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Cam-plex lost about $500K from COVID-related event cancellations

Cam-plex has lost more than $500,000 this year from event cancellations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Tuesday, the tally was at $502,026, said Cam-plex General Manager Jeff Esposito.

To help make up the difference, Cam-plex has left three full-time positions — two custodial and one office — as well as part-time summer jobs unfilled because there have been little to no events happening at the facility. Cam-plex also consolidated two office positions into one.

It will save Cam-plex nearly $350,000 in salary and benefits.

“We are looking at every single position,” Esposito said about how to deal with the lost business. “If someone gets hired away then we are evaluating the need to rehire the position.”

There also will be no overtime for full-time employees, which had been budgeted at about $73,000.

Employees from different departments have pitched in to help fill the voids and keep things running, Esposito said.

Going on as planned

Many events have been canceled since March when health guidelines were put in place on the federal and state levels. But there are some events that are expected to go on as scheduled, including the YES House Foundation’s annual fundraiser Dancing with the Stars in October.

“We are planning on it,” YES House Foundation Executive Director Mary Melaragno said.

The event will adhere to social distancing guidelines that includes recommending people wear face masks, stand 6 feet apart and use hand sanitizer.

“We’re still moving and working on it as it goes,” she said. “We want to keep everybody safe and everybody happy.”

Other events are expected to go on at Cam-plex, including weddings and banquets, although the size and scope may change depending on the health orders that may be in place at the time, Esposito said.

The Campbell County Healthcare Foundation’s Black Cat Diamond Ball is still a go for Sept. 18-19 at Cam-plex, although foundation Executive Director Nachelle McGrath said she is unsure how it will look.

“We are going to have to look at all of our options,” she said.

The foundation will try to host the event as normal as possible, but it likely will request county and state health variances to allow for more than 250 to attend the Black Cat Diamond Ball. The event usually sells out at 400 tickets, McGrath said.

Making plans

Cam-plex is preparing for an unknown future that includes the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus that could cause additional event cancellations and/or postponements, Esposito said.

“It’s hard to speculate,” he said. “I think we will react appropriately as we did in the spring. That could take several different forms (and) it depends on what the health orders are.

“I think the team at Cam-plex has done a terrific job at handling this situation.”

As for what the budget will look like in the future as a result of COVID-19, Cam-plex is continuing to explore its options.

“We haven’t settled on a plan, just different scenarios on what the budget could possibly look like,” Esposito said. “There are many small businesses who are struggling right now. Although we have our management challenges, there are people who are in really worse shape and we are worried about (them) right now.”

Contact tracing for COVID-19 keeps Public Health staff glued to phones

Behind a series of locked doors, a temperature screening area and at the back of highly sanitized pathways sits the quaint office of Campbell County Public Health nurse Joli Carr.

Inside, she sits at a desk surrounded by piles of forms with contact tracing notes. It’s her responsibility, and the responsibility of her coworkers as well, to track as much of the spread of the coronavirus in Campbell County as possible through the use of her office phone.

Even as Carr sits alone to call those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, along with anyone they may have recently come in contact with, she wears a mask and face shield.

Carr calmly dials the number of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. A few rings later there’s an answer. The only sound in the room aside from her questions is the scratch of her pen jotting down the answers to her series of questions: When did symptoms show up? Have they gone anywhere since then? Who have they been around?

When Carr finishes the call, she doesn’t have much time to rest. She picks the phone up again and starts calling the patient’s contacts.

Before the pandemic, the public health nurses spent a lot of their time doing community outreach and education. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, however, they’ve spent nearly all of their time on the phone, calling people who’ve been exposed to the virus.

They take turns working on weekends to conduct contact tracing for any cases that come in on Saturday or Sunday.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, both locally and nationwide, contact tracing has become vitally important to track the spread of the virus and how it’s transmitted from person to person.

“My ear gets tired by the end of the day. I’m just on the phone all the time,” Carr said.

After a few months of seemingly nonstop calling, the nurses have grown used to the routine.

“I feel like we’re all kind of numb to it now because that’s all we do is take calls and make calls,” Carr said. “We’ve struggled with having enough lines to dial out sometimes.”

Reducing spread of disease

Campbell County Public Health has a wide range of services. It provides immunizations for babies and adults, and it goes to schools to give kids free flu shots. It educates the public on communicable diseases and suicide prevention.

But one of Public Health’s “core functions” is preventing or reducing the spread of disease by contact investigation, said Public Health Director Jane Glaser.

Fortunately, “we haven’t had to do it much, but here we are,” she said.

Campbell County Public Health has been doing contact tracing for years, but nothing on as large a scale as this. It often conducts contact tracing for sexually transmitted diseases, which requires just a couple of calls. It also contact traces for diseases like measles and whooping cough, where a dozen cases qualifies as an outbreak.

With the coronavirus pandemic, contact tracing has become more important than ever. It’s a total team effort for the department, with Glaser, two nurse supervisors and eight public health nurses all making calls.

Since the start of the pandemic, 92 people in Campbell County have tested positive for the coronavirus, and Public Health has had to monitor a total of 761 contacts. That means each positive case has had an average of about 8.5 contacts.

Contact tracing has helped Public Health track the spread of the coronavirus.

Glaser said she was comforted to learn that no cases have been traced back to the community Fourth of July celebration, the state GOP convention or local high school graduations, three events that had a combined attendance in the thousands.

And when a dozen new cases came in over the Fourth of July weekend, Public Health was able to trace those to four private gatherings that happened in mid- to late June.

How does it work?

Public Health is notified whenever a test comes back positive for coronavirus. A nurse will call patients and let them know of positive results. Sometimes they already know, and sometimes they’re hearing it for the first time.

Glaser said it’s important to get as much information from those confirmed positive cases as possible. The most vital piece of information is a list of people they came into contact with three days before their symptoms started.

A person qualifies as a contact if the positive case was within less than a 6-foot proximity for more than 10 minutes.

With the coronavirus, a positive case can have a few contacts or a few dozen, depending on a person’s activity.

There are two outcomes. The nurse can trace the case back to a specific person or event, or the trail can go cold and it’s labeled a “community-acquired” case.

“That’s frustrating for the person who becomes positive, because they don’t know where they got it from,” Carr said, adding that it’s also frustrating for the nurses.

Back in March and April, most people didn’t have a high number of contacts. But as the economy has reopened and more people are out and about, the average number of contacts for each case has increased.

“Now that things are opening up more, people have more contacts,” Carr said. “And we’ve had events like grad parties, funerals and weddings. People can travel more now, so there are going to be more contacts.”

It can be easy to remember family members and coworkers, Carr said. It can be more difficult to remember the friend someone ran into at the store and stopped to talk with for a bit.

Let’s say that someone develops symptoms but waits a couple of days to get tested because the symptoms are minor. He finds out three days later that he’s positive.

“We have to trace them back to when did their symptoms start, then three days before that. That’s over a week ago,” Carr said.

It’s not a perfect system, and Carr said it’s possible some people slip through because they aren’t remembered.

“We probably do miss them, because if they can’t remember, we can’t trace that person,” she said.

“Sometimes there’s no way to tell who they came into contact with,” Glaser added.

If they had an appointment at a hair salon or doctor’s office, that gives the nurses an exact time and place. But other things like a trip to the grocery store can be virtually impossible to trace back to a single person, Glaser said.

The nurse will then call each of the person’s contacts and tell them they’ve been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19. That call can last anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour. Recently, the calls haven’t lasted as long, Carr said.

“Now that people have a better idea of the symptoms and how to self-monitor, and they have the option to test, it’s easier now to call contacts,” she said. “They don’t have as many questions, we can just check in and see how their symptoms are going.”

Because it can take up to two weeks for the infection to incubate, a contact of a positive has to be quarantined for 14 days.

Contacts monitor their own symptoms and nurses will check on them every few days. If they do end up testing positive, they won’t have to go through the list of people they’ve been around because they’ve been at home the whole time, Glaser said.

The Campbell County people who have tested positive have been cooperative about quarantining, Carr said. The contacts who have to quarantine also have cooperated, for the most part.

“There’s people who are very worried they came in contact, and they want to know everything and do anything they can to prevent any spread,” she said. “And then there’s the people that think this is a scam and it can’t be real, and they don’t believe they need to be quarantined.”

She said she understands the frustration. Having to quarantine “puts their life into chaos,” she said. They have to miss work, reschedule appointments and stay at home for two weeks.

Carr said she wants to avoid making people feel like outcasts for contracting the coronavirus.

“We don’t want people to feel like lepers and feel like they’re horrible because they spread a disease,” she said.

In the battle against the pandemic, contact tracing and quarantining are the most important tools for Public Health, Carr said.

“If we want to open up our economy and have our community be able to function, quarantining … is really the only way to allow opening and still protect people,” she said.

Thunder Basin High School girls golf athletes Hailey Westbrook, from left, Arilyn Johnson, Darby Barstad, Karissa Tranas and Maria Farnum traveled to Pinehurst, North Carolina to compete at the High School Golf National Invitational on Thursday.

Cory Wallace and his unit pause while they burn out a patch of reeds during a June 2009 insurgence in Iraq. Enemy mortars were being fired at the unit from the reeds.

New Madison wells boosting city’s water capacity
Tie-in projects to be completed over the next couple of years

The city of Gillette’s water use levels have been steady so far this summer despite several recent days with temperatures in the 90s.

The city reports usage of about 8.34 million gallons of water a day in July. While that seems high, that volume is below the concerning level.

In the past, city officials would get nervous whenever water usage exceeded 12 million gallons a day. The construction of two new wells on the Regional Extension Project has given the city a little more wiggle room with an additional 4 million gallons of water a day, 2 million gallons per well.

The upgrades and additions has increased the city’s water capacity by 28.5%, said Levi Jensen, utility project manager.

The additional wells, known as wells 11 and 12, are part of the Madison project that the city of Gillette has been working on for about a decade.

“If we’re using 16 million gallons a day, that would be a concern for us with the two new wells in service,” he said.

Madison components

In the summer of 2005, city residents used 15.3 million gallons of water in one day, a wake-up call for Gillette to move ahead with plans to upgrade the Madison. The goal was to provide enough water to serve a population of about 57,000 people.

“We were certainly at a point where we had to increase the capacity,” City Water Manager Howard Jones said.

The $217 million project includes about $75 million raised by a capital facilities tax approved by local voters.

It included expanding the city’s groundwater sources in the Madison Formation north of Keyhole Reservoir in Crook County, and it provides a new treatment and conveyance system to deliver water to the Gillette area.

There are five wells that complete the Madison Pipeline Project. Wells 11 and 12 are operating while wells 13-15 have yet to be completed.

The city’s original goal was to have wells 11 and 12 operating in 2017 or 2018, but delays pushed the work back. They started pumping water last year.

Once those wells got going, they increased the city’s water capacity by 4 million gallons a day, giving the city some breathing room.

Wells 13-15 still need to be pump tested. Once the city collects data from the testing, it will start designing the pumping equipment and building out the new well sites, Jensen said.

Those wells will add another 6 million gallons of water per day to the equation, and when all five wells are operating, the project will have increased Gillette’s capacity to provide water by 71%, he said.

Along with the local capital facilities tax, two-thirds of the project’s cost has been paid through a Wyoming Water Development Commission grant. Part of that amount included a Permanent Mineral Trust Fund loan.

The city of Wright also received $15 million to go toward improving its water system.

One of the conditions of the state grant is that work on the pipeline had to be done by June 30, 2022. The city hopes to start pump testing in early 2021, begin construction in the spring and have everything up and running in 2022 on the final wells.

A phased approach

The city initially had planned for the Madison project to only serve city customers, but the Wyoming Water Development Commission stated it would approve the state grant if the city expanded its scope to become a regional water provider, Jensen said.

The state worked with the city to expand out to the designated service area as established by a December 2010 Regional Joint Powers Water agreement.

That became the Gillette Regional Water Supply Project.

Districts are being tied into the expanded water system through a phased approach. In order they are:

  • Phase one: Antelope Valley Improvement and Service District, Bennor Estates ISD, Cook Road Water District, Force Road Joint Powers Board, Overbook ISD, Rafter D ISD, South Fork Estates and Spring Hill Ranch ISD. This was completed in 2018.
  • Phase two: Eight Mile Subdivision Improvement and Service District, Rock Road ISD and Stone Gate Estates ISD. These were finished this year.
  • Phase three: American Road Water and Sewer District, Crestview Estates, Freedom Hills ISD and Meadow Springs ISD. The city is working through easement negotiations and is in the design phase.

The design is hoped to be finished this summer and construction will start later in the year, Jensen said. While there is no set completion date, the city anticipates wrapping things up in late 2021.

  • Phase four: Buckskin Meadows Improvement and Service District, Fox Ridge Subdivision ISD and Rozet Ranchettes ISD.

For the Rozet project, the pipeline already has been placed underground with the connection being finished sometime this summer. Work is also being done on the inside of the building, he said.

The Fox Ridge Subdivision work is also in the design phase.

Work on these districts is on a similar timeline as phase three, Jensen said.

  • Phase five: Means Improvement and Service District and Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport.

In April, the Gillette City Council gave Mayor Louise Carter-King the go-ahead to sign a grant agreement with the state for the $4.61 million project, which will connect the Means Improvement and Service District, north of Northern Drive and west of Hannum Road, and the airport to the regional water system.

The city is working on hiring a contractor.

For that phase, the state is responsible for 67% of the cost, or about $3.09 million, while the remaining 33%, $1.52 million, comes from the city’s capital facilities tax fund.

It’s expected to be completed in 2022.

The uncertain economic outlook of the city will not have any impact on current and future spending for any of the Madison projects because all the funding is already in place, Jensen said.

The third component of the Madison is the Water District Internal Improvements Project. Regional water districts not under the city’s umbrella can make improvements to their own water systems.

‘The light at the end

of the tunnel’

The city has not only dealt with water use concerns and permitting delays over the course of the last decade, it’s had to address concerns about the pipeline from Crook County residents.

State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils tower, represents parts of Campbell, Crook and Weston counties. He introduced an amendment to the Legislature’s 2018 water omnibus bill that would have allowed up to 200 Crook County water customers to use up to 1 million gallons of water per year for livestock and other uses.

The amendment caused a contentious debate between Driskill and the city, which did not accept a $4.2 million allocation to continue the Regional Water System projects as a result of the modification. The city stated that the senator’s proposal would have violated state law and the agreement for the Madison project.

At about the same time conversations between the city and the landowners were taking place, Crook County residents filed complaints with the Department of Environmental Quality about unsafe pH levels found in the water near the Madison formation.

The DEQ then shut down the progress of the Madison pipeline project and the Regional Extension Project for further testing.

After more than a year, the DEQ found no substantial evidence that the drilling of the new wells had anything to do with abnormal pH levels in Crook County wells.

The city spent a lot of time the last few years involved with the Department of Environmental Quality’s investigations to make sure those wells were completed safely and did not interfere with anyone, said Gillette Utilities Director Michael Cole.

The city has since reached agreements, or is in the process of doing so, with five landowners in Crook County.

Those include providing them service from the pipeline and the city agreeing to supply water on a wholesale basis to any district or water improvement district those residents may form there as a result of their well study, Cole said.

“Now it’s just a matter of the completion of that work,” he said. “It’s good to see the light at the end of the tunnel, definitely.”