Coronavirus now a pandemic, however 'This is not a panic situation' in Wyoming - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Coronavirus now a pandemic, however ‘This is not a panic situation’ in Wyoming

Dr. Mark Dowell, M.D., Dr. Ghazi Ghanem, M.D., both infectious disease experts at WMC, are joined by Anna Kinder with the Natrona County Health Department, and Dr. Ron Ivenson, M.D., during a press conference on coronavirus plans. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Update: The Wyoming Department of Health reported its the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Wyoming, hours after this story was first published.

CASPER, Wyo. – The coronavirus isn’t in Wyoming. Yet.

It is, however, a global pandemic, which was announcement on Wednesday morning by the World Health Organization.

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Before the WHO made its announcement this morning, a group of Casper health experts held a joint press conference at the Wyoming Medical Center to address local coronavirus concerns, as well as touch on what the healthcare community is doing to prepare for its inevitable arrival.

“It’s highly likely this virus will end up here,” said Dr. Mark Dowell, M.D., medical director of infection control at Wyoming Medical Center.

“We have an interstate, we have an airport and we have people traveling,” he said.

He added, however, that it’s not a “panic situation.”

“I cannot stress that enough,” he said.

The COVID-19 virus originated in animals, likely bats, and was able to mutate and make an unusual transition to humans.

Dr. Mark Dowell, M.D., Dr. Ghazi Ghanem, M.D., both infectious disease experts at WMC, are joined by Anna Kinder with the Natrona County Health Department, and Dr. Ron Ivenson, M.D., during a press conference on coronavirus plans. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

“Humans have not seen this particular virus before, and therefore don’t have protection against it,” he said, “unlike influenza where people have at least partial protection.”

This is why it spreads so rapidly. As of Wednesday, cases have been reported in four of Wyoming’s neighboring states, including Colorado, South Dakota, Utah and Nebraska.

Symptoms in most people range from cold to flu-like. While it has killed over 4,000 people around the globe, Dr. Dowell says the average age of people who die is 80.

Young people, particularly children, have been resilient to the virus.

The virus’ newness to humans is one reason health experts are struggling to contain its spread.

There is also the possibility of a high mortality rate, according to Dr. Ghazi Ghanem, M.D., of Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases, PC.

Another issue is mass illnesses overwhelming the healthcare system.

“That would put strain on all the resources we have available, not only for people with coronavirus but also your regular heart attacks, strokes, etc.,” he said.

The panel of experts stressed that using the ER for coronavirus scares will not only put many people at risk, but also bog down a department already dealing with flu season.

“Don’t come in if you just have a cough,” said Dr. Ron Iverson, M.D., medical director of the WMC Emergency Department.

Symptoms of the virus include shortness of breath, fever and coughing, but also past exposure risks need to be considered, such as traveling back from areas with large quantities of cases.

The health experts say calling your medical provider before going to the ER or doctor’s office is recommended. For those without medical providers, the city is in the process of setting up a hotline that should be available later this week.

According to Anna Kinder, executive director of the Natrona County Health Department, the state of Wyoming has 2,700 coronavirus test kits available. The state wants to prioritize who gets those tests, she said, so the tests will only be performed if a healthcare provider decides a patient meets the criteria.

Tests by the state will be free of charge. Private labs are reportedly setting up to do testing. Dr. Dowell says they have agreed to wave the copay fee.

“Our mission is to contain the virus and protect the citizens of Natrona County,” said Kinder. “Most importantly, we need to keep calm, wash our hands and take care of each other.”

Dr. Ghazi says the WMC has been preparing for pandemics for years, and protocols will be followed for any coronavirus cases that come in.

For now, doctors and nurses will wear eye, face, gown and hand protections. The bulky containment suites seen on TV won’t be used unless the situation arises, according to Dr. Dowell, and added that he’s not concerned about WMC’s patient capacity.

None of the doctors thought this virus would mutate into something more dangerous, but Dr. Dowell said there’s a possibility it could linger through spring if not longer.

Dr. Dowell said people should “live your life” but be cautious. Following hygiene processes, particularly vigorous and regular hand washing, is the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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:

  • 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.