Most of Wyoming’s schools announced extensions of their spring breaks on Sunday, closing their doors for three weeks in response to a recommendation from Gov. Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
Meanwhile, state health officials said the diagnosis of the coronavirus COVID-19 in an older man in Fremont County raises particular concerns about the spread of the illness in a community rather than exposure through travel.
“Our initial follow-up with this individual found nothing that could be explained other than potential community spread of this virus in the Lander area,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer.
Gordon and Balow on Sunday recommended the closure of all of the state’s schools through April 3 to give school officials and communities time to develop plans to prevent the spread of coronavirus
The actual decision of whether to close schools was left in the hands of local officials and by Sunday, most school districts in the state had opted to close until April 6, extending their spring breaks by two weeks.
School boards in Gillette, Powell and Lusk were expected to meet Monday to make a decision on whether their districts would close as well.
Schools in Cheyenne were closed as school district officials reported they had sought testing to determine if they had COVID-19.
“While we do not have any confirmed cases at this time, we are taking preventative measures to reduce the possibility for spreading the virus,” the district said in a statement. “This is especially prudent considering our proximity to the front range of Colorado which is experiencing large numbers of positive cases.”
As of Monday, Lincoln County School District No. 1 officials in Kemmerer said they would leave their schools open.
“The district does put student safety and what is best first,” the district said in a statement. “We are monitoring the decision to have school daily. The governor’s statement does not replace the responsibility of the local district to make the decision.”
In Jackson, where spring break is to begin March 23, students were to continue their education this week, even with buildings closed, through remote learning.
Also over the weekend, a third confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in a man who had contact with a Sheridan woman who had the state’s first confirmed case.
The discovery of another case, the second, in a man at a Fremont County nursing home raised concerns about the spread of disease through communities, particularly in long-term care facilities.
Harrist said it is important that Wyoming residents continue the practices designed to halt the spread of the illness, such as washing hands thoroughly, covering the mouth and nose if coughing, remaining at home if sick and avoiding sick people.
“Take common-sense steps to avoid sharing your germs with others, especially with those who are more vulnerable to serious illness,” she said.
In other developments:
University of Wyoming, community colleges: The University of Wyoming announced that it will offer undergraduate courses online only through the end of the semester.
“This response plan seeks to allow the university to best address the larger public health needs of the university community, Albany County and the state of Wyoming,” said acting UW President Neil Theobald. “We are invested in keeping our campus community members as healthy as possible.”
Central Wyoming College announced it would extend its spring break by a week, through March 29, becoming the seventh of the state’s community colleges to close.
Crowd limitations: The town of Jackson adopted an emergency ordinance limiting gatherings to 100 people or fewer.
“While the Council understands that this ordinance may adversely impact local businesses, Council confirmed that now is the time to work on flattening the curve, to take action that may limit the possibility of community spread,” the town said in a news release.
Cities restricted: Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr encouraged all non-essential city personnel to work from home. Orr said the city’s offices would remain open, but access to them would be limited. In addition, anyone wishing to meet with someone inside the building will need to make an appointment.
Gillette officials closed the city hall there to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and maintain critical operations. Also closed were city offices in Riverton and Mills.
Ski areas closed: Jackson Hole’s three ski areas — the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King and Grand Targhee — announced they would close for the season because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Grocery stores: With images of empty store shelves flooding social media, chain stores around Wyoming — such as King Sooper’s and Wal-Mart — announced plans to limit their hours give their stores time to be restocked.
Events canceled: With the Centers for Disease Control recommending that for the next eight weeks, gatherings be limited to no more than 50 people, events scheduled for coming weeks around the state were canceled, including the 44t6h World Championship Jackson Hole Snowmobile Hill Climb and Evanston’s annual Celtic festival.
Facility closures: Recreation centers and libraries closed in several Wyoming communities, including the Laramie County Library System, which runs offices in Burns and Pine Bluffs, and the Casper Aquatic Center, Ice Arena and Recreation Center.
The Rock Springs Library also closed.
Hospitals: St. John’s Hospital in Jackson announced it would set up a triage tent to evaluate those who believe they might have the coronavirus.
Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County established a drive-through service for the collection of samples from patients referred for testing by a health care provider.
Flush warnings: In the face of continuing toilet paper shortages, public works department in cities across the state warned residents to flush nothing down their toilets except for toilet paper, including disposable wipes.
“Despite some packaging claims of being flushable, these items must be thrown away in the trash,” the city of Casper said on its Facebook page. “These items do not break down in the sewer line and will clog pipes and cause sewer backups.“
Power bills: Rocky Mountain Power announced Monday it was suspending work to disconnect the power supply of customers who have not paid their bills.