First COVID-19 case confirmed in Niobrara County


The Niobrara County Health Department has confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus, the cause of the respiratory disease COVID-19, in a lone individual in the county.

The Public Health Department and Niobrara County Emergency Management reported the individual lives in Niobrara County in a press release, but gave no information regarding the individuals gender or location, citing patient confidentiality. They are urging people not to panic and to remain home as much as possible while practicing good hygiene.

A followup press release from the Wyoming Department of Corrections identified the infected individual as a member of the staff at the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk. The individual had minimal contact with inmates, meaning risk of infection to them was not increased. But four other staff members who had “extended contact” with the person are at increased risk, the release said.

Those individuals at heightened risk through direct contact remained symptom-free as of Friday. All four are currently self-quarantined.

This marks the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus within the Wyoming Department of Corrections system, the release said. 

Dr. Joleen Falkenburg, medical director at Niobrara County Hospital, said in a regular update video posted on the hospital’s Facebook page, that she had examined the individual early last week.

“I know everyone will be interested to know who it is, but that is why we have privacy rights,” Dr. Falkenburg said. “I want you to rest assured that there was not a lot of contact with many people in the community, so please don’t panic or worry.

“I suspected COVID has already been here two to three weeks; that’s why we put precautions in place,” she said. “Now we understand why we put those things in place. I hope it makes you all feel validated that you have socially distanced, shut down your stores and suffered financial complications from COVID, because it is going to come through.”

“Our intention never was that we could completely stop it, but if we can slow the infiltration from our communities, it will lessen the burden on our hospital systems.”

The individual is currently in quarantine, and will continue to be sequestered for the next 14 days.

Falkenburg said the state Public Health Department is following up on the case, but assured people it appeared there had been minimal community contact with the person diagnosed.

“I want you to rest assured there was not a lot of contact with people in the communities,” she said in the video.

Falkenburg also echoed the CDC recommendations to wear masks in public, but with a caveat, noting the continued importance of respecting other people’s personal space through social distancing and following good hygiene practices.

Wearing a face mask is advised “if you just can’t socially distance, if you go into a crowded store where people maybe aren’t respecting your personal bubble,” she said. “And the mask is not decent enough if you still don’t wash their hands.

“If someone at the grocery store coughs in their hand, touches the green bean can they just stocked, then you buy it and take it home but you don’t wash your hands, that’s how you can transmit this virus," Falkenburg said. "Masks do not take the place of good hand hygiene. If you take it on and off, touch it with potentially contaminated hands, it’s just like touching your face.”

Dr. Falkenburg said if people have any questions, comments or concerns, to call the clinic at 307-334-4000 ext. 223. Rawhide Clinic in Lusk will be closed Friday, April 10, to allow staff to have time with their families for Easter.


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