Dowell: Cancelling tournaments a 'no brainer' - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Dowell: Cancelling tournaments a ‘no brainer’

Natrona County Health Officer and infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Dowell talks during a press conference after deciding to cancel state basketball tournaments on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. – Describing the coronavirus outbreak as a “moving target,” Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell discussed his decision to cancel the 2020 State High School 3A/4A Basketball Championship games on Thursday morning.

He also touched on other actions the health department is taking, including working with nursing homes and the school district.

“For me it was a no brainer,” said Dowell on the cancellation during a press conference at the Casper Natrona County Health Department (CNCHD) on Thursday afternoon.

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“My job is to protect the citizens and use some common sense with this,” he said.

“When you see the NCAA, NBA, soon the NHL, completely cancel their tournaments, it just made no sense (to play).”

The decision came a day after the first case of coronavirus was reported in Wyoming. According to the Wyoming Health Department, a woman in Sheridan County tested positive after coming in contact with the virus during “domestic travel.” No other details were available on Thursday.

On Thursday morning as the first games were underway, the CNCHD decided to ban crowds and allow only athletes and essential staff into the games before moving to cancel them altogether.

“We really don’t have an idea how widespread it is in the state. We already have a case, I’m sure we have more that we don’t know about, and I’d rather be proactive than reactive.”

“I couldn’t sleep at night if I put hundreds, potentially thousands of people at risk,” he said.

Dowell says coronavirus, or COVID-19, is likely more contagious than influenza since it’s a new virus to humans there’s no immunity.

Coronavirus is not influenza but its symptoms can be similar.

Dowell says kids and young people are resilient to the virus, but they can easily spread it to older people in their family. It can easily spread in large groups as well.

The virus can be dangerous and is potentially fatal too older people or those with preexisting health conditions, according to health experts.

Dowell says the department has advised nursing homes to restrict visitors, asking employees to keep anyone who appear sick out of the building.

Dowell says there are currently no plans to close schools, but there are ongoing discussions on “thresholds” for case numbers before deciding on closures.

“It’s a big deal for the country, for families and childcare and the school district. It’s a huge decision that would be made with the superintendent and officials,” said Dowell.

“There is no plan at all and no indication to do that, the vast majority of the United States is letting school go on as is,” he said.

Some universities are going online mainly because of dorm living, where the virus could spread more easily.

Dowell said the United States has done a “very poor job” on developing the testing needed for coronavirus.

“Every state is struggling with this,” he said.

Wyoming has 2,700 coronavirus test kits, so health providers have been instructed to make sure patients meet certain criteria for testing.

Dowell emphasized that people should not walk into clinics and especially the ER and demand testing.

If a person is sick with symptoms, they should first call their healthcare provider or the Casper Natrona County Health Department at 307.235.9340.

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.