'Devastating:' Casper's business community reels as visitors flee during coronavirus era - Casper, WY Oil City News
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‘Devastating:’ Casper’s business community reels as visitors flee during coronavirus era

Downtown Casper is seen on March 9, 2020. Only a couple of days later, global spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 would hit Casper’s economy. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. – Staff at the Rib and Chop House in downtown Casper spent days last week prepping ribs, a special off-menu item intended to delight the hundreds of hungry customers in town for state basketball.

They never came.

“We were going to donate 120 ribs with mashed potatoes to the tournaments this weekend, just because everyone was coming to town and we wanted to give them something for their families,” said Serenity Johnson, a Rib and Chop House manager.

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Last Thursday seemed to start out like any other day in early March, when Casper’s hotels, restaurants, shops and arena are packed with visitors to watch and support three days worth of 3A/4A high school basketball tournaments.

But as the first morning games got underway, life in Casper and the country was rapidly changing.

Wyoming’s first conformed case of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was reported in Sheridan County on Wednesday, the same day the NBA decided to suspend all games. Two more cases have been confirmed, though as of Monday none have been in Natrona County.

On Thursday morning, word spread at the tournament that crowds would be dismissed and only teams and essential staff would be allowed into the games.

Then the NCAA announced its cancellation, and Wyoming health officials followed their lead after just one game was completed.

Johnson, who has spent a decade in Casper restaurants, says she’d see sales double during tournament time.

“We prep three weeks in advance knowing the tournaments are coming,” said Johnson. Rib and Chop ran specials over the weekend and intended to donate as much unsold food as possible, she said. Business was notably slow even by normal weekend standards, she said.

Brook Kauffman, executive officer of the Natrona County Travel & Tourism Council, says the economic impact is severe.

The 3A/4A tournament alone brought around $3.3 million into the community, said Kauffman. More than 10,000 tickets were sold last year, she said.

But with no games to play or watch, the people left as quickly as they arrived.

“They left in a huge flock,” said Renee Penton-Jones, general manager of the Ramkota Hotel, which was booked to capacity through the weekend before becoming nearly empty by Thursday afternoon.

“There were a lot of frustrated families of course,” she said on Friday. “There were tears.”

Even after the tournament gut-punch landed on Thursday, the news kept getting worse.

Conventions pulled out, stadium shows postponed, and local events were scrapped all with unimaginable speed.

“There have been a flurry of conventions and events that were canceled that we fielded and refunded,” she said.

“In the last 48 hours, we have canceled more than $1.8 million dollars worth of business,” said Jones. “The initial impact, especially on our employees, is monumental. It’s devastating.”

“One of the things I know some of our venues are focused on is postponing and rescheduling, while there is a financial impact in the short term we hope that’s not long term,” said Kauffman, who added that the safety of the community is her first priority.

Kauffman says her department is focusing on getting “drivers” into Casper to help offset some of the potential loss of international travelers this summer when the pandemic possibly subsides.

Health experts, however, aren’t sure how long the pandemic will last, and they are far from sure how many people in the U.S. who don’t show symptoms are already infected with the highly contagious disease.

Over the past few days, America and the globe have moved closer to a full shutdown. The possibility of a multi-day lockdown was floated by government’s top infectious disease expert on Sunday.

The timing couldn’t come at a worse time for Wyoming, which is already grappling with slowdowns in the energy sector.

“I don’t even know if we realize the long term effects of what this has been for Casper’s sales tax, our community, for everybody,” said Jones.

“It’s just a really, really bleak time.”


The concern around coronavirus and COVID-19 are an ever evolving issue.

For more information please visit the Centers for Disease Control website and The Wyoming Department of Health website. At this time, the WDH is recommending Wyoming residents:

  • 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.


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.