Transients in Riverton quarantined; Fremont County virus tally up
April 30, 2020
RIVERTON — Part of Riverton's transient population has been quarantined on the Wind River Indian Reservation due to coronavirus concerns.
"Our contact tracing is driving us to test people who have been exposed. Our transient population was definitely targeted over the last couple days," Fremont County Commissioner and Incident Command spokesman Mike Jones told The Ranger.
With wide availability and use of coronavirus testing, Fremont County's number of cases had jumped to 98 through Monday, up from 66 on Friday. The count one week earlier was 51.
Jones said contacts of deceased Northern Arapaho Tribal member Alan Jenkins, 50, who was among the first four in the county to die after contracting coronavirus, were identified as members of Riverton's transient community.
"Mr. Jenkins was the reason that (Indian Health Service) and Wind River Cares went in to test the population of Riverton," said Jones. "Because he was, kind of, a part of that community, so they went and did the tracing and the testing. And that's what led them there - to get those folks tested."
In his own interview, Riverton Mayor Rich Gard tipped his hat to Riverton Police Department Chief Eric Murphy, who "didn't have any struggles" in persuading people to go to a mobile testing facility at the Fremont County Fairgrounds and submit to fast-tracked Abbot coronavirus tests.
"He's not afraid to work with them, that's for sure," said Gard.
The Abbot testing kits obtained recently by tribal healthcare entity Wind River Cares take hours instead of days to return results, Jones noted.
Because testing protocols for the tribe and to some extent, all Wyoming, have expanded to include even asymptomatic contacts of confirmed-positive patients, some of the people tested and relocated were asymptomatic at the time.
The vacated Wind River Hotel and Casino was the first option for a quarantine site, but as many of the transient population struggle with alcohol addiction, the ability to travel north from the casino - which sits on the land of the "dry" (no alcohol) Wind River Indian Reservation - back to Riverton, where alcohol is sold, was too convenient.
"We have been using the casino," Jones said, but some transients walked away. "So (the tribes) were trying to find a little better place to contain people to keep them from walking back into town," Jones said.
Hours of discussion between entities on Friday ended in a decision to use the mobile "man camp" vacated by minerals industry employees who had been working on the reservation.
Oil and gas prices both on and off the reservation have crashed due to coronavirus panic, travel stagnation, and a March price war between Saudi Arabian and Russian oil interests.
"How do we isolate?" was the question at the local authorities' meeting regarding the 11 people who tested positive for coronavirus, who were frequently seen in City Park or on the Rails to Trails Bike Path.
Other concerns, Jones said, were "how do we keep them safe? How do we keep them from exposing the rest of the community?"
Fremont County Sheriff Ryan Lee agreed to transport people to the Great Plains Hall in Arapahoe, where they stayed while the Intertribal Council prepared the man camp housing on the Sundance grounds, also in Arapahoe.
As the conjoined executive panel for both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes, the Intertribal Council is funding the individuals' stay and care in the quarantine zone.
Jones said this includes "making sure they have food and water and blankets," as well as routine care.
When asked in a follow-up interview how well the community was contained, Jones said there are still hiccups.
"I'm hearing a mix, but it seems we're still struggling" with some of transient population.
He also acknowledged the struggle of weaning gently from prolonged alcohol consumption on a "dry" reservation, but he didn't know how Wind River Public Health Officer Dr. Paul Ebberts was handling that quandary.
Ebberts could not be reached for comment by press time.
The initial number of 11 positives from the targeted testing likely has grown, Jones said. "(Test results) are coming in. That number, I'm sure, is bigger now."