Big Horn County marked as county of concern by White House Task Force

By: 
By Ryan Fitzmaurice

Big Horn County has been named one of the most prominent areas of COVID-19 infection within Wyoming by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

In a Sept. 27 report, published by the Center for Public Integrity, the task force identified counties with a high amount of COVID cases as either a red, orange, or yellow zone, based on the number of new cases the rate of positive tests.

Big Horn County was identified as a red zone county in the Sept. 27 report, along with Albany, Campbell, Converse, Park, Sublette and Goshen counties. Teton and Sheridan counties were orange zones, and Natrona, Lincoln and Platte counties were yellow zones.

According to Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health, Big Horn County was redesignated as an orange zone county in an Oct. 11 report by the White House task force.

Deti said the state receives weekly reports from the task force and believes the report has valuable information. Deti added that the state has its own data to work off of, with even more detailed information.

“The information in the reports can change quite a lot from week to week,” Deti said. “It’s important to keep in mind that our numbers can  be very volatile because of our low population, especially when you get to the county level.”

Still, the designations reflect a significant increase in cases within Big Horn County. According to statistics kept by the Wyoming Department of Health, Big Horn County currently has 49 active confirmed cases. A total of 103 confirmed cases have been identified within the county overall.

It’s a sizeable increase from last week, when the county had 28 active cases, with 74 cumulative cases. Just a week before that, the county only had eight active cases. One week before that, the county had none.

Deti said the state is working on recommendations to give to counties with a higher count of COVID cases.

“We have been working on recommendations overall included in the reports such as increased testing, but to date we haven’t acted specifically on county actions included in the reports or the color-coded ratings,” Deti said. “However, it is true that cases have increased across the state, and that is cause for concern. We continue to emphasize that people should stay home and away from other people unless they are seeking medical attention if they are ill. We also recommend physical distancing when with other people outside of your household and the use of masks in public settings.

Big Horn County’s health department prevention specialist Chad Lindsay said the county’s COVID team met Wednesday, Oct. 14, to discuss the county’s response to the uptick. 

 

Causes for the increase

 

County Public Health Officer Dr. David Fairbanks said the increases come from several clusters of cases that have been identified through testing.

“We have had a recent increase in cases that has been through several clusters,” Fairbanks said. The clusters have resulted from people not being as cautious as we have been in the past. When a cluster turns up positive, you get a jump of five or six. When you look at the specifics in New York City or Miami, five or six isn’t a big jump. In Big Horn County, five or six is a significant percentage of the population comparatively.”

Clusters have been one of the factors in the case increase.  The other common denominator is the age of those infected. 

“Right now, the fastest-growing groups are teenagers and young adults. You can see that in the statistics within Wyoming. To some extent, that’s because of the specific belief that age group, if they get infected, won’t become sick,” Fairbanks said. “To a large extent, that remains to be true, but the issue is those people because infectors and transmit the illness and transmit the virus to those more susceptible to the virus.”

Cases of COVID aren’t entirely isolated and contained anymore, Fairbanks said. He described one example of a person infected with COVID being tested and being told to isolate for 48 hours while results came back. Instead, the individual went out into the community.

“It’s here, it’s in our county, we’re seeing community spread,” Fairbanks said.

This increases the need for social distancing and face covering, according to Fairbanks.

“I think people still need to be careful when there are dangers out there. We wear orange hats, and we wear orange vests in our hunting activities, we wear seat belts when we drive. We have things in place to discourage people from texting and driving so as not to injure other people,” Fairbanks said. “We have to look at this the same way.”

Sheriff Ken Blackburn shared in Fairbanks’ account that at least a portion of the cases are caused by North Big Horn County residents not being careful enough.

“In most of the cases, a lot of what we’re seeing, a significant number are coming from people who have flippantly ignored everything, ignored safety procedures, and that has gotten us into a vulnerable situation,” Blackburn said. “That’s not every case, but we have seen people act irresponsibly.”

 

County response

 

Blackburn said the county is still conducting business as usual amid the increased COVID cases.

“The red zone means mathematically that means there’s a lot of numbers here,” Blackburn said. “It’s not doomsday or anything like that.”

The threshold may be approaching, Blackburn said, where canceling events may be advisable. Still, the county does not see that determination as one the government should make.

“There may certainly come a threshold where it will be wise to cancel the events. Hopefully, that will be within the wisdom of individual organizations. We want to allow organizations to make good decisions on their own,’ Blackburn said. “I’m obviously a very conservative person. I believe that we have to be very cautious of government overreach.”

Still, rising numbers continue to put residents within the county at risk and influence county decisions, he said.

“At this point, of course, everything is on the table for discussion,” Blackburn said. “I don’t know if it gets worse, what to expect. We are aware of the increases, and we are continuing to meet to discuss the appropriate response.”

 

Schools

 

 

Riverside, Burlington and Greybull schools continue to report zero cases for the year.

Lovell High School reported that two more individuals were tested positive this week. Rocky Mountain Middle/High School reported that one staff member has tested positive.

Lindsay said the county continues to hold confidence in the strength of the schools’ protocol in response to COVID-19.

“The schools are the safest place in the county right now,” Lindsay said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Those exposed expected to quarantine

 

Those who test positive or who have been informed by contact tracing efforts that they have been exposed are called to quarantine or isolate afterward, county and state officials confirmed.

According to Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health, all positive tests are required to be reported to the Wyoming Department of Health.

“It is expected that follow-up occurs with people who have a positive test result and that follow-up generally includes isolation orders,” Deti said.  “Isolation is the term used for people who are infected with a virus; quarantine is the term we use for people who may have been exposed to a virus.”

 Contact tracing efforts continue to be conducted by the state, Big Horn County Public Health Manager Hillary Mulley said.