Health experts give a press conference on the surge of COVID-19 cases in Wyoming on Wednesday at the Wyoming Medical Center. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. – Casper health experts held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at the Wyoming Medical Center to emphasis the troubling trends occurring in the state with COVID-19.

Wyoming’s cases are routinely breaking records, and the WMC currently has the highest number of COVID patients its seen since the start of the pandemic in March.

According to WMC interim CEO Dr. James Bleicher, M.D., the hospital entered a “code orange” this morning, which is just below the top “code red” as far as seriousness.

“At 6 a.m. we had 149 patients upstairs which puts us at near-capacity, and we had 17 people holding in the Emergency Room,” he said, adding that long-term staffers have never seen that number in the ER.

Currently there are 21 COVID patients in the hospital as of Wednesday, he said. COVID patients generally stay much longer than other patients, taking up bed space. The hospital opened up its dedicated COVID unit for the first time since the pandemic started, and there are at least four patients there now, he said.

The hospital has diverted patients to other hospitals, taking only COVID, trauma, strokes and heart attacks. Voluntary surgeries were temporarily halted earlier today, he said.

Dr. Mark Dowell, M.D. complimented the school district for keeping cases low and contained. “They’re doing a great job,” he said.

As for the remainder of the community, he expressed serious concern about the community spread.

“This is not going to go away for the next several months,” he said, “I think it’s going to get a lot worse, and our hospital is already stretched and we’re not even really seeing the amount of COVID we’re going to see.”

Dowell says COVID cases are generally on a two-week delay, causing health experts to believe the number of cases will dramatically rise as people who are already exposed start to show symptoms.

“One case typically spins off three or four additional cases,” he said.

“We need everyone to mask in every business,” he said. “Everybody going in and everybody that works there, no exceptions. This is the real deal.”

“We can control what COVID does in our community if we do the right thing,” he added.

“Masks work and social distancing works. There’s not going to be a vaccine for several months, I promise you.”

“Twenty people in the hospital with COVID is the tip of the iceberg.”

“We know that it is community widespread, we know that it is in our long term care facilities, our nursing homes, and it is affecting our first responders, even some of our businesses,” said Casper-Natrona County Health Department director Anna Kinder. “Imagine if we lose a whole group of firefighters, or dispatch or police.”

Kinder and Dowell said people need to cooperate with health officials on contact tracing.

“Please answer the phone calls and give correct phone numbers. The contact tracers can’t do their job and reduce the spread if we can’t contact people.”

Dr. Ghazi Ghanem, M.D., said COVID is a time and labor-intensive treatment.

“You can have 20 patients in the hospital with COVID, but what that means you are going to have a lot of people who are going to stay in the hospital with this disease for quite some time taking away beds that usually are used for other illnesses.”

Ghanem warns that hospital staff can be exposed if people come in and don’t disclose they have COVID or don’t know.

“We need to band together. We’re not panicking, we’re saying it’s time to jump into action and help each other, and take it seriously,” said Bleicher.