Telehealth, work to soften social isolation among UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources efforts during pandemic

Portrait of man looking into pickup
John Connett and personal protection equipment donated from offices and departments within the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. More than seven loads have been taken directly to Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources personnel and programs are helping Wyoming residents wrestle the coronavirus pandemic, from involvement in the state’s COVID-19 testing program and providing telehealth across two states to leveraging social media and offering financial know-how for those whose lives have been upended.

The college’s key role in providing personnel, including students from the Department of Molecular Biology and Department of Veterinary Sciences, and supplies to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory, is detailed here

College departments and programs donated enough personal protection equipment that seven trips were taken to Ivinson Memorial Hospital.

College departments are also assisting residents.

Coronavirus transformed Jill Keith’s therapeutic nutrition counseling class from providing in-person, on-campus counseling to telehealth sessions. The Department of Family and Consumer Sciences students are seniors working toward their registered dietitian credential.

Students counseled clients on campus in Laramie prior to COVID-19 flipping academic life. Students are now in their homes, spread across Wyoming and Colorado.

“Some are doing telehealth sessions with someone in a completely different state,” said Keith, an assistant professor in the department.

Students use Zoom sessions to help clients meet goals, such as beginning a vegetarian diet, losing weight or help with hypertension or blood glucose levels.  Students do not address eating disorders or other advanced health needs.

Keith said she plans to incorporate telehealth into future semesters.

“I think this has been a unique opportunity to be able to practice telehealth because you see the importance of what happens when people are isolated,” said Keith. “It’s really relevant in rural areas and in areas where there are no practicing dietitians.”

Early Care and Education Center teachers facing a UW facility shutdown rushed to put together a document that had links for parents and children when the center first closed, commented Mark Bittner, ECEC director. ECEC is an early childhood facility in Laramie. Infant to 5-year-old children engage in curriculum to help prepare them for kindergarten.

The document combined resources that could be viewed on screens but also things that

could keep children active.

Photograph of people next to food boxes
Cent$ible Nutrition Program educator Marilou Vaughn (center) helps with the Riverton food distribution at Foundations for Nations Ministries, where over 1,300 people received food from Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies April 11.

“We didn’t want to give parents activities that would require their children to sit in front

of the computer for very long because we know that’s not best practices,” said Bittner.

When Bittner and his staff realized it would be a longer closure, teachers started reaching

out to parents to see what kind of resources they needed for their children.

The center has had to improvise and find ways to keep children occupied a little bit

differently than how they would at the center. Normally, there are 10 to 15 kids in a room so

some activities that take place at ECEC don’t translate as well, said Bittner.

Go to to see ECEC resources.

Social distancing meant those isolated to begin with were pushed further to society’s fringes. Collaboration with Age-Friendly Laramie and students seeks to lessen the distance. Members of the organization are developing a call list for members of Phi Upsilon Omicron, the honor society for family and consumer sciences students.


People wait in vehicles during distribution of food from the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies at Foundations for Nations Ministries in Riverton.

Many of Age-Friendly Laramie stakeholders are embedded in the community, making the group a great partner for Recognized Student Organizations wanting to help older adults who may be at risk of isolation or having needs not easily met due to being home-bound by the virus, said Bernard Steinman, whose specialty is gerontology in the department.

“The mandates to self-isolate have only exaggerated the difficulties accessing services that many of these people depend on,” he said. “Our group of relatively tech-savvy older adults have held Zoom meetings, and many have expressed that even those meetings have reduced their sense of cabin fever to a degree.”

Still, others are not so tech-oriented.

The calling project appealed to Phi Upsilon Omicron members looking for a community service project.

“We wanted a way for older adults to build a connection with the community,” said immediate past president Katie Kelley of Englewood, Colo.

The project has been in its planning stages and is expected to begin soon. Local organizations, churches, fellowship groups and others are being contacted to build a list of people experiencing a high degree of social isolation. Members of the organizations would ask for consent so people would know students would be calling.

“We’ve built a question list, fun ideas for questions we can ask them and engage in conversation,” she said. “We would also build a list of resources Laramie has put in place, or have had prior, because of COVID-19. For example, help with groceries, medical assessment needs and provide information they may be struggling to find.”

UW Extension educators across the state rapidly put together resources to aid communities. Educators extend the college’s resources to all 23 Wyoming counties in addition to the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Social media including Facebook Live, Zoom and YouTube is being used to reach residents and help spread resources including events related to gardening, 4-H livestock judging, personal financial management and more.  Hundreds of presentations, courses and information packages have been made available digitally.

Members of UW Extension’s community development educator group have provided numerous posts for the Wyoming Saves ( and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics (( Facebook pages.

Targeted articles have been developed for specific outlets, including help for small land family businesses, estate planning, protecting oneself in a financial crisis and examining the coronavirus stimulus package.

Cent$ible Nutrition Program educators use innovative ways to support communities through digital and real-time efforts, said Kali McCrackin Goodenough, CNP marketing coordinator. CNP educators in several counties started community Facebook pages to help share resources and information. Examples include in Worland and in Wheatland.

These pages provide a hub for virtual connections and a way for neighbors to help each other, said McCrackin Goodenough

CNP works with food pantries, but the COVID-19 pandemic has CNP sharing more resources specific to the coronavirus, such as how to make homemade disinfectant spray and providing recipes that use pantry essentials, as well as assisting with food distribution.

CNP educators have assisted with food box, school lunch and backpack program distributions in Riverton, Cody, Wheatland, Worland and on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Gardening information and resources are also being shared. That plus resources covering numerous subjects are available at UW Extension’s coronavirus resource page at


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