We have the first Yellowstone COVID-19 positive tests in the books, as two concessions employees and three separate visitors reported symptoms and subsequently tested positive.
Over 1,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted on Yellowstone employees over the past eight weeks, according to a press release issued by NPS officials. Another 455 tests were recently confirmed negative in the fifth (162 tests), sixth (244 tests), and ninth (49 tests) round of testing, bringing the total number of confirmed negative tests to 1,032. About 200 tests are currently pending. So the proactive Yellowstone employee testing did not detect any positives; instead, the positives came from concessions employees and visitors.
In the case of the concessions employees, after a positive test was confirmed, these employees were isolated and mitigation steps were taken in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Accordingly, health officials led contact tracing.
The first employee experienced COVID-19 symptoms while away from the park and was tested outside the park. Once the positive test was confirmed, the employee was isolated. Based on contact tracing by health officials, the employee had limited interactions with visitors or employees. It is likely this employee contracted the virus while out of the park.
The second employee had symptoms while in the park, was tested at the clinic, and determined to be positive. The employee was immediately isolated while contact tracing occurred. Several other employees were quarantined as a precaution. Surveillance testing the week of July 20 was concentrated in and around the area where the positive employee worked. Nearly 40 people were tested with assistance from Park County, Wyoming, health officials and all tests returned negative. As a precaution, approximately 10 additional health officials and first responders were also tested with negative results.
Regarding the three positive visitor tests: These visitors sought medical assistance at Yellowstone clinics, were tested, and tested positive. One visitor spent one night in the park and the other did not stay overnight. It is highly likely these visitors had the virus prior to entering the park. The third visitor was tested outside the park after visiting for a week. It has not been determined if the virus was contracted while the visitor was in the park or prior to entering.
These are the first visitors out of an estimated 1.4 million visits since the park opened, who had symptoms while in the park and tested positive after seeking medical attention. “At this point, a limited number of cases have appeared in different locations around the park,” said U.S. Public Health Officer, George Larsen. “Currently, there is no indication of any type of community spread in the park although we are monitoring it very closely.”
“Some of these visitor cases had symptoms prior to entering the park,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “If you have symptoms as your visit is approaching, do the responsible thing and don’t come to the park. You end up putting our employees, health care providers, and other visitors at risk. Our thanks once again to the states of Wyoming and Montana (Park County, Wyoming, and Park County, Montana), for assisting us with testing capacity and additional public health expertise.”
We know safety is an important issue for Yellowstone visitors, based on the phone calls and emails we receive. Given that COVID-19 cases are on the rise across the country and also in Montana, it would be unusual if any Yellowstone visitors did not test positive for the virus.
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