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'Despair' As COVID-19 Cases Surge Around The Mountain West

Idaho recently surpassed 40,000 total COVID-19 cases.
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
Idaho recently surpassed 40,000 total COVID-19 cases.

For months it appeared that the Mountain West had COVID-19 somewhat under control. But now the positivity rate is skyrocketing in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

"I feel despair," says Christine Porter, an associate professor of public health at the University of Wyoming.

She says the rise in cases can be traced back to schools and universities reopening and people not wearing masks. Many of the hotspots in these states are in rural counties and college towns. 

"The data says people aren't wearing masks in those areas," she says. "I mean, there might be super micro-enclaves. Like if you go to our food co-op in Laramie, people are much more likely to be wearing masks. And now you go to the Safeway or Wal-Mart and almost nobody is wearing a mask."

Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah do not have statewide mask mandates. But even in states that do have a mandate, such as Montana, masks aren't often worn in many conservative, rural counties that have so far been spared by the pandemic. 

Porter suggests that even if businesses require masks, some people are meeting up at parties or at other gatherings and not wearing them, potentially contributing to the spread. 

Total hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have also increased by more than a third in Idaho and Utah over the past month, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

More than 5,500 people have died and tens of thousands have been hospitalized from the novel coronavirus across the Mountain West since March. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio. He earned an M.A. in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism in 2016 and interned at NPR’s Morning Edition in 2014. In a prior life, he toured around the country in a band, lived in Texas for a spell, and once tried unsuccessfully to fly fish. You can reach Nate at nate@ypradio.org.
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