Contact tracers running into struggles as COVID surges in Casper and Natrona - Casper, WY Oil City News
Oil City News Logo

Contact tracers running into struggles as COVID surges in Casper and Natrona

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. — Health officials in Natrona County are asking that people respond to COVID-19 contact tracing calls from the Casper-Natrona County Health Department (CNCHD) and ensure they are giving accurate phone numbers to health care providers.

“Please answer the phone calls. Give correct phone numbers,” CNCHD Executive Director Anna Kinder said during a Wednesday press conference at the Wyoming Medical Center.

The press conference was held as the state and county deal with a surge in cases and the Wyoming Medical Center deals with higher numbers of COVID patients in the hospital since at any point in the pandemic.

Article continues below...

The WMC had a record 21 COVID patients on Wednesday. As of 8:30 am Friday, there were 19 COVID patients at the hospital, according to WMC Spokesperson Kristy Bleizeffer.

Kinder noted on Wednesday that contact tracing efforts are essential to efforts to slow the spread of the virus by figuring out who may have been exposed to the virus and where they may have been exposed.

“The contact tracers can’t do their job and slow or reduce the spread if we don’t have the ability to contact people,” she said.

Kinder added that COVID-19 is spread throughout Natrona County.

“It is in our long term care facilities, our assisted living, it is affecting our first responders,” she said. “Even some of our businesses. So even if I take all the actions that I can do to protect myself, when you consider businesses and healthcare facilities that we have out in the community, if someone does become exposed to COVID or, in fact, is diagnosed with COVID, that takes that person out of the workforce.”

“And so people are getting spread extremely thin and we’re not able to do some of the work that we may otherwise imagine. If we lose a whole group of firefighters, or our dispatch, or our police or some of our instrumental businesses that we have in the community, it may not be that the person is sick with COVID. But it can take out a whole business or a whole department.”

Kinder said that some people in the community are not responding to contact tracing calls from the CNCHD or are not providing accurate phone numbers when they go to receive COVID testing.

“I think the biggest thing that we’re trying to stress is that when people go for testing that they give a good strong phone number,” she said. “Having good contact information is essential.”

She noted that people may receive calls from the health department and not answer because they don’t recognize the number.

“All of us probably get those phone calls,” Kinder said. “We don’t know who it is [and] we don’t answer. Perhaps you might want to answer that phone call or call us back. We will do everything we can to walk you through the process. But the biggest thing we’re seeing is people just aren’t [answering contact tracing calls or calling back].”

Kinder added that there is no risk to answering calls from the health department.

“No one iss getting in trouble,” she said. “There is nothing that we’re looking for in a punitive way. It’s just, if you can really think about who you had contact with for the last two days and identify all those people, it’s protecting all of them. It’s not a means of punishment or anything like that.”

Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell emphasized the importance of contact tracing efforts in protecting the health and safety of the community.

“Contact tracing so we can get accurate information about what’s going on in this county is incredibly important,” he said. “You’re not getting called because we’re trying to check up on you and send your name over the internet. What we’re trying to do is keep the community healthy, trace where this is going, try to help people stay well and keep it from spreading.”

“So for those of you in the community that refuse to answer the phone calls and cooperate with contact tracing, you’re hurting your own family, you’re hurting our ability to take care of people, you’re hurting your friends. So do it for the good of the community and the state. Cooperate with the contact tracing, every time. We need the information to help.”

Dowell said that people’s cooperation with contact tracing efforts are key to keeping schools and businesses open.

“We’re having employees here at the hospital have to quarantine,” he added. “We have employees getting sick, physicians getting sick. This is really a big deal. So I’m asking people in Wyoming and I’m certainly asking people in Natrona County, do your part. Take it seriously. This is not political. This is a health emergency all the way. Take out the politics completely.”

Kinder said that CNCHD contact tracing efforts have shown that COVID-19 is “very much in the community.” While exposure has been tied back to specific businesses in some cases, she said that significant exposure has not been tied back to specific recent large gatherings.

“I know there are a lot of things that happen in our community that we don’t necessarily know about,” she said. “But we work very closely with the Events Center, the school district, the college. They’re sort of our best partners because they’re trying to take all of these things into consideration and doing what they need to do to be as safe as possible.”

She noted Casper College as an example of how cooperation can help slow the spread of the virus. After identifying 38 cases among students and staff in later September, the college placed residence halls on quarantine.

“We’re doing very proactive testing with them,” Kinder said of students living at the dorms. “Of course that’s a prime place for new infections to be easily spread. Yup, it’s a younger population that may not get sick, but the volume that we see, but we are actively working with them daily to ensure that we’re controlling as much as possible.”

Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Ghazi Ghanem added that health providers do not judge people who have contracted COVID.

“We’re not judging people,” he said. “All we want is to protect this community and to decrease the rate of transmission. What you do in your own house, what you do in the community, that, you’re responsible for. Just be responsible, that’s all. There is no judgment.”

WMC Chief of Staff Dr. Andy Dunn said at the press conference that he considers anyone in the community who is doing what they can to help slow the spread of the virus among “the front line heroes.”

“We have a couple things on our side still,” he said. “Masks. Keep the social distancing. Don’t go to work if you’re sick. Get screened. Get tested. There’s some simple things that we can do to prevent a steeper incidence slope.”

“The hospital is going to be here for y’all. We we have plans in place and we just need you all to keep doing what you’re doing in terms of the masks we’ve mentioned. You guys are truly frontline heroes. Everyone who is working, [who is a] stay at home moms, [who is] a teacher, keep doing the right thing. You all are truly the front line heroes.”

Kinder added that when the county sees a high number of new COVID cases confirmed, it can slow the contact tracing process, but the CNCHD will reach out to everyone so long as they have accurate information to do so.

“When we get 30 plus cases overnight, it is hard to get to everybody,” she said. “We do our very level best. But if someone isn’t contacted, it’s usually because the phone number is incorrect.”

“The other thing is, we have a lot of other people that are doing testing in the community reporting that to the state. We can’t move until we get that information from the state. So if you test at a facility, they then have to report that to the state and then the state gives [the information] back to us to know that person needs to have contact tracing. That can increase the number of days as well.”

She reiterated the request that people cooperate with the contact tracing process.

“We’re just asking for help from people to answer their phone, give us detailed information,” she said. “And I think we can pull together and get through this. It’s going to take all of us and we need the public’s help as well.”

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.