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Health officer: Wyoming to test for COVID-19 at long-term care facilities

Posted at 10:36 PM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 00:36:24-04

After a COVID-19 outbreak in Worland, Wyoming will start a proactive testing program that will focus on long-term care facilities, which includes nursing homes and assisted living.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state's health officer, made that announcement at a media briefing with Gov. Mark Gordon at the capitol in Cheyenne on Wednesday.

Gov. Mark Gordon, R-Wyo.

The plan is for facilities without a current outbreak to collect samples of at least 20 percent of residents and staff every two weeks.

Facilities that have a positive COVID-19 test will be asked to test all residents and staff weekly until the outbreak has been eliminated.

"We have seen, when a small or single number of symptomatic cases are identified, there may be many additional asymptomatic or mild cases in residents and staff," Harrist said. "There is substantial evidence that asymptomatic persons and persons with mild illness contribute to transmission in these facilities. More testing in these settings helps us limit and control the outbreak with actions such as grouping staff and residents and limiting interaction between those groups using isolation and quarantine strategies."

Harrist said her office will work with facilities that can use either a private laboratory or the Wyoming Public Health laboratory.

Five staff members and four residents at the Worland Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center have tested positive for COVID-19.

A spokesman for the governor's office says the testing plan for long-term care facilities was developed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Worland facility, which was announced by the state on Sunday.

Gordon also talked about bills passed in a special session.

Some of the legislation involved helping businesses reopen, which can affects counties around Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

The Wyoming Department of Health has been working the the National Park Service and other federal agencies, preparing for tourists.

Harrist said Wyoming has supplies to do testing of symptomatic persons and surveillance to ensure detecting early cases.

Gordon said monitoring COVID-19 will happen in Park, Teton and Fremont counties.

"The steps we're taking to make sure that as visitors come to Park, Teton and Fremont counties on their way to Yellowstone Park, that we have adequately helped to buttress those counties as well," Gordon said. "Personal protection equipment and expanding our testing and contact capabilities. Particularly interested in making sure that our counties were ready to go. Sort of under the gun right now with everybody coming their direction."

Harrist asked that people follow basic advice, such as staying home when sick.

Godon and Harrist wore protective masks during the conference, which they recommend during the reopening.