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Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming Commits $1M to Support Coronavirus Relief

in Coronavirus/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Episcopal Churches are committing $1 million in support of Wyoming relief efforts for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming held an emergency meeting, where members of the board of directors of diocese’s foundation agreed to the donation.

Guidelines for the distribution of relief dollars haven’t yet been drafted. But the board unanimously voted to allocate funding, citing Jesus’ teaching to love one’s neighbors.

Wyoming Episcopalians are currently busy serving their communities by checking in on their neighbors, providing food and financial resources to local food banks and other agencies, as well as holding virtual prayer services. The virus has halted weekly worship across the state.

“The Diocese of Wyoming is committed to serving the people of this state and beyond,” the Rev. John Smylie, Bishop of the Diocese of Wyoming, said in a news release. “We’ve been providing nurture and care in the name of a loving God across the region for more than 100 years. It’s our duty and privilege now to step up in this way.”

The board plans to host weekly meetings to determine the needs of the community. The last conversation touched on support for front line workers, health care professionals and support staff, those who have lost their jobs because of the illness, issues related to hunger and support for local parishes and missions.

“Episcopalians in Wyoming are Monday-Saturday followers of Jesus who happen to get together on Sundays,” said the Rev. Jimmy Bartz, board member and rector of St. John’s in Jackson. “We’re already working hard seven days a week to dream of ways we can make a love-spreading difference in the lives of those negatively impacted by this crisis. It’s our hope that other dioceses across the country will create ways to generously and faithfully support their communities.”

Those wishing to add to this support effort may make a gift to the Episcopal Foundation for the Diocese of Wyoming designated for coronavirus relief.

Campbell County’s Patient With Coronavirus Describes What It’s Like

in Coronavirus/News
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Reprinted with permission from our friends at County 17

Campbell County’s first and only documented case of coronavirus says she’s “fine,” encourages community to stay home to slow the spread

“So, I’m the lone COVID-19 patient who has tested positive in Campbell County,” the Gillette wife and working mom told County 17, light-heartedly, via Facebook messenger Monday afternoon.

“Yep, that’s me,” she said.

In a candid 20-minute phone conversation that followed, the county resident revealed she wished to remain anonymous for the sake of her family and friends but felt compelled to share her experience with the virus over the past week and share her story.

“I kinda figured I’d speak out in an effort to maybe calm everyone down,” she said. “I know people are freaking out.”

There are some things she’d like the community to know about what it’s like to have the virus, and what’s important.

“I’m fine, really,” she began.

It started with a runny nose last Monday, she said.

Last Tuesday, on St. Patrick’s Day, she developed a cough and a low temperature.

“I thought I had a chest cold,” she said. “So, I decided to take off work and go to the doctor.”

The family’s physician tested her for flu. Negative.

Next, she was tested for RSV, a common respiratory virus. Also negative.

Last, the doctor said they’d be testing her for COVID-19.

She knew about the novel coronavirus, obviously. She’d read about the crisis in Wuhan, China online. She’d heard about cases in the U.S. and in Wyoming.

“I didn’t think I was going to test positive,” she said. “In fact, I can remember thinking the doctor was wasting a test. I hadn’t been out of the country. I hadn’t even been out of the state recently. I was just going to the doctors to see what could be done to treat the symptoms for my cold.”

She said she wasn’t really worried about the test results, but the family doctor, who she trusted, told her to stay at the house until they got the results back on Friday.

Thankfully, she followed her doctor’s orders and stayed home.

The doctor’s office called her early Friday afternoon to share her test results.

“They told me I had tested positive for coronavirus,” she said. “I denied it. I said, no. I don’t know. It’s not. Is it?” she recalled. She mostly remembers asking the voice on the other end of the line, “Now what?”

She’s going to have to isolate herself in her home away from family, the voice told her. “And the State (Health) Department is going to call and ask a bunch of questions including which people you’ve come into contact with outside of your family since Monday.”

Then, they hung up.

She tried to remember everyone she’d been in contact with. There were probably three or four people outside of her family and coworkers she had encountered, she thought.

Before she could even write the names down, she received a call from the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

“They were very nice,” she recalled. They took down the names and made contact with those people, she said. They would likely be asked if they had experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 including cough, fever, tiredness and difficulty breathing, and those who had displayed symptoms would likely get tested. To her knowledge, none did.

To prevent the spread of the virus in her home, she said the family has been using Clorox wipes and spray disinfectants nonstop. She wears a mask whenever she leaves the bedroom, which isn’t often, she admitted, and always uses the same plate, fork and cup before placing them directly in the dishwasher, which gets up to temperatures hot enough to kill the virus.

“We keep six feet away at all times,” she said.

Since contracting COVID-19, she said her husband has been on his A-game. Her mom and mother-in-law have been taking turns bringing groceries and arts and crafts to the doorstep, where they drop them off. “They’re mostly bringing things to help keep the kids fed and busy,” she laughed. “But some of the crafty things have been kinda cool.”

“The kids and I have to speak through the bedroom door,” she said. “My husband, too. Even the dogs, since they don’t know yet too much about if it can transfer from humans to pets and we don’t want to risk it. We love our pets.”

She paused, presumably thinking of the experience as a whole.

“I might be able to go back out into the public on Thursday,” she said optimistically. “But, we’ll have to wait and see. The state of Wyoming actually has an order out on all of us – the 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide – so, we will all need permission first before reentering society.”

Per protocol, a patient who tests positive for COVID-19 must be cleared by the WDH.

“I have had a really bad cough and runny nose and a slight fever,” she told County 17 when asked about her symptoms. “But, for the most part, I’m fine, really.”

She continued, “I don’t have any underlying health issues beyond asthma and I’m not struggling to beat the virus even with that,” she said. “I’ve been taking oral steroids and Tylenol. That’s it.”

Next, she asked that we assure our readers she has not left home. She added that she did not go to any local stores or restaurants when she was not feeling well.

“Tell everyone I didn’t go to out… I didn’t do anything,” she said. “Let people know I’m not out infecting!”

Although the illness hasn’t been anything major for her, specifically, she said, “If everybody just spent some time with their families right now and stayed home for the recommended 15 days, or more, I think a lot of the virus will kinda weed its way out of the community and we’d all be better off.”

Stay home with your families, she stressed, repeatedly.

“COVID-19 has brought our family closer together,” she said. “Let it do the same for yours.”

As states including Ohio, Louisiana and Delaware became the latest to announce statewide stay-at-home orders on Sunday resulting from the toll of the coronavirus outbreak, which grew to more than 31,000 cases and 390 deaths in the U.S. last week, and quickly, Campbell County’s only reported case, although experiencing just minor symptoms herself, urged members of the community to heed the advice and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Wyoming Department of Health among others.

“Stay at home,” she said. “Self-isolate, whenever possible, and limit your regular activities and social gatherings. Do your part to reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the virus.”

She still can’t quite figure out how she contracted the virus, she said. Although, she admitted, she had traveled to Sheridan for an appointment on or around the week of Monday, March 9.

As of today, Tuesday, March 24, at 7:45 a.m., she remains the only patient reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 in Campbell County.

To date, 29 people in Wyoming have tested positive for COVID-19 across eight counties, including Fremont, Laramie, Sheridan, Teton, Carbon, Natrona and Campbell counties, per WHD.

“Quarantine isn’t much fun, but I would much rather be in quarantine at home and know that I’m not exposing anyone else to this — and I’m doing my part to help stop the spread of the virus,” she added. “I know not everyone else who has tested positive has been so lucky.”

Wyoming Residents Have 90-Day Window to Renew Expired Licenses

in Coronavirus/News/Transportation
Gov Gordon Budget
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday that he signed an executive order granting a reprieve for those with expired driver’s licenses.

There’s a catch, though: the window for expired licenses is from March 15 to June 1. Any person whose driver’s license expires in that period will have 90 days to get the license renewed.

The order also suspended non-commercial driving tests for the time being, but commercial driving tests will only be available by appointment.

The intent of the order is to protect the public and the state’s workforce by limiting interactions with state employees and at governmental offices

The Wyoming Department of Transportation will reassess the situation on April 20 to determine if testing can resume.

Lander Gin Distiller Now Making Hand Sanitizer

in Business/Coronavirus/News
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By Paul McCown, owner of Huck Gin in Lander

A few months back, I decided to formalize something I’ve done for fun in the past: making gin.

After my lovely bride questioned my sanity (she has occasions to do this on a regular basis), I decided to start a gin distillery right here in Lander.

Over the last few months, I’ve been pulling together all of the ingredients, equipment, and licensing required.

My first product, Huck Gin, will have a leading flavor profile of juniper, accompanied by strong infusions of huckleberry, all made from locally-sourced ingredients from right here in Lander and the Rocky Mountain West.

Now, with coronavirus impacting our community, I was asked by the Wyoming Business Council in conjunction, with the state of Wyoming, if I could convert my gin stilling operation to focus on the production of germ-killing hand sanitizer?

This was certainly never part of my plan, but with such a strong need across the state, I feel a firm calling to give back to this wonderful place I call home. So while I’ll be busy at my distillery, it won’t be from creating Huck Gin just yet. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other distilleries in the state. On a recent afternoon, we all had a call together with the federal agencies that will be required to get this done.

I can’t stop thinking about how amazing this community and state are. Competitors, all putting it aside for a higher cause. This is truly a special place. 

Editor’s note: A number of Wyoming distilleries have committed to producing sanitizer to help make up for shortages, including Backwards Distillery in Casper, Koltiska Distillery in Sheridan, Chronicles Distilling in Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs Distilling, Melvin Brewing in Alpine, Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby and Jackson Hole Still Works and Grand Teton Distillery in Jackson. The Wyoming Business Council on Tuesday was directed to provide financial assistance to any distillery manufacturing hand sanitizer.

Governor Closes Down More Small Business Due to Coronavirus

in Coronavirus/News
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Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist have issued a third statewide order, closing non-essential personal services.

The order goes into effect tomorrow, March 25, and extends through April 3. The order is focused on businesses where appropriate social distancing measures are not practical. The closure applies to nail salons, hair salons and barber shops; cosmetology, electrology and esthetic services; massage parlors; and tattoo, body art and piercing shops. Medically necessary services such as physical therapy providers may remain open.

“While I understand the impact and sympathize with those most affected by these measures, especially small business owners, I support Dr. Harrist’s recommendation because this is about saving lives,” Governor Gordon said. “We have tried to navigate a thoughtful course, but as COVID-19 spreads through our communities, we must take this action now.”

Dr. Harrist said, “People who are ill with COVID-19 can easily spread this disease to others to anyone nearby if they cough or sneeze. Staying away from others as much as possible helps protect all of us, including those who are most vulnerable to illness complications.”

This order supplements previous statewide orders issued March 19 and 20 closing certain public spaces and prohibiting gatherings of 10 people or more in a single room or confined space.

Residents with additional questions about any of the statewide public health orders should inquire with their county health officer.

A copy of the statewide order is attached and posted on the Governor’s website.

State Coronavirus Count Up To 37, New Cases In Six Counties

in Coronavirus/News
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Wyoming’s coronavirus case count jumped by eight on Tuesday, with new cases diagnosed in Laramie, Teton, Carbon, Natrona, Sweetwater and Fremont Counties.

The case reported in Sweetwater County was the county’s first. In Laramie, the new case brought the total number in the county to eight.

Fremont County, still the hardest hit county in the state, reported two new cases to see its total rise to 12.

Two new cases were reported in Natrona County, while Teton and Carbon each added one during the day.

Enzi Urges Democrats To Quit Playing Partisan Games And Pass Coronavirus Bill

in Coronavirus/News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi urged Senate Democrats on Tuesday to stop delaying action on a proposed coronavirus relief bill and approve the measure in the interest of small business owners and workers.

Enzi, in a speech from the Senate floor, said the $2 trillion bill is needed to protect small businesses and their employees.

“The virus has closed businesses which in turn lay off employees,” Enzi said. “It has done it in what was a strong and growing economy. Why isn’t there more concern for the employees out of work? Why haven’t we already done at least the parts of this bill that give non-government employees some comfort and hope?”

Enzi said it was time to end partisan “gamesmanship” and approve the bill immediately.

Democrats have twice blocked a procedural vote to bring the bill to a final vote in the Senate, arguing it does not do enough for the average citizen and gives corporations hundreds of millions of dollars without sufficient oversight.

But Enzi said the minority party is also holding up passage of the bill because its members are demanding provisions that would advance the causes of the Democratic Party that have nothing to do with the epidemic.

“We are not doing climate change as part of this emergency bill,” he said. “Everything should have a direct connection to the coronavirus. Rome is burning and Congress is fiddling!”

The measure originally proposed in the Senate would provide financial assistance needed to keep businesses open so they could continue to employ people, Enzi said.

He added it would also include payments for taxpayers and billions of dollars for state and local governments.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks closed until further notice

in Coronavirus/News
Bison in Yellowstone
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are closed to all park visitors until further notice, effective immediately, a news release issued Tuesday said.

State highways and/or roads that cross park/state boundaries and lead to facilities that support life, safety and commerce will remain open. Both parks will cooperate on the implementation of the closures. Updates will be provided from both of the parks.

“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail in the release. “We are committed to continued close coordination with our state and local partners as we progress through this closure period and are prepared when the timing is right to reopen as quickly and safely as possible.”  

The parks encouraged people to take advantage of various digital tools available to learn more about each.

Park County Health Officer: “No Hospital Visits is Encouraging Sign”

in Coronavirus/News
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UPDATE FROM THE PARK COUNTY WY HEALTH OFFICER – Tonight there are 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming and 1 case…

Posted by Aaron Billin on Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Public Health Officer for Park County on Tuesday offered up some good news.

Aaron Billin, Public Health Officer for Park County, said that Park County is the only infected county in the state to go seven days without the first case turning into a “cluster.”

Park County has one confirmed case of COVID-19, as of Tuesday morning, and that individual is quarantined at home — another good sign according to Billin.

“The fact that we have no confirmed cases sick enough to be in the hospital is encouraging,” he wrote.

Billin’s optimism was tempered, however. He said inadequate testing doesn’t present a full picture.

“This doesn’t mean we don’t have other unidentified cases in the County,” he said. “We believe we do, we just haven’t diagnosed them yet. We wish testing was not as limited as it is. The Wyoming Department of Health is working on this.”

4,000 People Attend Online Coronavirus Town Hall in Gillette

in Coronavirus/News
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Reprinted with permission from County 17

By Stephanie Scarcliff & Jen Kocher

Nearly 4,000 viewers tuned in Sunday evening to watch as a handful of local leaders in government, education, public health and the medical field addressed community-wide concerns regarding Gillette and Campbell County’s immediate and ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Amongst the topics discussed during the one-hour live-streaming broadcast at the New Life Church were the silver lining of a community and nation-wide unification, and an emphasis on placing a focus on optimism, togetherness and loving our neighbors during this challenging time.

D.G. Reardon, chairman of the Campbell County Board of Commissioners, began the discussion with opening remarks about the gravity of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a very serious situation that we need to get a handle on,” he said, stressing that the community adhere to CDC and public health guidelines and recommendations including social distancing and handwashing. He also asked that people check on their neighbors, be thoughtful, kind and patient.

As of Monday morning, 26 people in Wyoming have tested positive for COVID-19 across seven counties, including one in Campbell County. Over the weekend, four more people had tested positive as the number slowly continues to rise.

Flattening the curve

Dr. Nahida Khan, geriatrics and internal medicine at Campbell County Health (CCH), began by sharing some information about the coronavirus including its origin and epidemiology. “There’s a lot of information we’re learning every day,” she said. “It’s a learning process… but there’s still a lot that we don’t know yet.”

In addition to stressing how information is ever evolving as medical professionals observe other countries and states as well as learn more about the new strain of virus, Dr. Khan eloquently encouraged the community.

“No one likes change. It creates anxiety, fear,” she said, noting information is continuously changing right now and the public needs to be aware that information and recommendations can and will continue to develop and change. She said the best way for the community to flatten the curve is through patience and kindness and discipline.

“By the grace of God and following the recommendations, this too shall pass,” she said.

More dangerous than the flu

More than 200 people sent in questions prior to the town hall to be answered by the panel. Of these, moderator and New Life Lead Pastor Mike Wilson chose 26 to be addressed.

Several people drew comparisons to the flu and wondered why we, as a community, are taking COVID-19 so much more seriously given that roughly 60,000 people die each year from the flu compared just over 400 coronavirus deaths so far in the United States.

The two viruses are actually very different, Chief Medical Officer and Urologist at Campbell County Health Dr. Attila Barabas explained, despite the commonality of symptoms.

“That’s where the similarities end,” Barabas said. Not only is COVID-19 much more contagious, he explained, it’s also much more deadly. The facts speak for themselves, he said: Only 1% of people with the flu are hospitalized compared to 20% of those with coronavirus. Unlike the flu, there is also no treatment.

“The health sector is equipped to handle the flu,” he added, “but this is something entirely new.”

Right now, they are learning as they go, he noted, and are erring on the side of caution based on what they do know. And given its high rate of contagion, social isolating and quarantine are good tactics to employ in order to help stop the spread.

Do we have enough tests?

One of the largest concerns voiced by the community, Wilson said, was whether the county has enough tests amongst growing fears on social media about the number of infected undiagnosed people throughout the county going untreated as well as several horror stories from people who showed symptoms but were denied the test.

“It is a limited resource, so we do have to choose who gets tested,” Barabas said. “That involves a strict criterion that has been given to us by the CDC and allows us to focus the tests on patients who are truly high risk – those patients that will truly make a clinical difference. As long as we use those criteria, we do have an appropriate number of tests at this moment.”

If they stick to these guidelines, he stressed, then they’ll have an “appropriate number” of tests on hand.

They also are confident they have enough hospital beds and other resources if people continue to remain diligent and practice social isolation. The key, he said, is prevention.

“Otherwise, we’ll have to reach outside the community for additional resources,” Barabas said.

Experiencing symptoms?

The panel also addressed what steps would be taken if members of the public see or experience symptoms of COVID-19 including cough, fever, tiredness or difficulty breathing.

From what they know of the virus thus far, Khan said, the virus takes anywhere from three to 14 days to manifest.

“Fourteen seems to be the magic number,” she said.

And though there is currently no treatment for COVID-19, the virus seems to respond to Tylenol, which Kahn said is safe to take.

The first step, she noted, is to contact a healthcare provider, so they can triage symptoms and make the appropriate recommendations for the patient to be tested, if needed.

If a person doesn’t have a local healthcare provider, they are instructed to call the hospital hot line.

“The hospital has set up a phone line that is manned from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (307) 688-1000 is the phone number,” said Dr. Kirtikumar Patel, Campbell County Public Health officer and former internal medicine specialist at CCH. “If there is any reason for people to believe that they have been exposed or that they do have it (COVID-19), recommendations from Public Health’s point of view are to please try and self-quarantine yourself until the symptoms improve because testing is still very limited.”

If a person tests positive, in most cases they’ll be quarantined in their home unless the case is severe enough to be hospitalized. That person should be quarantined away from other family members, preferably in a separate part of the house with their own bathroom, Executive Director of Campbell County Public Health Jane Glaser said. During quarantine, someone from public health will call to check in on them twice a day. Other family members will also be tested. To have the quarantine lifted, the patient must get a clean bill of health from their doctor, as well as a letter from the Wyoming Department of Health.

Are we overreacting?

Another reoccurring question for the panel was whether Governor Gordon made a good call in shutting down local restaurants, businesses, bars, city offices and other public spaces, or if we’re overreacting with calls to self isolate and avoid crowds greater than 10 people, the latest mandate from the Governor.

Wilson asked the panel about the likelihood of the community coming together to practice social distancing for the CDC- recommended 15 days to which the panel overwhelming answered yes.

Self-quarantine seems to be working, Reardon said, and the key is to continue to try to flatten the curve. Thus far, he thinks that residents have done a pretty good job but thinks we can do even better.

When asked if the threat of the virus will extend beyond 14 days, Barabas nodded.

“This is likely to last for months, not weeks. I believe this will be the new normal for the foreseeable future to come,” he said. “One of the things that we learned in the 1918 flu pandemic, in Denver for example, was they restricted their social contacts and that resulted in a lower mortality (rate) and as that mortality (rate) was going down they said, ‘Hey, we’re doing well. Let’s let off of the gas,’ so to speak, and things got significantly worse again.”

Stay informed

Ivy Castleberry, information coordinator for Campbell County encouraged the public to arm themselves with information. “Good, clear communication is key to helping relieve some of the anxiety that the public is feeling as well as keeping them up to date as those changes do come about,” she said.

To this end, Castleberry urged the community to utilize informed resources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and the Campbell County website. Dr. Alex Ayers, superintendent of schools for the Campbell County School District, added the Campbell County School District website as a resource and Geno Palazarri, communication manager for City of Gillette, encouraged the community to visit the City of Gillette website and follow the city on social media including on Facebook page, IG and Twitter for real-time updates and public announcements.

Support local business

Reardon also asked that people utilize the curbside to-go service that most restaurants are using in lieu of dine-in. Castleberry, likewise, suggested ordering a gift certificate from one of the closed businesses to support them. Currently, the federal government is nailing down a relief package to help these businesses weather the shutdown.

Along with grocery stores, hair salons are also open, the panel noted. The city, too, is doing its part to help citizens keep the lights on, Geno Palazarri, public information officer for the City of Gillette, said. Nobody’s electricity will be turned off, he noted, and the city is waving any corresponding late fees and notices.

Likewise, county employees are still working on marriage licenses and other documents, and residents are encouraged to check the county and city websites for more information.

In closing, Barabas said, tellingly, “I do expect that this will, potentially, be sort of a new norm for many weeks, if not for many months.”

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