CHEYENNE – Local health officials worry that crowded gatherings in downtown Cheyenne this past weekend will lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Laramie County.
Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons, in an interview with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Monday, said she was worried about a potential increase following Saturday’s “Summertime On The Streets” event, which drew hundreds of people to shop at local businesses in downtown Cheyenne.
“We’re really concerned about the potential spread from the events this weekend, because it doesn’t appear like a lot of people were wearing masks,” Emmons said. “If people weren’t practicing social distancing – which, from the pictures I saw, I didn’t see that – that’s going to most likely lead to increased numbers in the county.”
While Wyoming has continued to report new cases across the state recently, for a roughly two-week period, Laramie County either reported no new or zero active COVID-19 cases.
But that trend has changed in the past week. On top of the eight cases that emerged last week, local health officials confirmed four new positive COVID-19 cases Monday, though those numbers would not yet reflect any potential outbreak from this weekend.
According to a news release sent out by the department late Monday afternoon, during the last seven days an additional 15 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Laramie County. The majority of these new cases are people between 20 and 30 years old.
As of Monday afternoon, Laramie County had 21 active cases of the virus. According to the Wyoming Department of Health’s 3 p.m. update, the county had reported 211 total cases (137 lab confirmed and 74 probable), while 188 people have recovered (121 lab confirmed/67 probable).
There are signs that those numbers could continue to increase in the coming weeks.
Sunday night, after a Saturday so busy the head brewer at Accomplice Beer Company called it a “zoo,” the restaurant in the historic train depot informed all of its employees that some workers have tested positive for COVID-19, owner Roy Sandoval confirmed to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Monday morning.
The brewery, whose dining room and patio has been reopened at limited capacity for a month, shut down Monday for a 24-hour sanitizing period, and to give local health officials time to conduct an investigation.
“Our hope is that we’re only closed for one day, but it depends on how much of our staff is able to return from work, which will depend on guidance from health officials and who they release to come back to work,” Sandoval said.
According to the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department release, officials there have been informed that at least three restaurants in Cheyenne have workers who have tested positive or are probable.
The county health department, in tandem with the state’s public health officer, has the ability to shut down businesses that completely refuse to comply with protocols, but Emmons said the department has not yet needed to pursue that option.
“Our goal is always going to be to work with the owner as much as possible to try to get them to suspend services until we can do enough contact tracing to have a good idea of what’s going on with their organization,” Emmons said.
The county health department has 12 nurses, all of whom have added contact tracing to their lengthy list of responsibilities. Emmons said they are currently at maximum capacity trying to help contain community spread.
Containing community spread requires commitment from both businesses and customers. Laramie County Health Officer Dr. Stan Hartman told the Tribune Eagle the department has heard from several business owners who have encountered patrons who refused to follow any health-related requests.
“(The requests) are not an infringement on anyone’s personal liberty. This is just being courteous enough to not want to spread the virus in case you happen to have it,” Hartman said. “It’s been politicized, unfortunately, but if you take the politics out and just look at the medical aspects, whenever anyone goes into a business that requests them to wear a face mask, they should comply.”
Hartman pointed to recent research that has found as much as 40% of new COVID-19 cases could be asymptomatic – evidence that he said underscores the importance of wearing a mask.
“The coronavirus is here, and it’s not going away any time soon,” Hartman said. “Even though people are tired of dealing with it, they still have to deal with it.”