On Friday, local health officials sounded an ominous warning as the number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus climbed locally and statewide. 

"This is about more than masks," said Dr. Mark Schueler in an email to the Bulletin. "It's time to think seriously about gatherings, going out in public and even if schools can stay open. We need to get the word out and get this under control."

Schueler, the county's health officer, said that the rising number of hospitalizations statewide and around the region threatens to impact the ability of hospitals to treat patients with medical emergencies. 

"I was told yesterday a patient went to Sheridan from Spearfish with a heart attack because Rapid City, Billings and Gillette couldn't take them," Schueler said. 

On Friday, there were five patients hospitalized at Johnson County Healthcare with the coronavirus. During one 24-hour period this week, five patients were admitted because of the coronavirus. Statewide, 195 people were COVID patients were hospitalized on Friday. The state has set a new high record for the number of patients hospitalized each of the past seven days. 

"We had two rooms with two people in each room yesterday which I haven't seen in years," Schueler said. "We don't know how many more are coming."  

On Thursday, health officers from 21 of the state's 23 counties, including Schueler, sent a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon requesting a statewide mask mandate. 

“Our numbers have continued to increase as many have disregarded our recommendations. Education and encouragement alone have not achieved desired outcomes. Our health care resources are becoming critically strained with hospitalizations and deaths increasing,” the letter reads. 

In a press conference Friday, Gordon did not commit to a statewide mask mandate but said that new health orders were in the works. 

“It’s time that Wyoming woke up and got serious about what it’s doing,” Gordon said at a news conference. “We’ve relied on people to be responsible, and they’re being irresponsible. They think somehow this is all nonsense."

Wyoming's current health orders will remain in place for one more week as state officials consult with business and healthcare leaders about what to do next. 

Also on Friday, Johnson County Healthcare Center CEO Sean McCallister issued a press release imploring "community members to do their part to slow COVID, otherwise hospital resources will be overcome...Community spread of the virus is exacerbating. Everyone needs to mask and social distance. Please help us maintain healthcare and community service agency resources." 

Editor's note: This is an update of a story published earlier during the day Friday. It has been updated to include Gov. Gordon's comments at the press briefing. 

Executive editor

Jen Sieve-Hicks is the Bulletin's executive editor. She has covered schools, agriculture and government for the Bulletin.

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