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Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Officials expect COVID-19 surge in early May


April 9, 2020

GILLETTE — So far during the coronavirus pandemic in Campbell County, eight of the 11 people who been confirmed positive for coronavirus have recovered. No one has been hospitalized because of COVID-19 yet.

But the worst is yet to come, especially if the community lets down its guard, CCH officials say.

There are several models that predict the spread of the novel coronavirus, and most of them project that Wyoming’s surge will start the last week of April and peak in the first or second week of May, said Dr. Nick Stamato, chief of medical staff for Campbell County Health.

CCH CEO Andy Fitzgerald said the numbers for those projections have “changed dramatically over the last few weeks for the better.”

“As we’ve preached to our community to stay home, people are adhering to that,” he said. “Projections are headed in the right direction, that curve is flattening. The surges we expect are less today than even a week ago.”

“I think that’s a good thing, and I think it gives us great heart to think we really can beat this,” Stamato said.

But Campbell County is not out of the woods. The endgame is still far down the road, and there is much work to be done, Fitzgerald said. Those projections make the assumption that people continue to stay at home and socially distance. If they don’t, there could be another resurgence.

“How we maintain that sort of discipline for a while longer will be key to how well we come out on the other side,” he said.

Campbell County may have a low number of cases now, but it won’t take much for the local count to explode.

“There was a time in New York when there were only nine positive patients,” which was a number that Campbell County had over a week-long period before Friday. “That, of course, blossomed into what you see today,” Fitzgerald said.

As of Saturday evening, New York City had nearly 99,000 cases of COVID-19 and 5,742 deaths from the virus.

With the surge in Campbell County predicted to hit in a few weeks, CCH is doing everything it can to be ready for it. It has put up a tent in the emergency room parking lot to handle more patients. It won’t be used to house patients. Instead, it’ll be part of the emergency department’s triage process.

The Walk In Clinic, primary care and specialty clinics can now see patients through Telehealth or telephone. This is being done to limit exposure to patients and health care workers.

And doctors are working together to figure out how to best care for patients who are at the hospital for reasons other than the coronavirus.

It just takes one positive patient to spread the virus to friends, neighbors and coworkers, who will in turn spread it to the people they’re in contact with, Fitzgerald said. His fear is that people will get complacent and unknowingly spread the virus just by going back to normal life, when all they had to do was stay at home for a bit longer.

“That’s one of the things I lose sleep over,” Fitzgerald said.

Some have advocated for the economy to open up as soon as possible, saying it’s time to get back to work and open up the bars, restaurants and movie theaters. State Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, has asked Gov. Mark Gordon and the state Legislature to consider coming up with creative ways to open the economy in a few months.

If things went back to normal today, “we’d just open ourselves back up to the threat,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the outbreak would begin again, and it could be even worse than before.

“That’s one of my greatest concerns, is that you let your guard down, just like in any fight, and you get smacked again because you didn’t keep your defenses up,” he said.

The coronavirus has stuck around longer than first thought. Campbell County can’t just shake it off. Fitzgerald said he’s heard some people say CCH, and the whole country, should just let the virus run its course.

He called this approach “terribly lopsided thinking” and said if that were to happen, “the hospital system will break.”

It’s something many cities know all too well.

“Whether it’s a small rural community like Gillette or whether it’s New York City, it’s not pleasant when the health care system gets overwhelmed,” Fitzgerald said.

When it comes to everyday life, nearly everything has changed, and social distancing will “be with us for a little while longer,” he said. “We should get used to that, and really be thankful there is a way that we can control the spread of this.”


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