Two of the 4 recent COVID victims were ill for more than a month's timeApr 23, 2020 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Public health officials are learning more about the ongoing impacts of coronavirus on local patients - including people who contracted the illness more than a month ago.
"Some folks are really staying ill for a long time - even those who have not been in the hospital," public health officer Brian Gee said in a press conference Wednesday. "After two to four weeks there's still some cough. Some people remain short of breath."
The virus also appears to have impacted the neurological systems of some patients who have reported symptoms like weakness and vertigo over the long term, Gee said.
"I don't know if we know the full ramifications yet," he said. "(But) what is learned is that this is a difficult illness, and it keeps people quite ill for long periods of time - for two to five weeks."
Health care capacity
At least two of the four Fremont County residents who died Monday as a result of coronavirus had contracted the illness before March 13, Gee said.
One of the patients had even shown improvement over the course of care, but Gee said "there are still complications that can happen in that third and fourth week of illness."
The extended timeline for sickness has "pretty huge" implications for local health care capacity, he said.
"People are taking a while to get off ventilators and out of the hospital," Gee said. "If you have people sort of stacking up in hospitals around the country, how do you move them through ... while new people get infected and require that acute (intensive care unit) care?"
He noted that officials have been planning for such scenarios "all along."
For now, Gee said, about seven people with coronavirus are hospitalized at SageWest Health Care at Lander.
Countywide, 51 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported since March 13 - less than one per day. But although the numbers "look slow to rise to some, most health care providers across the county and state have worried over (how) to slow this rise further," Gee said.
One strategy is to increase "compliance" with mask use, he said, citing statistics that show the effectiveness of homemade face coverings to decrease the spread of coronavirus.
"If you are around somebody that has COVID-19 and you wear a cloth mask, you still have a 70 percent chance of catching COVID-19," Gee said. "If we look at that COVID-19 carrier and they have a mask on, that risk goes down to 5-10 percent. And if both people have a mask, that risk of spread is 1-2 percent, so, very low."
Gee said he has spoken with "many" people who want to "move forward" and lift the public health restrictions that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. But Gee said "if and when we can safely open things up, I believe it should be a slow and narrow opening - if any - to start with."
"I think we have to have that balance in our minds as we move forward," he said.
"As things begin to open up (we need to) remain vigilant with all these things we've been talking about because I think that's going to be part of that new normal, at least in the foreseeable future."
He pointed to changes in business practices and social distancing efforts taking place over the past month.
"We've probably all had our minds changed a little bit about what it looks like for us over the next six months ... at least until we get a better handle on whether there's going to be a real treatment (or) a vaccine," he said.
Gee said the fact that Fremont County's four coronavirus-related deaths all took place within a 12-14-hour period Monday was "absolutely, mostly, just pure coincidence."
"It just goes to show you how devastating the disease can really be," he said. "I think a couple of the people had been ill for a long time and there were expectations that something would happen. But for a couple of them I think it was unexpected. Well, maybe one was expected, but not that soon."
The Wyoming Department of Health said two of the four deceased coronavirus patients from Fremont County had "existing conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness related to the virus," and all four had been hospitalized.
Gee said two had been taken to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, and all four had required ventilators at some point, though "not all were on them at the time (of death)."
The WDH described the four patients as: an older man, an older woman, an adult woman, and an adult man. They all had been previously identified as laboratory confirmed coronavirus cases, the WDH said.
Three were family members who were "closely connected," Gee said, though he wasn't sure whether they were living in the same household. He did not believe the three relatives were connected to the fourth individual. Gee said none of the deceased were residents at the Showboat Retirement Center - the site of the first confirmed coronavirus case in Fremont County.
That facility is preparing to end its official quarantine in the coming days, Gee said, but "they want to stay relatively closed until the end of the month."