SHERIDAN — Amid the recent sharp rise in COVID-19 cases across Wyoming, state and local health officials are looking ahead to the challenges they expect to continue facing while dealing with the pandemic.
In Sheridan County, Sheriff and COVID-19 Incident Commander Allen Thompson said the biggest challenge remains vigilance in safety precautions.
“The Sheridan County community needs to remain vigilant with social distancing, wearing face coverings, practicing good hand hygiene and staying home when sick,” he said. “It’s hard to continue distancing ourselves and wearing masks, but we need to reinvigorate these practices as we head into fall and our normal flu season.”
He emphasized that citizens of Sheridan County protecting themselves won’t just help the Sheridan community but will help minimize problems for surrounding communities, too.
At the state level, Wyoming Department of Health Deputy Director Stefan Johansson said the biggest challenge to date has been communicating ever-changing information across the state.
“It’s been difficult to communicate effectively all the nuance and detail to a wide audience,” he said. “Not only the contents of the public health orders, which are often changing on a two-week basis … it’s just difficult with something as novel and unknown as this has been to really communicate effectively.”
The large number of county-specific variances that State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist has approved has also made clear and effective communication tough, he said.
Harrist said there have been hundreds of county-specific variances, with multiple new ones being requested and approved each week.
Temporary staffing in testing labs could also prove difficult moving forward if cases increase exponentially, though the state has so far been able to keep staffing at an adequate level, Harrist and Johansson said.
“There’s a bit of uncertainty, especially going forward,” Johansson said. “A lot of things have changed with our human capital and that might not always be as easy to manage.”
Johannson did highlight the state has been effective in procuring and distributing personal protective equipment to businesses and organizations around the state.
In Sheridan County alone, multiple rounds of free PPE have been handed out to businesses. The first round, which happened in mid-June, included masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and hand sanitizing spray. This has all, so far, been procured with grants funds by the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security.
Johansson warned, however, if the state continues to secure PPE that is free for businesses, it may be necessary to look at collecting a fee or some revenue for that equipment.
He said the stockpile of PPE and the state’s preparedness program were historically meant to go only to public health first responders, but because of the supply chain issues seen across the United States, businesses were included.
“In the event that we did have a significant supply shortage in Wyoming and the state had the ability with its … purchasing power to get a larger distribution or larger orders of PPE, in the future the ability to collect that revenue from those providers who would want to order from us because their own supply chains were disrupted may be something to pursue in an after action cycle as a potential statutory discussion.”
Both state and local health officials praised flexibility within all levels of government so far in the response and said a major key moving forward, especially in Sheridan County, is to continue quick response times when problems arise.
“I think our public health staff have done a tremendous job in keeping up with the amount of people they need to contact on a daily basis,” Thompson said. “When other counties have struggled to reach out to those who may have been in contact with a COVID-positive person, Sheridan County has kept it under 24 hours.”