have to come into place to make that change,” said Brown. “I think most people do do the right thing, we’re just asking people to be a little more cognizant of their actions and just be aware that where you’re going and moving and things you’re doing does make a difference.”

The Board of Carbon County Commissioners will have met at 9 a.m. on November 17 at the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins. The next meeting of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners will be at 9 a.m. on December 1 at the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins.


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