Fremont County, which continues to lead the state in confirmed COVID-19 cases, will be without a public health officer until August. Dr. Brian Gee chose to step down from the job after his term ended on Tuesday.
According to County Commission Chairman Travis Becker, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly turned the public health officer position from a relatively casual role to an 80-hour per week commitment.
"This COVID stuff put a lot of pressure and a lot of time on [Dr. Gee] over the last six months. He's got a private practice to balance as well, and he decided that he had done his service and wanted to move on," Becker said.
Gee is a physician at the Lander Medical Clinic, but told Wyofile in April that he hadn't seen a patient in weeks due to the new demands of his role as public health officer. He served as a liaison between healthcare and government officials while Fremont County emerged as a coronavirus hot spot in Wyoming, fielded questions about the virus from the public and the press, and managed the county's supply of testing and personal protective equipment.
Becker said Gee informed the Fremont County Commission in advance that he would be stepping down. They will begin recruiting a new public health officer next week and hope to fill the position by August 1. In the meantime, the rest of Fremont County's Incident Command Team will continue to manage the county's COVID-19 response, and state health officer Alexia Harrist will step in to oversee local health needs.
With July Fourth events and gatherings planned throughout Fremont County, Lander Assistant Mayor Rajean Strube Fossen said she was confident the county is prepared to prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases even without a public health officer.
"I think they have a structure, I think [the Fremont County Public Health Department] can handle everything. I think the state is still supporting us. So even though I'm sad to see Dr. Gee go, I think that everything will still run smoothly," Strube Fossen said.
Becker said he was not concerned about the top position in the Public Health Department remaining vacant for at least a month, even while Fremont County continues to report new cases of COVID-19 nearly every day.
"Well, we're always concerned that people stay healthy, but I don't see a whole big difference," Becker said. "People are not stupid. They know that they should be doing social distancing, cleaning their hands, doing all that other stuff. I'm not trying to be flippant about it, but there's only so much that a county health officer can do."