Wyoming Medical Center doctors, nurses and other care providers and public health officials are trying to get a grip on the recent exponential rise in cases of COVID-19 in Natrona County.

The hospital's beds are nearly full including 21 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday.

People have died of the disease there, too.

Meanwhile, interim CEO Dr. James Bleicher, physicians and health care workers have been trying to get a grip on another contagious virus: stupid, if not dangerous, misinformation.

"Gobsmacked is a phrase that comes to mind," Bleicher said in response to a television show he saw Tuesday night advocating no masking.

Despite more than eight months from governments,. medical and health officials to educate, advocate, and issue mandates about social distancing and masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he and other still must fight a persistent skepticism, he said.

Germ theory has proven for years that masks work, Bleicher said, and offered a challenge to skeptics: "I invite those people to go to the hospital and ask the surgeons and nurses to not put their masks on."

Wednesday, he announced that the Wyoming Medical Center has gone to a "code orange" level -- one level below a disaster -- in terms of its response to COVID-19, and that includes opening a specialized area for COVID-19 patients, stopping elective surgeries, diverting some patients to other hospitals and accepting only patients with trauma, heart attacks and stroke.

"We expect this to be an issue for four to six weeks," Bleicher said.

Besides the misinformation about masks, he said people have been uncritically believing that "herd immunity" -- having a large percentage of the population get infected to resist a virus -- will work.

"In the history of the world no pandemic has been cured by herd immunity," Bleicher said.

Dr. Ghazi Ghanem said the "herd immunity" allegedly necessary to succeed would involve the infection of 60% to 80% of the population in the United States, and the consequences of even a 1% mortality rate would be staggering.

Locally, the practice of herd immunity would result in a crush worse than now, Ghanem said. The hospital could not take care of 100 COVID-19 patients who showed up at the emergency room, he added.

Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell referred to Ghanem's comment about a 1% mortality rate. "Two-and-a-half million Americans dead; is that worth it?"

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