Less than a week before classes resume at both the University of Wyoming and Albany County School District No. 1 schools, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Albany County jumped by 19 on Friday.
The increase brought the county’s total active caseload to 57 cases, a higher total than every county in Wyoming except for Fremont, Laramie and Carbon counties.
UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told the Boomerang in an email that significant one-day increase in cases is largely a result of the Wyoming Department of Health finally logging the results of UW’s pre-return testing.
“The Department of Health previously was not getting results from Vault,” Baldwin said. ”That issue has been resolved, and that data sharing is taking place.”
About half of the total cases reported in Albany County since the pandemic began are currently active.
Since March, 111 cases have been confirmed in the county, with another 15 people deemed “probable” for having contracted the virus.
Many of the new Albany County virus cases confirmed in the last week came as part testing of more than 10,000 University of Wyoming students and employees that’s preceded the fall semester. That testing detected 61 COVID-19 cases.
“The pre-return testing has been helpful in giving us a strong start to the semester from an epidemiological standpoint,” UW President Ed Seidel said in a press release. “This, combined with the testing protocol we’ll use during the semester, gives us the best opportunity to have a successful semester with some in-person experiences.”
As of Friday, UW reported its community had 48 active cases.
Only two are students who were living in UW residence halls; they were moved to isolation housing over the weekend. Eight are UW employees living off-campus, who also are isolating; 36 are students living off campus, most outside Laramie.
Ten students who had close contact with the two who tested positive are in 14-day quarantine. Fifteen of the total of 61 people who tested positive have recovered.
When UW began using an outside bin on campus last week to collect test samples — which were picked up daily at 3 p.m. — several people expressed concern that the summer heat might ruin those samples.
However, Vault Health said that’s unlikely.
“Samples have been tested for stability across a broad range of temperatures — from sub-zero to Death Valley (-28C to +50C) — for up to a month and have shown no or minimal degradation,” the company said in a statement. As such, shipping at ambient temperature, regardless of that temperature or condition, is acceptable.”
Seidel emphasized that as more people return to campus in phases, the potential for more COVID-19 increases — making it important for students, employees and visitors to wear face protection, maintain physical distancing, avoid large gatherings, stay home if they’re ill and participate in post-return testing.
“As we have seen across the country, many of our peers are having to pivot to online environments because of infection outbreaks,” Seidel said. “We believe we have one of the best programs in the nation to monitor and intervene to limit the virus spread, so we can continue to offer a strong on-campus program. It will take the efforts of everyone to execute our plan and have a successful semester while protecting the health of the university and local communities.”
Starting Monday, everyone on campus — students, faculty and staff — will be tested regularly throughout the phased return of on-campus instruction and work. The random-sampling process will utilize Microsoft Bookings links, which those selected for the sample will receive by email. Those who receive the email are asked to register right away and sign up for a time slot to provide a saliva sample at a location on main campus.
The random-sample testing also will utilize Vault Health, which completed UW’s pre-return testing, but in a different manner. Once samples are provided on campus, the test kits will be sent by the university to the company for analysis.
UW students and employees who take the test will receive their results via email from Vault within 3-5 days. Those randomly selected for this testing will not be expected to quarantine while they await results.
“A single positive test result will not diagnose everyone who is a part of that outbreak, but it will give us a good indication that such an outbreak is occurring,” Brant Schumaker, a UW epidemiologist leading the post-return testing program, said in a press release. “That will allow the president and his leadership team to evaluate the situation and consider how to respond.”
By the end of September, when all students are slated to return to campus, tests will be conducted by UW with a 24-hour turnaround.
That plan is based on research that shows a need to remove 80% of infectivity on campus in order to avoid having a substantial outbreak at UW. This will be accomplished with a saliva test developed by the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, where Seidel had been the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation before leaving for UW this year.
Starting Monday, the university will launch UW COVID Pass, a health screening tool that will be accessible through WyoWeb.
UW students and employees who will be on campus this fall are expected to conduct a daily wellness check through COVID Pass.
Upon navigating to the COVID Pass tool, individuals will indicate whether they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms by checking a box. If students or employees are not experiencing unexpected symptoms, they will check the “none of the above” box. Upon submission of the form, COVID Pass will generate one of two results: cleared or not cleared to come to campus.
For employees who don’t have smartphones or computers, the employees are asked to do self-check for fever or symptoms at home each morning. If they don’t have symptoms, they can come to campus and then fill out the COVID Pass once they are on campus at any computer available to them.
Deaths in Wyoming
Meanwhile, three more Wyoming residents have died from the coronavirus, the Wyoming Department of Health reported Friday, bringing the death toll among state residents from the illness to 37.
The department, in a news release, said one person to die from the illness was an older Laramie County man who had been hospitalized for treatment of coronavirus. The man had underlying health conditions that put him at greater risk for complications from the illness, the department said.
The other two Wyoming residents were an older Sublette County woman and an older Carbon County man who died in out-of-state long-term health care facilities where they were exposed to the virus.
The announcement was made as the department announced the number of laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming went up by 54 on Friday with reports of new cases in 13 counties.
The increase was the seventh-highest one-day total of new cases since the pandemic began.
The department, in its daily coronavirus update, said the number of people reported as recovered from the illness on Friday increased by 38, leaving the state with 623 active cases, an increase of 21 from Thursday.
Carbon County had 132 active cases; Fremont had 123; Laramie had 69; Albany had 57; Park and Sheridan had 37; Natrona had 28; Teton had 27; Campbell had 23; Washakie had 21; Sweetwater had 19; Goshen had 17; Lincoln had seven; Hot Springs and Weston had five; Converse, Sublette and Uinta had four; Crook had three, and Platte had one.
Big Horn, Johnson and Niobrara counties had no active cases.
Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.
The growth in confirmed cases brought the total for laboratory-confirmed cases seen since the pandemic began to 2,994.
New cases were reported in Albany, Campbell, Carbon, Converse, Fremont, Hot Springs, Laramie, Natrona, Park, Sheridan, Sublette, Sweetwater and Teton counties.
The number of probable cases, where patients have coronavirus symptoms and have been in contact with someone with a confirmed case but have not been tested, went up by two Friday to total 530 seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in mid-March.
Of the 3,524 patients infected with coronavirus since March, 2,864 have recovered, according to the Department of Health, including 2,414 with laboratory-confirmed cases and 450 with probable cases.
The Wyoming News Exchange contributed to this report.