A Casper nursing home resident has died of COVID-19, health officials announced Thursday, marking Natrona County's first coronavirus-related death.

The man was in his seventies and had tested positive for the virus May 20.

He had briefly been a resident at Life Care Center of Casper and was later hospitalized at Wyoming Medical Center, where he died.

His passing and exposure are not believed to be connected to either facility, officials say. State health officials confirmed COVID-19 as a contributing factor in the man's death.

Wyoming's coronavirus death toll now stands at 15.

"The Casper-Natrona County Health Department is deeply saddened by this loss in our community," department spokeswoman Hailey Bloom said in a news release Thursday. "We send our sincerest sympathies to his family, friends and all those impacted by his loss."

Since the middle of May, 23 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Natrona County. Of those, health officials believe 18 "can be tied together as one epidemiologically connected cluster, potentially started by one positive case."

"However, we are still listing the exposure for the majority of the cases as community transmission due to the extensive exposures and contacts within the cluster," Bloom said. "None of these cases can be tied directly through one avenue and instead have multiple possible exposures tied back to the one common case."

Bloom said many cases and groups have multiple offshoots connecting them to other cases and groups, "weaving an intricate and difficult to narrow down web."

"It is extremely difficult to determine the order or details of each exposure or connection," Bloom said. "Contact tracing and epidemiologic mapping is this capacity is incredibly detailed, extensive, time intensive and require great epidemiologic training."

Bloom said local health workers are working tirelessly to complete the complex process as thoroughly as possible.

COVID-19 poses an increased health risk to older Wyomingites and those with certain health conditions.

The virus can be transmitted by people who are not yet showing symptoms. Health officials say it can take two to 14 days for disease symptoms to appear after exposure.

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

Wyoming currently has 655 lab-confirmed cases of the virus as well as 209 probable cases.

The Casper-Natrona County Health Department said it is thankful for the community's cooperation and patience throughout the pandemic.

"This death is a painful reminder that COVID-19 is still within Natrona County and can quickly devastate families and our entire community," Bloom said. "This is why it is crucial for all of us to continue to follow the recommendations and guidance for limiting transmission of this virus."

Health officials say it is crucial to take simple steps such as frequent hand washing, using hand sanitizer when washing isn't possible, avoiding close contact with sick people, staying home if you are sick, practicing social distancing by staying six feet away from others, covering the mouth and nose with a cloth face covering when around others in public, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces.

Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms and anyone who has had direct contact with a known positive case should be tested through the health department by calling 307-577-9892 or the Wyoming Medical Center by calling 307-233-7288. 

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