The cancellation of the Wyoming high school basketball tournament was the right course of action in light of the fairly contagious new coronavirus, COVID-19, Natrona County Health Officer and infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Dowell said Thursday.
“I know parents are going to be mad at me,” Dowell said during a news conference at the Casper-Natrona County Health Department.
“I had to look at the big picture,” he said, adding he has children who participated in sports and knows how important they are.
Wednesday, the first reported case of coronavirus in Wyoming was confirmed in a Sheridan resident.
Earlier Thursday, Dowell announced the games would be closed to spectators because of the threat of the spread of the disease, but later changed the decision to cancel the entire event.
The action was pro-active in light of the cancellations of other sporting events including the NCAA’s cancellation of its tournament basketball games, the National Basketball Association’s and the National Hockey League’s cancellation of their seasons, and a two-week delay of Major League Baseball’s opening day.
“My job is to protect the public,” Dowell said.
While young people appear to do well if they are infected with the new coronavirus, they would go home and infect their grandparents, he said. The elderly, especially if they have other health problems, so far have a mortality rate of 10% to 15% if infected.
Dowell spoke with the leadership of the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra on Thursday morning about the cancellation of Saturday’s performance because those concerts are attended by an older crowd, he said.
Calling the disease and its spread “a moving target,” he said there are other discussions about schools.
So far, there are no plans to close the elementary, middle and high schools in Natrona County, Dowell said. Closing those schools would have a huge impact on students, parents, child care and other facilities, he said.
Universities and colleges are a different matter because many students live in community including dorms, fraternities, sororities and group off-campus housing.
Health Department Director Anna Kinder added university and college sports and other teams travel a lot, which could enhance exposure.
Dowell, who with Kinder and two other physicians spoke at a news conference on Wednesday about the new coronavirus, again emphasized the importance of people acting responsibly if they believe they may have the disease.
People who believe they may have the symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath — should call their doctor to talk about it. If they don’t have a personal health care provider, they should call the Casper-Natrona County Health Department’s hotline at (307) 577-9892.
The worst thing people who think they have the symptoms is to go to the emergency room because that interferes with the work of the ER personnel, Dowell said.
Likewise, he quashed a rumor that people can go to the Mesa Primary Care facility on Casper’s west side and get tested. Mesa does not have the testing equipment.
Speaking of testing, Dowell said the federal government has done a poor job of dealing with the new coronavirus, especially in terms of distributing testing kits.
The Wyoming State Lab has only 2,700 kits, and the local clinics do not have any so far, he said.
Because of that scarcity, local hospitals, clinics and doctors will not — given the tests arrive soon — be able to test anyone who wants it, Dowell added.
Finally, he again emphasized that the new coronavirus is a moving target and the guidelines for assessing it and taking public health actions probably will change.
The issue is real, but the responses should not be unreasonable.
“I’m calm,” Dowell said. “I’m not paranoid.”