Nine cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at a long-term care facility in Washakie County over the past several days, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Saturday.

Five of the cases identified thus far are in staff members, while nursing home residents account for the other four confirmed cases. The name of the nursing home was not included in the department's statement.

More test results are pending, the department said.

It is not yet clear how the virus was introduced among staff and residents at the nursing home, but the department said virus concerns at the facility grew after staff members who became ill and sought medical care were tested.

"We know the residents of these places are among the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and we have seen terrible situations occur in other nursing homes across the country," State Health Officer Alexia Harrist said Saturday. "We also recognize that the nature of long-term care facilities can make it very challenging to control the spread of the virus once it's been introduced into a specific location."

Health officials have responded by attempting to collect samples from all employees and residents of the nursing home. The department will likely move forward by interviewing staff and patients, as well as conducting additional tests.

Throughout the pandemic, Harris said, the department has prioritized protecting older Wyomingites who reside in long-term care facilities. Strict limitations on visitors or non-essential healthcare personnel remain in place at nursing homes across the state.

"We believe this policy has been helpful in Wyoming over the last couple of months, but, the risk of potential exposure through staff and patients still exists," Harrist continued.

The virus can be spread by people who have contracted it, but have not yet shown symptoms. It may take between two to 14 days after virus exposure for symptoms to appear.

Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Although state officials have recently relaxed public health orders, Harrist says everyone should continue taking precautions to avoid contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.

"Unfortunately, this virus is still among us," Harrist said.

The health department recommends the following in order to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus:

  • Follow current public health orders.
  • Stay home when sick and avoid contact with other people unless you need medical attention.
  • Follow common-sense steps such as washing your hands often and well; covering your coughs and sneezes; and cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • Older people and those with health conditions that mean they have a high chance of getting seriously ill should avoid close-contact situations as much as possible.
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