UW students, professor help with Wyoming COVID-19 testing - Casper, WY Oil City News
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UW students, professor help with Wyoming COVID-19 testing

UW scientists helping conduct COVID-19 testing at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne include, from left: recent microbiology graduate Taylor (Cortez) Fearing, international trainee Matios Lakew, undergraduate Samyr Wissar, graduate student Chris Anderson, Associate Professor Dr. Brant Schumaker, undergraduate Meagan Soehn and undergraduate Kelsie Bowcutt. (Photo by Jim Mildenberger, courtesy of the University of Wyoming)

CASPER, Wyo. — Four University of Wyoming students and two recent graduates are reportedly part of the frontline effort in the Wyoming battle against COVID-19

The students, along with Dr. Brant Schumaker, a veterinary epidemiologist and UW associate professor, answered the call to help the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne with novel coronavirus COVID-19 testing, according to a statement from UW.

The University says that microbiology senior Meagan Soehn, of Casper, conducts undergraduate research in Schumaker’s laboratory in the Department of Veterinary Sciences at UW and already had experience with the type of extractions needed in the state lab.

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“I had a bonus week of spring break, so I felt like I should help out during this crazy time,” she says. “[the experience] really helps to show things I learned in my classes, especially as a microbiology student. We talk about outbreaks in infectious diseases but, to be able to see all this up close, is something you can’t get in the classroom.”

The experience also gives her a sense of purpose during these stressful days.

“It’s nice to help out. It feels important and worthwhile,” she says.

With UW courses going online Monday after the extended spring break, Soehn says she believes she’ll have the flexibility in her schedule to continue helping.

Dr. Schumaker is one of two epidemiologists in the state. His co-workers and team at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory have a long-standing relationship with the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory.

“Most of the team have been trained to deal with sample processing and RNA extraction, which is the method by which we’re trying to detect the coronavirus,” Schumaker says. “I am serving in a logistic support role managing sample triage so that high-priority samples are getting to the front of the line. We’re getting the samples in and results out.”

As of the evening of March 25, the lab had tested 758 samples, with many more coming in.

“So, the testing is ramping up for sure,” he says. “For each positive test result, we’ll have more demand for more tests as well.”

Wyoming Public Health Laboratory Director Cari Roark Sloma credits the team from UW for helping the lab respond to the unprecedented demand.

“The help we’ve been receiving from our colleagues at the state veterinary lab has been critical for the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory to help us maintain and expand testing for COVID-19,” Sloma says.

When spring break ends, Schumaker will have less time to give to the effort, but he plans to continue to help as much as possible.

“At the state vet lab, we’re all trained to respond to emergencies in infectious disease,” Schumaker says. “I felt very strongly that, if there was an opportunity to help in any way, it was important for me to be involved if I could make a difference. If we can find new cases and get other people tested more efficiently, we might have an effect on stemming the tide of this pandemic.”

The UW students helping with the effort, listed here by hometown, include:

Becker, Minn. — Chris Anderson, graduate student, animal and veterinary sciences.

Casper — Meagan Soehn, undergraduate student, microbiology.

Cheyenne — Kelsie Bowcutt, undergraduate student, molecular biology.

Laramie — Samyr Wissar, undergraduate student, molecular biology.

Recent UW graduates helping with the effort, both from Cheyenne, are Taylor (Cortez) Fearing, microbiology; and Chayse Rowley, microbiology/family and consumer sciences.

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.