By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily
On paper, Weston and Platte counties have escaped the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, but local health officials said they think confirmation of coronavirus cases is only a matter of time.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming are up past 300 with reports of the virus in 21 of the state’s 23 counties, but neither Platte nor Weston counties have reported a case as of press time Tuesday.
Two popular state parks and the prominence of Interstate 25 commerce in Platte County made the area a likely hotspot for infections, but Nicole Sticka, the county’s public health nurse manager, said so far, the county has dodged the bullet.
“I don’t have any idea why we haven’t picked up any cases from I-25,” Sticka said, explaining county officials expected the interstate to be the virus’ main vector into Platte communities. “For a little bit near the beginning, our state parks in Glendo and Guernsey were full of people from out of state possibly trying to escape the pandemic or just make the most of social distancing.”
Despite the influx of visitors, however, the county’s COVID-19 numbers remained flat. Sticka said she was not involved with efforts to remove the visitors, but to her knowledge, they were expelled after Gov. Mark Gordon closed campgrounds in state parks March 30.
Attributing the county’s lack of cases to the public’s adherence to Gordon’s stay-at-home advisory, Sticka said she has not seen much pushback from the community.
“Everybody did what they were supposed to do right away,” she explained. “I really feel like we’ve escaped this.”
Even though no cases have been confirmed, Sticka said COVID-19 could be present in the community and will likely flare up in the coming weeks.
“Currently in our county, we’re not seeing a huge influx of people of being sick and wanting to be hospitalized, which I would expect to see if we had a significant COVD-19 presence,” she said. “I would like to be able to say it would miss us. But in reality, I do believe it will come through Platte County if it’s not here already.”
Platte County is home to more than 8,500 people and about 30 percent of them are older than 65 — nearly double the rate of surrounding counties, Sticka said. While no official ventilator count was available for the county, she said the area’s only hospital and two health clinics do have access to state inventories if the need arises.
“We’ve learned some lessons from other counties that have already gone through this,” Sticka said. “I feel like we are prepared as much as we can be for if or when this does hit us.”
Hugging Wyoming’s eastern border, Weston County is relatively off-the-grid compared to Platte County.
“I think our rural nature is helping us,” said Dr. Mike Jording, the Weston County public health officer. “The people that live here tend to stay to themselves a bit more than you might see in other counties.”
About 7,000 people live in the county, which is dominated by the Thunder Basin National Grassland.
Weston County residents were also quick to adhere to Gordon’s advisories and proactively restricted visitation to nursing homes and elder care facilities, Jording said.
Although the state has struggled with obtaining testing supplies, he said he believed the county’s lack of cases was not a result of the test shortage.
“I think we’ve had adequate testing of individuals who are sick,” Jording said. “We’ve had three entities in (Newcastle) that are seeing people that are ill and testing those who need it.”
Only two ventilators are available in the county, however, and both are designed for transporting patients to larger hospitals outside of the county, he said.
Despite the county’s good fortune, Jording said he believed COVID-19 cases would start appearing soon.
“If we’re really lucky, maybe the rest of these nearby sites are going to have decreases in their number, which could decrease the volume we see in our own community,” he explained. “I think everything that we’ve done — from closing down visitation to reminding our residents to wear masks — has been instrumental in keeping the virus out up until now.”