Why Is Wyoming So Exceptional When It Comes To Surviving COVID-19?

No other state, and perhaps no other place in the world, is coming across as healthy as we are, when it comes to this once-in-a-century plague called coronavirus or COVID-19.

Bill Sniffin

May 14, 20205 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Statistics here in Wyoming are incredible. No other state, and perhaps no other place in the world, is coming across as “healthy” as we are, when it comes to this once-in-a-century plague called coronavirus or COVID-19.

Out of a population of 556,000 people, we have had just seven deaths, as of this writing on May 14, 2020.  Out of 523 people testing positive plus another 165 who were probable, but not tested — we have just those seven deaths. And although these deceased folks might have lived longer, all seven were either quite elderly or had compromising medical problems like kidney failure, diabetes, and respiratory issues.

So far, only 15,250 people have been referred for tested – about 2.5% of the population.  Two counties still have not had a single positive. Some 477 who tested positive are now considered recovered.

Why are we so much healthier than everybody else?

There have been more traffic deaths – 10 – since coronavirus was first seen in the state in mid-March than it has had COVID-19 deaths.  

Let’s give a shout-out to our Wyoming people who are pretty good citizens.  Our businesses, churches, social groups, and almost everything else voluntarily shut down over the past six weeks. As a result, our economy was devastated.

The Wyoming business world was mostly shut down because of fears of a worldwide pandemic that killed fewer people here than traffic accidents. 

Few people predicted that we would be so much safer than the rest of the world.

Wyoming is a big, lonely empty place with six people per square mile.  New York City has 27,000 people per square mile. The Big Apple is full of crowded apartments and subways. It is both a wonderful and a claustrophobic place for most Wyomingites. Watching the horror on TV of their emergency rooms and listening to the daily beseeching from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, well, it was easy to believe the world was coming to an end. This plague was coming for us, too.

Milan, Italy, has 19,000 people per square mile.  Have you been to Italy? People there live long lives. It is a wonderful place.  These are truly the most loving and sociable people on the planet with many three-generation family units. Italian life span is 83.2 years. This compares to 78.5 in the USA. Watching the carnage on TV was awful. Yet 80 percent of the people who died in Italy were over 60 years of age and most had underlying health conditions.  Was this going to be our future?  Back on March 31, it looked like it could be.

It was not.  Most definitely.

Here in Wyoming, the hardest hit place for both deaths and positive testing has been the Wind River Indian Reservation.  In our state, there is no group of people more family-oriented and more sociable than our Shoshone and Arapaho friends. 

They often live in large family units covering three or four generations. It is normal for the generations to congregate together constantly.  There is a lot of love among these folks and they care deeply for each other. But that tendency created a potential of the easy spread of this COVID-19 disease. 

Health officials and Tribal leaders reportedly bought 6,000 testing kits and are testing thousands.  They are offering some of the only drive-thru testing opportunities in the state and you do not need to be sick to get tested. You just need to be a tribal member. This is why Fremont County is showing one-third of all the positive tests in the state.  One family had 14 members who tested positive.

On a personal note, my wife Nancy and I are in what might be called a vulnerable group because of our ages and underlying health issues. We have been in self quarantine at our house since March 19.  Our children worry that we are not behaving. But we are. And we intend to continue.

The Wyoming economy opened up this week with some restrictions – people are recommended to wear masks, practice social distancing, and use lots of sanitizer. Our people are suffering from cabin fever and are anxious to resume their normal lives.

Seems like some folks think we need to worry about the medical health or the economic health of our population.  I say it is medical health and the economic health of the people. We need to take care of both.

Based on the current statistics, the shutdown of the Wyoming economy may be judged, sometime in the future, as a miscalculation. But what could you do?

I will never forget watching those images on TV of Italy and New York City.  It was like we were living in the middle of Science Fiction movie. It was like we had been invaded by aliens.

Just think about it – the world literally shut down. None of us living have ever been through anything like this.

So, to answer the question posed at the beginning:  I think Wyoming people really are healthier.  Plus, folks here have been practicing social distancing since 1890. It was not hard to stay put, especially during wintry March and April days. Our Wyoming economy probably did not need to be slammed shut but who knew? It is better to be safe than sorry.

I am glad the economy is opening up and I can see much better days ahead.  Two years from now, we will look back at these times in amazement and wonder.

We need to hit the ground running and get our Wyoming back. But let’s be smart and careful about it.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.