City of Gillette staff believes its COVID-19 case numbers are likely to continue a dramatic surge for at least the near future based on wastewater sampling that's been happening since September.
Samples are collected from the sewer line that enters the city’s wastewater treatment plan. It typically collects at least two and sometimes three samples a week, said Utilities Director Michael Cole. The samples represent the wastewater quality for the entire population served.
In September, the City Council gave staff the go-ahead to partner with the Wyoming Department of Health to have the wastewater treatment facility collect samples, bottle them up and send them to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne, which analyzes the samples for COVID-19.
“No, we are not testing the wastewater from private service lines on homes or businesses,” he said. “We are collecting a composite sample from the influent manhole before it first enters the city’s plant, prior to treatment.”
There were 1,056 estimated infection case amounts in Gillette as of Sept. 17, or a 3.3% infectious rate. That number skyrocketed about 270% to 3,908, or a 12.2% infections rate as of Nov. 12, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
The numbers are based on the city's 2019 population estimate of 32,030.
The results are an indication to determine whether the community infection rates are rising or decreasing, Cole said. When the trend line is increasing, the city should see a rise in the actual confirmed case count. Likewise, when the trend line is decreasing, it should also see a decrease in the “confirmed” case count, Cole said.
City staff affected by pandemic
On Tuesday, the number of Campbell County COVID-19 confirmed cases rose above 2,000 and nearly 35% of those being tested come back positive, according to the WDH.
City offices haven't been immune to the countywide spike. Staff is concerned about the high percentage of employees who have either have tested positive for COVID-19 or are quarantining because they were exposed to someone who has.
Since July, 29 employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and there now are 23 people in quarantine, including four who are waiting for test results. Since March, 106 of the city’s 272 employees, or 39%, have either had the virus or have had to quarantine through contact tracing.
It does not include Councilman Nathan McLeland and Councilwoman Laura Chapman, who were in quarantine a couple of weeks ago, according to the city.
For the past several weeks, the city has implemented a mask mandate for its employees if they are dealing with customers and cannot maintain at least 6 feet of distance from people. The policy is not mandatory for employees if they are isolated in their offices, but it is “strongly recommended,” City Administrator Pat Davidson said.
There has been a lot of cooperation with staff because they don’t want to get co-workers and other people sick, he said.
The city’s Human Resources Department also is only accepting electronic applications. As of Wednesday morning, however, Municipal Court Judge Jeremy Michaels has not instituted a mask mandate for people in his courtroom.
It would not be surprising to see him require masks at some point in the near future, Davidson said.
Mayor Louise Carter-King said during a Tuesday evening online City Council meeting that she would like staff to present a COVID-19 update at each meeting.