Life After the 10,000th Swab: The Push for Fewer Positive Cases

Sweetwater Memorial’s physicians and providers urge mask use
Life After the 10,000th Swab: The Push for Fewer Positive Cases

Sweetwater Memorial’s physicians and providers recently got together for a photo demonstrating social distancing and the importance of wearing a mask. They are encouraging the community to do its part to reduce the number of positive COVID-19 cases countywide. | MHSC Photo

Sweetwater County residents were doing something right. The number of positive COVID-19 cases were dropping and remaining at low levels for more than a month.

With the number of positive cases on the rise again, many healthcare providers know how easy it is to become complacent and are encouraging residents to continue to take precautions. Physicians and providers at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County are no exception. They continue to look for ways to ensure the public knows how important it is to take the appropriate precautions. 

Radiologist Dr. Christopher Hunnicutt, with Advanced Medical Imaging, thought one good way to do that would be for all of Sweetwater Memorial’s doctors and providers to gather for a picture – wearing masks and demonstrating social distancing.

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“All of the doctors at the hospital agree on the significant benefits of wearing masks and social distancing when out in public,” Hunnicutt said. “Many of us physicians live in the community and want to set good examples in order to help Sweetwater County get through this as best we can. Until the vaccine arrives, we will have to drive on with these practices for reducing spread of this airborne disease, particularly as the winter months approach.”

Dr. Larry Lauridsen, MHSC Medical Staff President agreed.

“As physicians and providers at this hospital, we stand together when it comes to fighting this,” said Lauridsen, a family practitioner. “The staff believes the hospital and Sweetwater County Public Health have a good system in place to help curb the spread. Now, it’s up to all of us to do our part.”

The hospital’s swabbing station continues to collect anywhere from 50 to more than 100 specimens a day, and will soon log its 10,000th swab. However, the number of recent positive cases is concerning. Here’s why:

  • The 14-day total of positive collections had been hovering around the 2% mark and dropping since the beginning of September.
  • By mid-September, it was below 2% for the remainder of the month, dropping as low as 1.1% on Sept. 23. 
  • The number of positive cases in a continuous 14-day period has continued to rise. It was 1.6% on Oct. 1 and is now at 5.1% as of Oct. 21.

 “We thought we had licked it,” said MHSC Pathologist Dr. Cielette Karn. “Now, we’re going back up.”

Karn said the lab uses a variety of coronavirus testing options and she charts a 14-day total of MHSC data to help other Sweetwater County healthcare providers get a sense of what is happening. 

“The 14-day data gives us a better perspective of what’s going on,” Karn said. “The daily data can be very misleading. Some hospitals and public health agencies in more populated areas use a seven-day range. These longer one- and two-week ranges give us a real idea what’s going on in our county.” 

Dr. Edward Kimball, who works in critical care at University of Utah Health, said it’s unfortunate that Sweetwater County is seeing an increase. 

Kimball leads weekly Zoom meetings with U of U healthcare providers and all U of U affiliates including Sweetwater Memorial. Earlier this week, he spoke about having to turn down a patient transfer from a rural hospital for the first time. U of U, like many large hospitals, is facing capacity issues. 

During past meetings, Kimball has said Sweetwater County did such a good job of maintaining low positive case numbers that it could be recognized as a how-to model. With the number of cases now on the rise in Wyoming, Utah and around the nation, he is confident Sweetwater County can again bring down its numbers.

“I am pleading with our community to follow the recommendations that we know work. In order to keep life humming in Sweetwater County with work, schools and sports, it will be vital for people to people to be responsible and protect one another. It doesn’t take much for things to go south.


– Dr. Jean Stachon, Sweetwater County Public Health Officer

“I watched with admiration as Sweetwater County came together and flattened the COVID numbers in the late summer,” Kimball said. “As we face this new surge, I have no doubt that the same recipe of people and organizations working together will bring your numbers down again.”

It’s important to keep the total number of positive cases low, said Dr. Jean Stachon, Sweetwater County Public Health Officer.

“I am pleading with our community to follow the recommendations that we know work,” she said. “In order to keep life humming in Sweetwater County with work, schools and sports, it will be vital for people to people to be responsible and protect one another,” Stachon said. “It doesn’t take much for things to go south.

“We have been fortunate and people have looked at us as if we are a model,” she said. “It takes the hospital, Castle Rock Medical Center, Public Health, the cities, the county, schools, the college, businesses, nursing homes, and care centers to do this. We continually hold weekly meetings. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes effort. But we can’t do it unless the community is cooperating and doing what they need to do. It doesn’t take much to blow it all up. It’s like a Jenga game, you can pull out one piece and it crumbles really fast.”

With the start of the holiday season, it’s particularly important to remain vigilant, she said.

Sweetwater County’s contact tracing efforts have been an asset in trying to keep the numbers low. There are only three other counties doing more testing than Sweetwater – Teton, Natrona and Laramie counties, Stachon said.

“Public Health and the hospital are working hand in hand,” she said.

 When contacts are found quickly, are isolated or are quarantined, Karn said it does help to stop the virus.

“It works,” she said.

Karn used Sweetwater Memorial as an example. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the hospital has taken precautions and established protocols to meet the ever-changing requirements. As a result, it has had relatively few of its staff quarantined.

“We wear our masks, take precautions and continue work together and interact,” she said. “That speaks volumes. It can be done.”

To help stop community spread of any virus, wear a face covering, Lauridsen said.

It’s important to stay more than 6-feet away from people you are not housed with, he said. Stay home if possible. Don’t touch your T-zone – eyes, nose and mouth. Cover your cough – cough and sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue, NOT in your hands. Get a flu shot.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water works best, he said. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. 

The hospital’s drive-thru COVID-19 specimen collection site remains open daily. Fall operating hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends at the hospital’s main entrance at 1200 College Drive.

For more information on the Swabbing Station go to the Coronavirus Update page at sweetwatermemorial.com. You’ll find an Outpatient Registration Form that can be downloaded to expedite the process, as an Authorization for Disclosure of Health Information if you would like a copy of the results. For other questions on swabbing and what is available, call 307-448-7560.