Wyoming Future Grim Without Social Distancing, Medical Society Head Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming can avoid a grim outcome from the coronavirus epidemic if its residents pay attention to recommendations to stay away from each other, the president of the Wyoming Medical Society said Monday.

Dr. David Wheeler, a Casper neurologist, used his appearance at a news conference held by Gov. Mark Gordon to urge state residents to heed the statewide orders put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve seen over and over again the horrific effects of waiting too long to enact such policies,” he said. “If we do not act now, it is certain that we will use up all the available resources for health care in just a matter of weeks.”

If the health care system is overwhelmed, people suffering from regular health problems such as heart problems or strokes will not be able to get basic care, Wheeler said.

“This is a grim outcome, but we can avoid this if we start working together today,” he said. “If we flatten the curve now, our hospitals will have more time to prepare. If we flatten the curve now, fewer people will be sick at any given time. If we work hard during this time to surge hospital capacity and at the same time slow the spread of the disease, many more of us will make it through to the other end of this.”

Wheeler said the Medical Society is also urging doctors to use “telehealth” technology to advise patients rather than in-person clinic visits and to not perform any elective procedures.

As of Monday afternoon, 94 cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed in 15 counties around the state. 

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, said during the news conference that since the disease reached Wyoming, 16 people have been hospitalized with symptoms, however, she noted that all 16 are not hospitalized now.

Harrist added the state is estimating that 24 patients have fully recovered from the disease.

The state has issued three orders designed to encourage “social distancing” among the state’s residents. One closed schools and businesses likely to draw more than 10 people, another closed businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, and a third banned gatherings of 10 or more people.

All three orders are in place until April 17. President Donald Trump is recommending that social distancing guidelines be observed until the end of April and Gordon said he and Harrist are studying Wyoming’s situation daily to determine whether the state’s orders should be extended.

Wheeler said in other places around the world, it appears that three to six weeks of social distancing is required before infection numbers peak and then begin to drop.

“Then there’s an additional multiple week tail-off,” he said. “We’re really looking at continuing social distancing fairly aggressively for the next six weeks or so and then gradually beginning to relax in the next couple of months after that.”

Gordon also announced that the state has been working to get equipment into the hands of county officials and the Wind River Indian Reservation tribes, along with the coronavirus test materials that have been in short supply.

Gordon also repeated his earlier pleas to Wyoming residents to stay at home if at all possible to slow the spread of the illness.

“Regardless of where you are, regardless of the circumstance, you need to stay at home, you need to respect social distancing, you need to practice exceptional hygiene,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you all go to the Walmart or some other store at the same time.”

Businesses should take steps to make sure they limit the number of customers coming through their doors to make sure not too many people gather at once, Gordon said.

“This is incredibly important,” he said. “If we can continue to work to flatten the curve, evidence has shown that we can defeat this virus before it becomes a challenge for the state.

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