AARP AARP States Wyoming Events

Governor Gordon and Dr. Harrist answer AARP WY Members Covid-19 Questions

Governor Mark Gordon

On March 31, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Dr. Alexia Harrist, and Lisa Osvold joined AARP Wyoming members for a TeleTown Hall, in which AARP dialed out to over 14,000 members in Wyoming to connect them with their Governor. Here is a summary of that call.

AARP Wyoming State Director, Sam Shumway’s introduction:

I want to thank you for joining us today and welcome you to today’s important discussion about the corona-virus and its impact in Wyoming. Today we have a very special guest, our Governor, Mark Gordon. He joins us to provide the latest on Wyoming updates and discuss how we can stay informed and stay healthy. Governor Gordon is joined by Wyoming’s State epidemiologist, Dr. Alexia Harrist , and also Lisa Osvold, the division director for the Wyoming Department of Health. They are all here to give you updates and answer all of your questions.

Governor Gordon’s Wyoming State update:

Thank you to everyone for joining us today. Dr. Harrist is with us today and I wanted to make sure that she was available to answer questions on a very factual basis. Our Wyoming website for updates is covid19.wyo.gov. On social media there have been many reported concerns about the number of cases we are seeing. There is a lot of different information out there, positive cases, what is going on with testing, PPE, it is a scary time in Wyoming. The point here is to be able to answer your questions directly and understand what the state is doing to position ourselves for the future. If you look at the map in Wyoming, you will see that it is remarkable patch work, we have got some places like Fremont county and Laramie county where we have a higher number of cases. We have some other counties that there really hasn’t been anything that has shown up yet. It's natural for people to wonder what is going on, and from the state’s perspective what we are trying to do is navigate a very careful and thoughtful way through all of this. We don’t want to end up endangering people anymore and we don’t end up causing anymore harm to our businesses then we absolutely have to. We have issued an extended number of orders, we’ve closed schools, we’ve recommended that people stay home, practice good hygiene, washing hands at least 20 seconds, and exercise good common sense in social distancing.

Dr. Alexia Harrist update:

We have seen a big uptake in the number of laboratory confirmed cases since last week and that is because we are running more tests. We know that testing supplies are limited and that means that we know there are more cases in Wyoming than we have been able to laboratory confirm. This virus is spread by close contact, it is when you are within six feet of another person. This is why a lot of our recommendations focus around trying to limit close contact with anyone not in your household. We have seen in Wyoming that group events that involved a lot of people, resulted in a lot of cases, which is why we limited gatherings. The goal from the Wyoming Department of Health standpoint for this outbreak, is to really slow the transmission of the virus for several reasons. The first is so that our health cares systems are not overwhelmed with multiple patients at one time, the second is so that we can wait until we have increased testing capacity and are able to test more people, the third is when we have a potential vaccine or effective treatment against this virus which we don’t have right now. Our methods for slowing transmission are two fold: the first is to control the spread of the virus through investigating cases through making isolation and quarantine recommendations for people who are sick or have had contact with someone who is sick. The second method is through community mitigation measures. These measures are what we ask the community to take to slow the spread of the virus including staying home as much as possible and not gathering with people outside of their household.


Governor Gordon on what is being done at the state level:

There has been an all out level from every department to make sure that those people that are out of work because of closures, such as restaurants and bars, that they can get the care and unemployment insurance that they need. We wanted to make sure that the system was up so Workforce Services has done a great job of responding to the need and that process is working. We wanted to make sure that we got supplies, critically important supplies including personal protective equipment. Throughout the state we need to make sure that our first responders and our health care staff are properly attired with PPE so that they don’t catch this infection. If you look elsewhere in the world, it's our first responders and healthcare professionals that we fear we will lose if we don’t take the proper precautions. We wanted to make sure that we got those supplies, we got county supplies opened up, and received two shipments from the strategic national stockpile. We have distributed the supplies to every county and we have made sure the harder hit counties have had access to a bit more. We are requesting that there be no elective surgeries, the reason is that we don’t want to use valuable PPE.

I really want to thank the Wyoming Department of Transportation. They were able to get critically important testing supplies developed here in Wyoming to where they needed to be within a day. We are not ahead of this yet, we are still limited on our testing and PPE supply but we are working hard everyday to get those issues resolved. I wanted to let you know that I am receiving your mail and I appreciate it. As a small business owner, I understand how devastating all of this is and believe me if there was any other way we would do everything in our power to make sure we didn’t have to do what is being done. That is why we have addressed that with the unemployment and the auditor who is working with banks and lenders to make sure that mortgage payments, utility payments, evictions, and all of those things are addressed. We don’t want people in greater distress than before this virus struck.


I also get asked why Wyoming doesn’t have a stay in place order. I want to be really clear, our order, our recommendations, are absolutely aligned with other states. We want to make sure that people socially distance, we want to make sure they wash their hands, and that people stay at home and only go out for essential things. A sugar beet factory in Washakie has changed their entire way of working. There are no more than five people working in the factory at any given time, they are doing it in shifts, and staying apart from one another. We are trying to keep the businesses that we can going. I believe very strongly that people in Wyoming have common sense and know that this is important. Our recommendations are absolutely aligned with the stay in place order, we just haven’t used the terminology of stay in place because we may have to do more later down the road.


Will Wyoming extend the closure from April 17 to April 30?

Dr. Harrist and I, along with others, are looking at this on a regular basis. At this point I can’t say that we are but we are assessing information as it comes in. We are looking very carefully at all the information and we will make a decision in the next couple of days.

With mixed messages, should we be wearing a mask in public or not?

Dr. Harrist: Up to this point, there is nothing from the CDC yet for healthy people to be wearing masks. That, however, could be changing in the near future. We should have more guidance in the next few days on this.

What is being done with grocery stores and social distancing?

Dr. Harrist: Grocery stores are needed for access to essential items but we still need to maintain the six foot distance. We are working on specific guidance for grocery stores and how to implement social distancing and our expectations.

Governor Gordon: This is a big concern for us, we are getting reports that people are in large groups and are very close together in the stores. We are going to issue guidance about behavior that consumers should use in the store.We would also like to see stores adopt a good practice of pacing customers through their stores throughout the state. A number of stores throughout the state are opening for seniors only, first thing in the morning, after a thorough cleaning, these stores need to be commended for their efforts.


What are we doing about all the people flocking to Wyoming?

Governor Gordon: We did see an increase in people visiting our State Parks so we closed them to overnight camping. It really isn’t within the authority of the Governor to order the shut down of the state borders. Even though our neighboring states that have lock down orders, we are still seeing visitors from these states. People need to be exercising common sense.

Do extremes of temperatures, both high and low, or sunlight, or ultraviolet radiation, kill the virus?

Dr. Harrist: This is a new virus and we have a lot to learn from it. From what we know about other viruses, we would expect that UV light and extreme temperatures would make it difficult for the virus to live a long time. Typically with respiratory viruses the rates are lower in the summer for various reasons, one is the environmental factor and the other is that people tend to be outside more and not in close contact with each other indoors. We don’t know if we will see that with this virus yet, we will find out in the upcoming months.

I’m 64 years old and have been self isolating for the past 13 days because my daughter was overseas and came home as this virus broke out. I have had no symptoms but my work has suggested that I get tested but I can’t find anyone to talk to about testing. What do I do?

Dr. Harrist: It is not recommended for someone like yourself that has been self quarantining and has no symptoms to get tested before going back to work. Testing supplies are limited so we are prioritizing who gets tested, such as healthcare workers and those at high risk. It is not recommended from the Wyoming Department of Health for you to get a negative test before returning to work.

What is the proper length to be self quarantine?

Dr. Harrist: 14 days is the proper length to self quarantine because that is the longest time that it has been observed that someone might have been exposed to the virus and then go on to develop the illness. At 14 days you are considered no longer at risk from developing Covid-19.

What is the effectiveness of hand made PPE, masks and gowns, for healthcare workers and the general public?

Dr. Harrist: I think that those are really great efforts and are very helpful. I think that in the healthcare field, if the medical grade, OSHA approved, FDA approved masks are available, those should be used. The handmade masks could then be used by the general public and it would save the medical grade masks for the healthcare workers. I don’t believe there has been specific studies done about handmade masks but anything that helps prevent breathing in droplets from coughs or sneezes is likely to be helpful.

What businesses fall into the “essential business” category?

Governor Gordon: There is a list that has been put out by the White House and it is on the FEMA website. It is a wide variety of different businesses so I would direct you to visit there to see what businesses are considered essential.

How are the people of Wyoming getting informed if they have slow or no internet or have satellite TV and do not get Wyoming news?

Governor Gordon: I don’t have a direct answer but that is good information to know and for us to find out. Let me see what we can do about getting in touch with the appropriate people and getting an answer.

I have heard that the whiskey companies throughout Wyoming are making hand sanitizer, when can we expect that to be available?

Governor Gordon: It is a great effort from all the distilleries around the state. They are providing the alcohol and there are a few other ingredients needed that we are helping to source. They have been working hard and I would be expecting to see it coming out pretty soon. We all know how important it is to get this going and put out. I have a couple staff members that are dedicated to sourcing materials to make sure this gets done. I wish I had a more definite date but it is coming out soon.


Do people build an immunity to this virus? Could this virus have been here earlier than we thought?

Dr. Harrist: So the immunity question is a great question but unfortunately we don’t know everything about this virus yet. We do know that people make antibodies when responding to a virus so hopefully these can be used to fight the virus if it comes back. We don’t know how effective that immunity is yet or how long it will last. The tests that are available now only are able to test if you currently have the virus, not if you have had it. Most likely this virus was in the United States before the first cases were reported, this is due to the limited testing that was available. I feel that we may never know exactly when it came to Wyoming in the first place.


If someone doesn’t have a primary care provider and they start to show symptoms of the virus, how do they seek medical help?

Dr. Harrist: If someone is experiencing symptoms to the point where they need urgent medical care, they should call ahead to the emergency room or EMS services. It is important to let the medical staff know the symptoms so that they can have appropriate PPE and the right room in the hospital set up. If you need emergency care you absolutely should seek it and if you are able to call ahead it helps the healthcare workers be prepared.

Is it against the HIPPA law to let coworkers know if one of them tests positive for the virus?

Dr Harrist: I will explain our process for investigating cases and hopefully that will help clarify how you may be notified. When we have a positive case, we do an interview and identify their close contacts and ask the close contacts to quarantine themselves. We remain in touch with those contacts so we will know if they start to develop symptoms. Then it also depends on when that person became sick, the point of the quarantine and asking them to stay home is so that when they do become sick they expose as few people as possible. In our investigations now when someone develops symptoms, we do our contact list with who they were in contact with in the previous 48 hours. If the coworker was at work within the 48 hours, we would interview that person to find out who they had close contact with and then work with the potential exposed persons. When information is needed to be shared to protect the public’s health, that information can be shared as needed.

I have been trying to apply for unemployment for the past few days and can’t get through on the one number provided to reset my password, is there another way?

Governor Gordon: Please email me with your information and I will make it clear to the director of Workforce Services that this is a problem.

Do we have a supply of ventilators here in Wyoming for potential patients?

Dr. Harrist: Ventilators are important to care for patients with respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19. Our hospitals have ventilators that they use on a regular basis and we are looking at ways to increase the number we have throughout the state. Our federal partners at the Center of Disease Control have stocks of ventilators that we are looking to get for our state. We are also looking at other avenues to get ventilators here in Wyoming. We also need to make sure that we have the medical professionals who know how to run ventilators so that they can be used for patients here in Wyoming.

Governor Gordon: Senator Barrasso and I had this conversation not that long ago, so he is looking at this from the federal level.

What can we do if we are sick?

Dr. Harrist: Call your healthcare provider if you have one and talk to them about what you are feeling. Your healthcare provider would know what would be best to help you and what you should take. Stay home if you are having symptoms, if possible, and have a good line of contact with your healthcare provider.

My wife works for the county in Sheridan and she has been going to work everyday and encounters a lot of people. Governor, is there a chance you can work with the individual counties to limit the number of people allowed through the county buildings?

Governor Gordon: We have put recommendations throughout the state and are encouraging people to work from home as much as possible. For those that cannot easily telecommute, we are trying to keep those workers as safe as possible at the state level. I would be glad to talk to counties to see if they can also do the same thing. It is my sense in talking to a number of county commissioners that they are looking at trying to do the recommendations and I am confident that everyone is taking the recommendations seriously. The courts have adjusted their schedules to try and accommodate this temporary slowdown that the state has asked for.

Governor Gordon’s Final Thoughts:

I want to thank Dr. Harrist for joining us today. She is an incredible source of knowledge and has an extensive background, we are incredibly lucky to have her on board. Her experience with diseases is extensive and she knows how to deal with remarkable circumstances. I also want to thank everyone joining the call today and hopefully we can do another one in the near future. We want to make sure you get the information you want and need and we are trying to do it anyway we can.

It is up to you to humble this virus. If you are able to, stay at home as much as possible. Make sure you are practicing good hygiene and washing your hands at least 20 seconds. If you are out, make sure you are maintaining the six foot distancing with others. If you are at a crowded store, encourage others to distance, it is all of us that can make a difference. Lastly, use common sense in all of this and use the following resources: covid19.wyo.gov, aarp.org, cdc.gov.

God Bless you. God Bless Wyoming. Thank you for joining us tonight and may you have a blessed evening.

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