School districts across Wyoming are making the decision to leave their buildings closed for the remainder of the school year.
The decisions by school officials in communities including Pine Bluffs, Casper and Powell come as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming increased by 19 on Monday, led by the growth of 15 cases in Fremont County.
Although some districts have not yet decided whether classes will resume before the summer break, others are citing continued requirements for social distancing as making regular education techniques unworkable.
“It’s pretty hard to facilitate school when you’re trying to social distance en masse,” said Jon Abrams, superintendent of Laramie County School District No. 2 in Pine Bluffs.
Powell school officials said with state orders closing school buildings until May 15 remaining in place, they decided the transition from home education back to the classroom would be too difficult.
Jay Curtis, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1 in Powell, said transitioning to home-based education earlier this year was tough.
“I think it would be just as much of a monumental task to transition them back into school,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said the number of confirmed cases grew to 389 on Monday, an increase of 19 over Sunday.
Much of the increase could be traced to 15 new cases detected in Fremont County. Officials there had predicted their case numbers would increase with increased testing and contact tracing.
As of Monday, Fremont County had 98 cases; Laramie County had 89 cases; Teton County had 64; Natrona County had 39; Campbell County had 14; Sheridan County had 12; Converse and Johnson had 11; Sweetwater had 10; Albany had seven; Lincoln and Uinta had six; Crook and Washakie had five; Carbon had four, and Goshen had three. Big Horn, Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.
No cases have been detected in Platte or Weston counties.
The number of laboratory-confirmed and “probable” recoveries went up by one on Monday to total 343. The number includes 249 laboratory-confirmed recoveries and 94 “probable” recoveries.
In other developments:
Model change: One of the most prominent computer models predicting the impact of the coronavirus on various states is projecting higher deaths for Wyoming from the virus than it did two weeks ago. The model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts Wyoming will see 166 deaths from the virus, compared to its projection of 34 two weeks ago. The model also predicts the state’s deaths will peak at 12 per day on May 3. So far, seven deaths in Wyoming have been attributed to coronavirus.
School grants: Wyoming schools have received about $32.5 million in federal funding to help its districts offset costs linked to the coronavirus. The money is part of the coronavirus stimulus bill approved by Congress several weeks ago. It is not to be used to offset any existing expenses such as payroll.
Unemployment: Workers in Wyoming have received more than $42 million in unemployment insurance benefits since the coronavirus reached the state, according to the state Department of Workforce Services. The department said most of the money has come from the coronavirus stimulus package approved by Congress. The state has also paid $19.4 million to workers left unemployed because of coronavirus.
Active case drop: Teton County, at one point the county with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the state, has seen the number of its active cases drop to single digits. The Teton County Emergency Management Agency, in its “dashboard” with coronavirus information, reported the county has had a total of 95 cases since March 11, both laboratory-confirmed and “probable.” The county also has recorded 86 recoveries — 59 confirmed by laboratory tests and 27 “probable” recoveries — leaving it with nine active cases.
Yellowstone lodging: The company that runs Yellowstone National Park’s lodging facilities will not begin operations until at least June 15, it has announced. In addition, Xanterra Travel Collection does not have an opening date scheduled for some of the park’s most iconic structures, such as the Old Faithful Inn and Roosevelt Lodge. Xanterra said lodging operations will be initially limited to cabins with private bathrooms.
Electronic elections: University of Wyoming students are casting their ballots for student body officials via online services. With the UW campus closed, students are casting votes for student body president, vice president and senators through a page on the university’’s website. Voting continues through Wednesday.
Stadium graduation: Evanston High School has started making plans for an alternative graduation ceremony that will involve a football stadium and cars. Graduation will be held at Evanston’s Kay Fackrell Stadium, where the families of graduating seniors will be able to park their cars and watch the ceremonies.
Rally for jobs: Dozens of people rallied in Powell on Friday, asking Gov. Mark Gordon to lift the restrictions on Wyoming’s businesses that were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Speakers described the orders as damaging to the economy and unconstitutional. “The common cold is what’s going to close us. This is crap,” said James Andrews, the owner of a Powell bar and grill. Gordon is to announce modified restrictions this week that may allow some businesses affected by his orders to open on a limited basis.
Donkey Creek Festival canceled: Gillette’s annual Donkey Creek Festival, scheduled for late June, has been canceled because of concerns about the coronavirus. Festival organizers said they were canceling the event out of concerns for the health of attendees. “We love our community and want to make the best decision for the health and welfare of the people who live here and who faithfully support this event every year,” organizers said in a news release.