Casper Mayor Steve Freel said Thursday new reports of COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly and he again strongly urged residents to wear masks and practice social distancing.

"Lets do the right thing, and get these numbers in our community under control," Freel said during a live-streamed news conference from City Hall.

He did not recommend a government mandate for people to wear masks, but he would keep in touch with the Casper-Natrona County Health Department to monitor the situation.

"But I'm asking that you please change a few things," Freel said.

Residents who go to stores should wear facial coverings, and if they don't want to wear facial coverings they can order on their phones' apps.

The same social distancing and wearing of masks apply to events, too, he said.

"In order to keep our intention to move forward, we need you to please do your part," Freel said. "In order to cut the numbers of people infected by this virus, please stay home when you feel sick, social distance, and wear a facial covering when social distancing isn't possible. It's that simple."

These practices are necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

Last week, there were 178 new confirmed cases in Natrona County, and 86 of those came in one 24-hour period, Freel said.

COVid-19 patients are in the Wyoming Medical Center's intensive care unit, regular care unit, and the catastrophic surge overflow unit, he said.

Last week, the hospital also declared a "code orange" alert, meaning it was limited on space for patients and its staff were taxed with an overflowing influx of patients.

Fourteen hospital staff were quarantined for contracting the coronavirus, Freel said. "Losing this number of employees for a regional hospital is a huge blow to the day-to-day, hour-to-hour operations of this medical facility."

At one place last week, there were no rooms available in the emergency department and there were 17 patients waiting to be seen, he said.

"Car accidents still happen, heart attacks still happen, strokes still happen," Freel said, adding that most of these are life-and-death incidents that need immediate attention.

"Preventing (COVID) exposures would help this scenario," he said.

When the pandemic began, the city and state tried to implement measures that would safeguard health and business, and Natrona County had some success with that.

As reopening occurred, some major chain stores implemented their own policies, especially requiring customers to wear face masks.

Customers were turned away if they didn't wear masks, and some customers didn't like that.

Despite these corporate-level decisions, Freel said. "However, it was the minimum-wage employees that took the brunt of the anger displayed by a handful of citizens that did not want to follow the request put in place by each business."

Soon thereafter, comments on social media were made that stores could not enforce these policies and that the businesses did not have the right to make people wear masks.

That logic is the same as someone saying they have the right to drink and drive and put another person's life at risk.

Businesses have the right to allow whomever they want to enter, as well as to require customers to wear facial coverings, Freel said.

He urged residents to evaluate the sources of their information.

Freel also said that every time he's entered a health care facility he's seen medical and other staff wearing personal protective equipment.

On Wednesday, he went to the Wyoming Medical Center and saw patients on ventilators.

Freel has heard comments that many of those who died with COVID-19 were elderly and had other health issues such as terminal cancer and technically didn't die of the coronavirus.

"The question I have though is that this terminally ill patient was given an amount of time to live, that was extremely shortened due to contracting the COVID virus, how does anyone think this is okay?"

Freel spoke to one the doctors who told him he was with an elderly woman dying with COVID at 2 a.m. Saturday, he said.

"He sat with her while he held a phone up, so her husband of 50-plus years so her husband could say good-bye," Freel said. "He sat with her as she passed away. A little after 2:15 a.m., she did pass away.

"It is not right that people cannot be with their loved one in their dying moments. That is what this virus spread has created."

 

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As of Thursday, the Wyoming Department of Health reported 8,537 laboratory-confirmed cases, 1,582 probable cases -- close contacts of lab-confirmed cases with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 -- and 68 COVID-19 related deaths. Of those lab-confirmed cases, 6,031 were recovered, and 1,062 probable cases were recovered.

Natrona County had the fourth-highest number of lab-confirmed reported cases at 949 with 181 probable cases. Albany County, home of the University of Wyoming, had the highest number of lab-confirmed cases at 1,029, followed by Fremont County with 1,012 lab-confirmed cases, and Laramie County with 984 lab-confirmed cases.

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