Opening for business
Opening for business
May 7, 2020
Last week, Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist appeared at the podium every afternoon to answer questions about the new state health orders that would be going into effect on May 1. As well as a modest easing of restrictions on businesses such as restaurants and bars, the orders aimed to get people whose job involves one-on-one contact with clients back to work.
The new orders allowed gyms, barber shops, hair salons and other personal care services to reopen under specific operating conditions designed to minimize public health risk from COVID-19. Restrictions were also eased on daycares and guidance was to be provided to hospitals to allow them to resume elective surgeries.
Businesses in the Sundance area began to respond immediately, with some businesses announcing that their doors would open again on May 1, while eateries modified their procedures to once again allow patrons to come inside to collect their food and drink.
Countywide variances are also now available and can be requested by the county health officer. These can be more or less restrictive than the state’s orders, said Gordon.
Exceptions are also available and cover individual businesses and specific activities. These require careful consideration of the risk of illness and the county situation and also require approval from the county and state health officers; the state has recommended county-wide exception requests for all examples of a type of business to speed up the process at the state level.
As he announced the new orders, Gordon expressed a small amount of annoyance that it had become necessary to clarify that Wyoming cannot be “opened” because it had not been closed in the first place.
“We never closed the economy. What we did was put some restrictions in place for public safety, but we allowed people to keep working,” he said.
Wyoming is ahead of many of its neighbors, he said, but, “We do not want to surrender any of the ground that we gained.” Gordon pointed to the hotspot in South Dakota at the Smithfield Foods processing plant as an example of why it could be dangerous to rush.
It used to be that the state was hearing people saying not enough was being done, Harrist said, and now the state is hearing that it’s doing too much to combat the pandemic.
“All along, we’ve been trying to find the right balance,” she said. The trouble is, when the steps work and the number of cases stays low, people wonder why they needed to be taken in the first place.
“We’re still in a pandemic and we need to see how this disease may progress,” she said.
With that in mind, Harrist explained that the orders had been directed toward activities that involve “lower risk and fewer people”, rather than those where people specifically come together, and where exposure can be limited with such precautions as face masks. More time will be needed to see how the disease progresses and how each move forward affects Wyoming, she said.
“COVID isn’t going away…we’re going to have to get our heads in the game and understand how we defeat this virus every day,” Gordon said.
One of the state’s goals is still to limit public interactions, so the order limiting gatherings to ten people or fewer remains in place. The order requiring anyone coming into the state to self-quarantine for 14 days was extended to May 8.
Campgrounds will be opened on May 15 to Wyoming residents only, and new operational procedures will be put in place. “They are designed to make it easier for you,” said the governor, asking for patience.
Darin Westby, Director of Wyoming State Parks, explained that Wyoming was the only state in the region with open campgrounds before the orders went into effect in March and were getting “inundated”. Closing them was a strategic plan to “reduce that potential risk”.
All camping will require reservations and, due to spacing, not all sites will be available. Cabins and yurts will be available Friday to Sunday only so they can be cleaned during the week.
Gordon also announced that the state is establishing a direct grant program to provide relief when the Small Business Administration (SBA) program ends. It will be specifically aimed at those who did not receive SBA money and the smallest employers in the state.
In Wyoming, said Gordon, there are 20,558 employers, 279,160 jobs and $2.2 billion in wages, as well as $270 million in sales tax. “It’s important that we hit Main Street,” he said of the new grant program.
Harrist reiterated that antibody testing is not yet reliable and should be used by caution. Not only are there not yet any reliable tests approved by the FDA, “What we don’t know yet is what having antibodies to the coronavirus means,” she said.
In other words, we don’t yet know if having antibodies can prevent a person from getting sick from this specific disease a second time.
Harrist stated that the hope is to be able to give more flexibility in the state orders once the current ones expire in two weeks, but it is impossible to say that things will “definitely happen” or will not because the data changes every day.
In the meantime, with restrictions loosened, Gordon said, “This is your responsibility, this is your time to shine to make sure that the ground we gained in this battle is not lost.”