Hot Springs County Schools & Businesses Crippled By COVID-19
Written by Andrew-Rossi on September 1, 2021
Hot Springs County hits its lowest point of the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming the first Wyoming county to return its students to online classes this school year.
Hot Springs County has appeared to be an “oasis” of sorts for much of the pandemic. While many counties were dealing with their worst points, cases in Hot Springs County stayed comparatively low. But no longer.
Over the past two weeks, Hot Springs County has been dealing with a sudden onslaught of COVID-19 cases. The situation is so difficult that it is impacting the day-to-day lives of county residents in several ways.
As of Tuesday, Aug. 31, the Wyoming Department of Health reports 135 active cases in the county. Of those cases, 102 were confirmed within the last week.
This represents the highest number of active cases in Hot Springs County since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
For comparison, Park County – a larger and more densely populated county – had 116 active cases on Aug. 31.
Businesses in Hot Springs County are closing due to the outbreak, which directly impacts the county’s economy at the end of the summer season.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, one Thermopolis’s most prominent tourist attractions, announced its closure earlier this week due to COVID outbreaks. In addition, several restaurants and the Days Inn in Hot Springs State Park either are closed or were closed within the last few weeks.
The devastating impact of COVID-19 is being felt most in Hot Springs County schools. According to the Facebook page Thermopolis Sports, over 30% of Hot Springs County High School’s students are absent, mainly due to COVID-19. It’s the highest percentage of student absences in the school’s history.
As of Wednesday, Sept. 1, all Hot Springs County students will attend class entirely online until at least Sept. 13 due to pervasive COVID-19 infection.
On August 30, a letter was sent to parents with children enrolled in Hot Springs County School District # 1. In it, Superintendent Dustin Hunt announced the move to digital instruction for the next two weeks.
“It is disappointing to be in a digital instruction period this early in the school year,” Superintendent Hunt writes, “but unfortunately, numbers of students and staff infected with COVID-19 or under quarantine orders has reached the threshold of needed separation.”
During this period of digital instruction, there will be no school activities. This includes all middle and high school sports.
Hot Springs County School District #1 is the first district to transfer to completely online instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.
Despite these developments, there is no indication the county or the school district will impose a mask mandate once classes resume. In his letter, Superintendent Hunt says that masks and vaccination are decisions to be made by families.
Hunt also adds that, without a statewide mask order, “it is not feasible to ask our students and staff to do something at school that our community as a whole will not do in public.”
Governor Mark Gordon has stated he will not reimpose a school or statewide mask mandate on multiple occasions.
In light of this debilitating surge, Hot Springs County Public Health encourages the public to get vaccinated while discouraging unproven treatments like the livestock dewormer Ivermectin. Vaccinations are still available for free throughout Wyoming at many healthcare institutions.