Signs of life
As restrictions ease, Wyoming begins to get back to the new normal
May 14, 2020
Across Wyoming, signs of life are plentiful on city streets as the state takes steps to ease the restrictions that have kept citizens at home and businesses operating on a limited basis since COVID-19 arrived.
In Crook County, a variance has been approved by the state for restaurants and bars to re-open table service. Businesses must follow certain restrictions on social distancing and hygiene that are intended to protect patrons and staff from potentially contracting the virus.
A countywide effort involving town halls, police departments and the Crook County Sheriff’s Office saw the newest exception forms delivered to all bars and restaurants across the county on Friday morning. This allowed paperwork to be completed before the state gave word on the countywide variance in order to allow businesses to re-open their dining rooms as quickly as possible.
A second variance has been approved to remove gathering size restrictions at places of worship around the county. As of Friday, services could resume immediately. Crook County Public Health cautioned that the variances and exceptions are contingent on any changes to the number of positive cases in the county and could be revoked if necessary for the sake of public health.
The pandemic is not yet over, however, Governor Mark Gordon warned last week. Two incidents have taken place that he used to highlight the need for a cautious approach to getting things back to normal.
The first was a “particularly high number of cases” identified in Fremont County on May 6: 24 new patients in one day. Fremont County’s health officer, Dr. Brian Gee, is reported to have attributed the increase to “contact tracing”, which is the process used to track down people who have been in contact with confirmed cases, and said it is an indicator of community spread.
This “continues to be an area of concern,” said the governor, mentioning also an incident in Campbell County on Wednesday when a young female who tested positive for the virus was reported to have had contact with a large number of people who are considered high risk. That’s the kind of thing “that can turn into something of grave concern,” he said.
There’s good news, though, said Gordon. Hospitalizations appear to have stabilized, the statewide supply of personal protection equipment has improved “considerably” and hospitals are now believed to be well supplied.
State health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist warned that there are still “clear areas of concern” and we continue to see new cases both concentrated and scattered, though community spread is thankfully not as widespread as in some parts of the nation.
“Please don’t avoid getting tested out of fear,” she said, explaining that this helps control the spread and is good for everyone. Testing is more available now, she said, so please call your healthcare provider if you have symptoms because ignoring them risks spreading the virus to others, including those who may have a tough time recovering.
“We still have to practice caution,” she said. “The pandemic is unfortunately not over and we still need to do what we can to limit the spread of disease.”
Wyoming is now stabilizing on five of the six metrics used to determine the seriousness of the pandemic, with only the number of new cases continuing to be deemed a concern.
For this reason, Gordon announced that the order for anyone coming into the state to self-quarantine for 14 days was allowed to expire on Friday.
“While that permits out of state travel to resume, we are also asking people to do that judiciously,” he said, asking citizens to please be particularly vigilant if in regular contact with vulnerable people.
Gordon also addressed concern from citizens over the requirement for reservations when camping, explaining that it’s being done to allow campsites to re-open more quickly and make this safer by facilitating social distancing and preventing access to out-of-state visitors.
“You will still have the ability to go camping at the last minute at our campsites,” he said.
The next phase to ease restrictions is expected to begin on May 15, when the current orders expire. Gordon said that he anticipates bars and restaurants will be able to re-open to indoor table services, with restrictions such as a limit of six seats to a table, six feet between the tables, increased sanitation and the use of face coverings.
“We do not want to surrender the ground we have gained,” he said.
Social distancing will still be encouraged as an essential tool to prevent the spread, said Harrist, and the “safe path ahead” means personal measures such as limiting contact with others if you have symptoms, wearing face coverings and working from home when possible.
“We aren’t turning back the clock to the way things were before this pandemic began,” she said, later adding, “We do not want some of the larger scale horror stories we’ve seen happen in other places.”
Harrist spoke again to the efforts made at the state level to strike the right balance. Though it may have seemed like too little was being done at first and too much is being done now, she said, that balancing act for the most part appears to have been successful in preventing the state from becoming overwhelmed as many feared would happen.
“Thank you to everybody in Wyoming,” she said.
A proclamation was signed last week by Governor Gordon to convene a special session of the Wyoming Legislature to respond to the pandemic. The two-day session begins May 15 and will be conducted electronically.