As COVID surge continues, ‘our hospitals are filling up’

Posted 10/27/20

With local cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge higher and higher — and hospitalizations rising — public health officials are raising concerns that local healthcare facilities are being …

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As COVID surge continues, ‘our hospitals are filling up’


With local cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge higher and higher — and hospitalizations rising — public health officials are raising concerns that local healthcare facilities are being stretched too thin.

There were 169 active confirmed or probable cases of the respiratory disease within Park County as of Sunday, according to County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin, though the Wyoming Department of Health, which counts recoveries more slowly, listed 260 active cases. The local infections include five patients hospitalized at Powell Valley Healthcare — including one person admitted on Monday — and four at Cody Regional Health.

“It is one thing to have increased active cases in Park County,” Billin wrote in a Sunday Facebook post, “but now our hospitals are filling up.”

For anyone who hasn’t taken the pandemic precautions seriously — namely mask wearing, social distancing, staying home when sick and cooperating with contact tracing — “this is the time to do so,” Billin said.

Across the state, there were 102 patients hospitalized in Wyoming facilities as of Monday. That’s a roughly five-fold increase in the span of a month.

“The situation is already ‘all hands on deck’ at St. John’s in Jackson and Wyoming Medical Center in Casper,” Billin said.

He noted that overwhelmed hospitals in Utah have been discussing how they might ration health care, in case that becomes necessary in the coming weeks.

“That means the younger person gets the ventilator and the ICU bed,” Billin wrote of the discussions underway in Utah.

As for the situation in Park County, public health officials “are now regularly issuing modified quarantine orders for Cody Regional Hospital employees so that they can keep working with certain precautions and keep the hospital open,” he wrote Sunday.

“We are getting ready to do the same at Powell Valley Healthcare,” added Billin, who works as an ER doctor at the Powell facility.

Jim Cannon, a PVHC spokesman, said the organization has seen an uptick in people with COVID-19 symptoms and those seeking testing for the disease. The hospital can expand the space it has available for COVID patients if necessary.

“Right now, there’s not a concern about that, but we do have that capability,” Cannon said Monday, adding, “Right now, it’s not being stressed, but we’re definitely being vigilant about trying to spread the word about trying to keep the numbers down, keep the spread down so we can continue to take care of the people.”

Billin noted that increases in hospitalizations have tended to lead to increased deaths, following a lag of a couple weeks. On Monday, the Wyoming Department of Health announced nine additional COVID-19-related deaths. That included five elderly people — three men and two women — who died at a Lovell nursing home last week amid an outbreak. All five Big Horn County residents had underlying health conditions, the Department of Health said.

Since March, there have been 77 coronavirus-related deaths among Wyoming residents out of some 11,500 confirmed or probable cases reported to health officials. The elderly and those with other health conditions are at the greatest risk of becoming seriously or deathly ill. Most people infected with the novel coronavirus recover at home, suffering mild or moderate flu-like symptoms or not even realizing they’re sick.

In addition to those who are hospitalized, “we’ve got a few sick people at home that are legitimately sick,” Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton said Monday. “But we’ve also got a significant number of folks that have had illness for one or two days and then felt fine. So it’s covering the spectrum.”

In a Sunday Facebook post, John Harris of Cody shared about the symptoms that his wife, Jona Harris, has had with COVID-19. She’s experienced severe shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and a low grade fever for five or six days, he said, sharing a CT scan of her lung that showed “ground glass opacities” in her lung.

“Jona [Harris] does not have any other underlying health issues and is normally healthy,” John Harris wrote, adding that he previously had similar, but less intense symptoms. Both he and his wife work in law enforcement, he as a Cody police officer, she as a sergeant for the Park County Sheriff's Office.

“The reason I’m sharing this (with Jona’s permission) is to hopefully provide people with some insight,” he wrote. “I know there is a huge raging debate over mask wearing, and I’m not trying to incite an argument over it. I just want people to consider the potential for serious consequences when they are choosing to not wear a mask when in public spaces out of spite or willfulness.”

As of Monday, there had been a total of 274 confirmed or probable cases identified in Park County in the preceding 14 days. That’s the highest figure yet. Similarly, a total of 40 tests came back positive for COVID-19 on Sunday — the worst single-day for Park County since the start of the pandemic.

Former Vice President and current Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has sought to make a campaign issue out of the rising number of COVID-19 cases around the country and on Monday, President Donald Trump attributed the rise to increased testing.

“A Fake News Media Conspiracy,” Trump tweeted. “Many young people who heal very fast. 99.9%. Corrupt Media conspiracy at all time high. On November 4th., topic will totally change. VOTE!”

The president is correct in saying that testing has increased. However, Wyoming’s test positivity rate has also shot upwards — indicating that the virus is more prevalent. From July through mid-September, it was rare for more than 5% of a given day’s test results to come back positive for COVID-19, spiking at around 8%. That was good news, because, as a pair of Johns Hopkins University professors explained in an August piece, “one threshold for the percent positive being ‘too high’ is 5%.”

However, in recent weeks, 8% has represented a good day in Wyoming, as the state’s daily positivity rate has often run between 12 and 14%.