Harrist: Wearing face masks among three 'powerful tools' to keep Wyoming schools open - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Harrist: Wearing face masks among three ‘powerful tools’ to keep Wyoming schools open

Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist. (Wyoming PBS, Youtube)

CASPER, Wyo. — Governor Mark Gordon said during a Wednesday, Aug. 5 press conference that all 48 school districts in the state have submitted “Smart Start Reopening Plans” to the Wyoming Department of Education.

“Those plans are currently being reviewed by the department,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the goal is to allow schools to reopen in the fall in a manner as “safe as possible” for students and faculty amid the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. The governor added that he held a call with superintendents from districts across the state last week to discuss their concerns.

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He said the discussion centered around what would happen under different scenarios should schools see cases of COVID-19. Superintendents also raised questions about school funding, Gordon added.

“I think there is some concern about what happens in some different scenarios,” Gordon said. “No matter how well planned we are, I think as we go into this school year, there will be hiccups. It is important we understand every school district is a little bit different.”

He noted that districts are different both in terms of population in the area but also in terms of the rate of COVID-19 infections in their regions.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist also addressed the topic of school re-opening during the press conference.

“I know questions about schools are a focus for many Wyoming families,” she said. “As a pediatrician, I know that being in schools with other children and with in-person teachers is healthy and helpful for most children. I want children to have that experience as much as possible this year, but we need to make sure our children and teachers are safe.”

“We can all help. We have learned that with COVID-19, we have some powerful tools at our disposal. Using them will help make schools more safe and more available.”

Harrist said that three “powerful” and “simple” tools to help keep schools re-open include:

  • “Please stay home when sick unless you need medical help.”
  • “Keep physically apart”
  • “Wear face coverings when that isn’t practical”

“These three simple tools are the foundations of our public health orders and of school plans,” Harrist added. “It does make me sad to know that some of these recommendations….that some people see them as insidious or more than just using the best tools that we have to allow children to go to class and to be safe there.”

Harrist said that she expects schools will “unfortunately” see some cases of COVID-19 among students. She said that people following the above-named practices “can help keep the numbers lower and more manageable.”

“It is really important that parents contact their healthcare providers about testing if their child has symptoms that could be COVID-19,” she added. “This will help make sure we are identifying infections early so children can get the appropriate medical care and so we can limit spread within schools.”

She said the Wyoming Department of Health and county health officials are prepared to respond when cases are identified in schools.

“We will approach this in the same way we have with other infectious and communicable diseases for years and as we have with cases of COVID-19 during the last several months,” she said. “Once a positive result is reported, public health officials will contact the person with COVID-19 or their parents to follow up and place the person with COVID-19 in isolation.”

“Public health officials will determine who is considered to be a close contact and needs to be quarantined. We define close contacts as those who had contact with the infected person within six feet for ten minutes or more. Schools will be notified by public health officials of positive results and may be asked for information and details to support the follow up process.”

The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: covid@cnchd.org

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.