Sweetwater County Officials Discuss COVID-19 Mask Mandate, Positivity Rates, Vaccine

Sweetwater County Officials Discuss COVID-19 Mask Mandate, Positivity Rates, Vaccine

Sweetwater County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said he believes a mask mandate would be unenforcible. Zoom photo

SWEETWATER COUNTY — Elected officials from Sweetwater County, Green River, and Rock Springs were invited to a COVID-19 Coronavirus informational meeting hosted by Sweewater County Public Health Officer Dr. Jean Stachon to discuss a possible mask mandate, current positivity rates and what the future may hold for COVID-19 in Sweetwater County.

Prior to discussing the possibility of a mask mandate or ordinance, on Monday Dr. Stachon and other health officials took time to give local elected officials the latest information on COVID-19 stats and how it’s impacting the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County (MHSC) and Castle Rock Medical Center (CRMC).

Currently, Sweewater County has 1,075 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, 291 active cases and a positivity rate more than 25 percent, Stachon said.

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In the last week, MHSC has shown a 31 percent positivity rate.

MHSC has five hospitalized and its emergency room is seeing four to five COVID-19 patients a day who are sent away with oxygen who are being told to come back if they get worse.

“To put this in perspective on November 5, we were at 663 cases,” Stachon said. “We are seeing a dramatic increase in cases.”

With 40 to 75 positive COVID-19 cases coming back a day, the medical system will be overwhelmed quickly, Stachon said.

MHSC Medical Director Dr. Cielette Karn said the hospital can no longer keep up. Some of this is due to five employees who are out in the lab because of COVID-19.

As for the turn around time, testing results are taking anywhere from three days for high-priority tests to seven days for nonpriority tests.

Rapid tests are becoming harder and harder to obtain because the state has decreased the amount of tests they are sending.

“They can’t make them fast enough,” Karn said.

“We are trying to make sure all of the employees in the hospital and all of the staff are being tested,” Karn said.

Positives are being contacted first and then those who have negatives that come back from the state are contacted by a nurse, Karn said.

“We have always tried to contact all of the negatives,” Karn said. “It was definitely bumpy.”

As for Intensive Care Unit bed availability, MSHC currently has five hospitalized. They can take up to 12 total, if they have the employees available, Karn said.

“We are going to get to a point where cannot get transfers out,” Karn said. “We do have our surge plan ready to go.”

Dr. Connie Fauntleroy of CRMC, said the center is also having problems getting rapid tests. She said 70 people were already at CRMC getting tested for COVID-19 this morning.

Our testing capacity is being exceeded today. We don’t have the capacity to keep this up.

~ Dr. Connie Fauntleroy of CRMC

As it becomes more community spread, they will see a decrease in staff because the chances of them coming in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 is higher.

Mask Mandate

With the current conditions and future areas of concern discussed, Dr. Stachon spoke about her proposed mask mandate.

“I did put in for a mask mandate for our county,” Dr. Stachon said.

Schools, the hospital, and some businesses have been in support because they want to stay open, she said.

Stachon said other Wyoming counties that put a mask mandate into effect, including Teton, are starting to see results almost immediately.

She said even if it’s not enforceable, a change is made just by it being passed.

Rock Springs Councilor Rob Zotti said people are tired of wearing masks and at some point there may be a social upheaval. Zotti said people may be more reluctant to have to wear a mask again as the pandemic continues.

“As more and more people get sick and die, and people know folks who got really sick and died, it’s going to start sinking in,” Stachon said. “And unfortunately that may be what happens.”

That’s where the county is headed, she said.

Karn said they are trying to flatten the curve, otherwise the medical facilities will be overrun.

“We are just not going to be able to take care of the people that come to the hospital…We are trying to be here and be available to people to take care of their illnesses,” Dr. Karn said. “None of us want to be in a position of trying to say ‘Well, we don’t have a bed for you and we don’t have oxygen for you’ because it’s just the shear numbers. We in this country are not prepared for those shear numbers.'”

“It seemed like a long time ago and they want it to be over. Unfortunately, It’s not over,” Karn said.

MHSC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Melinda Poyer said this is a marathon and the finish line is not in sight. The timeline keeps changing, but residents should know this won’t be over anytime soon.

“The vaccine will help, but it is not the complete answer,” Poyer said. “And that is not the answer that the community wants to hear.”

She said in order for the county to get over something like this, the county needs to help each other to keep schools, businesses open and the hospital from being overrun.

“That’s going to be a combination of a vaccine, that we don’t have yet, masking, hand washing, socially distancing and doing the next right thing for your neighbor whether you agree with it or not, whether it is convenient or not,” Poyer said. “It is the way we will get through this and I believe in Sweetwater County.”

“The enforcement is going to be a nightmare,” Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo said. “Who issues the mandate?”

Sweetwater County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said for the county to have a mask mandate, the county health officer sends in a request to the state health officer. Once that request is approved, the mandate becomes a law.

Anytime jail time is on a law, the person charged can request a jury trial. A person can have 30 days, six months to one year in jail for breaking the mask mandate.

“That poses a problem on the legal system,” Erramouspe said.

“These people who are not wearing masks are going to want their jury trial,” he said. “They are going to want to make a statement.”

Erramouspe said he agrees with Dr. Stachon that a mask mandate might help, but it won’t have the teeth to go with it.

“In my opinion, it’s unenforceable,” Erramouspe said.

Teton County made an emergency ordinance for those not wearing masks to pay a fine, Erramoupse said. That’s something the both cities, Rock Springs and Green River, could do instead of jail time.

Then law enforcement is going to have to enforce it and in theory would remove people from grocery stores and other public places, he said.

“I am perfectly happy for cities to put such an ordinance in place,” Stachon said.

Mayor Pete Rust said he’s fine with an ordinance like that because he thinks it would help people wear the masks, however, he is only one person on his Council.

Rust said an ordinance could be a more sensible tool to compel people to wear the masks and it would result in fines, not jail time.

“When I go into the stores, people are not wearing masks,” Rust said.

He said if people were wearing masks and social distancing, the county wouldn’t be where it’s at now.

“Masks do work,” Dr. Poyer said. “They most certainly work better than no masks.”

She said they are not seeing patient to doctor transmission and the schools are not seeing a lot of transmission within the schools.

More discussion took place on a mandate versus an ordinance, but no decisions were made. However, all those in the medical profession agree something needs to be done, and quickly. The Rock Springs City Council, Green River City Council and Sweetwater County Commissioners all have meetings tomorrow.

Contact Tracing

Sweetwater County Public Health Director Kim Lionberger said up until the last four weeks they were able to keep up with contact tracing, but even with the addition of 18 contract tracers, they still can’t keep up. Notifying residents who are positive is the priority.

“Within the last four weeks that’s something we are no longer able to do,” Lionberger said.

She said they can no longer contact those who were close to positive COVID-19 case. They are encouraging those who test positive for COVID-19 to pass that information along to those they had close contact with.

We are fairly overwhelmed and just having a hard time keep up with the positives.

~ Sweetwater County Public Health Director Kim Lionberger

School nurses have been helping out with contract tracing and contacting students who need to be quarantined, but public health is still behind.

Dr. Stachon said people are following the rules at work and at school, and they are mostly seeing transmissions taking place out of school and out of hospital activities, such as birthday parties, sporting events and gatherings with family and friends.

Lionberger also spoke about vaccines that seem to have promise. She said some vaccines will be hard to obtain and they need to be kept in an ultra cold freezer. She said they don’t have the special freezer needed to keep the current vaccine from Pfizer. The MHSC and public health have ordered ultra cold freezers so they can keep the vaccine in it when it’s available.

Without the ultra cold freezer, one specific vaccine, would only be good to use in 10 days. Health care providers will receive the vaccine first. Lionberger said they don’t anticipate any vaccines for the general public to be available until spring or summer.


THE LATEST COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS NEWS & INFO FROM THE WYOMING DEPT. OF HEALTH

What to do if you feel sick: If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are showing symptoms, please call your primary care provider or seek medical attention.

Please follow these tips to slow the spread of this virus:

  • Follow Public Health Orders
  • Wear cloth face coverings in public settings, especially when physical distancing of at least 6 feet isn’t practical.
  • Stay home when sick and avoid other people unless you need medical attention.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Older people and those with health conditions that mean they have a higher chance of getting seriously ill should avoid close-contact situations.
  • Long-term care and healthcare facilities should follow guidelines for infection control and prevention.

For current news, updates, closures and resources, please visit our COVID-19 Coronavirus page here.