At the height of the national COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, the Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition (WTCC) announced an ambitious strategy that would slow the spread of the coronavirus and minimize its effects on the Wyoming economy.
The WTCC’s “Moonshot” project set a deadline of July 1 to develop a comprehensive and data-driven approach to helping communities throughout Wyoming fight the pandemic. Within that short time, the WTCC delivered on that promise.
“What the Moonshot team has been able to accomplish was remarkable,” said Renny MacKay, Policy Director for Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “I have learned a lot from this group and they reflect the ingenuity and can-do spirit of all Wyoming people.”
The report provided Wyoming communities with a roadmap on how to establish baseline coronavirus cases in their area, and offered guidance on testing and quarantining methods that would keep businesses and their workers safe, thus giving communities more options to fight the spread and prevent further negative impacts on their local economies.
Dana Miller Eiland, the owner of Sign Boss in Gillette, a project manager in charge of the Moonshot project along with Tyler Harrison of Cheyenne, said it would not have been possible without the WTCC volunteer researchers.
“The Moonshot project is the mission that drew out the very best of our community,” Eiland said, mobilizing over 20 volunteer researchers with a wide array of expertise and talent into action to address a big problem with little resources and time.
In just under three months, the WTCC has brought together a diverse group of volunteers well-versed in technology, science, and public health who collectively wrote what Eiland said was a uniquely comprehensive report outlining the best evidence-based methods to fight COVID-19 in Wyoming – an effort she credits for raising the group’s visibility among state decision makers, presenting the WTCC with an unique opportunity to affect change throughout the state.
However, as Wyoming began its phased reopening schedule, “it became obvious as we prepared the report that the solution is not as simple as offering testing to every resident, because a single test cannot validate that anyone will be safe from infecting others, even in the near future.” Eiland said.
Eiland and the team realized a more nuanced approach was needed to fight COVID-19 in Wyoming. The finished report addressed the shortcomings of a mass statewide testing initiative and offered alternative technologies like saliva testing and wastewater monitoring as options state leaders could adopt in their own targeted strategies to stop the spread and contain the virus in their communities.
The emerging technologies mentioned in the report caught the attention of Noah Hull, Microbiology Laboratories Manager at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory, whose team was also looking at new tests being approved to fight the novel coronavirus.
In addition to the report, the Moonshot project team also maintains a database of new tests approved under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EAU) process and are coordinates with Hull and his team about testing and contacts to researchers around the country working on similar projects.
Hull said knowing the WTCC had this information readily available, along with a dedicated team available to answer specific scientific questions and conduct literature reviews made collaborating the next logical step.
“Having an informed set of eyes on emerging research, and immediate links to useful contacts, is a great way to speed our efforts to improve surveillance and response to new outbreaks.” Hull said.
In the weeks to come, WTCC plans further actions that will leverage technology and the collective work of its volunteers to aid in not only the state’s effort to fight COVID-19, but the necessary work of rebuilding a Wyoming economy in the aftermath of a global pandemic, according to Eric Trowbridge, CEO of the Array School of Design and Technology and WTCC founder.
Trowbridge does not want to see the collective talent of the WTCC’s 300-plus volunteer community disappear once the pandemic is under control and sees a new and necessary role for the WTCC in rebuilding Wyoming’s economy in the post-pandemic world.
What the virus has taught us is that there’s no going back to the way it was, Trowbridge said,
“so why not take what we’ve learned during this pandemic and apply those lesson towards building a stronger and more resilient version of Wyoming for the 21st century? Something the WTCC is calling Wyoming 2.0.”
According to the Wyoming Department of Health, at the end of June a total of 45,310 people in Wyoming have been tested for COVID-19. The state lab is currently processing a rate of over a thousand tests per day, compared to about 250 per day they were processing in March, when the pandemic began.
All reports generated by WTCC as part of the Moonshot Project are publicly available at https://wtcc.tech/moonshot/.