By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Decisions to close local facilities such as schools or cancel events in the face of the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 will be left in the hands of local officials, Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday.
Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said while the state will work with local officials as they deal with the illness, the decisions on actions taken will be handled at the local level with input from the state.
“The Superintendent (of Public Instruction Jillian Balow) and I have both discussed the importance of local control on these issues,” he said. “We ask … that as decisions … are made that it be communicated with our office.”
“Every community has the capacity to make great decisions when done in conjunction with local, county and state health departments regarding closures, hybrid education, homebound education, etc.” Balow said.
However, Gordon also encouraged residents to carefully consider whether they want to proceed with plans to hold events that would be attended by large numbers of people.
“With an overabundance of caution and as a proactive measure to protect the residents of Wyoming, I am recommending that we consider carefully whether large community gatherings and events of over 250 people should take place,” he said. “We want to be proactive in our approach and I encourage anyone planning large events to contact their county health officers, to work with their elected officials to make sure their county officials are fully in that loop.”
Gordon’s news conference came one day after the state Department of Health announced that one Wyoming resident, a Sheridan woman, had tested positive for COVID-19.
It also came on the heels of decisions by the University of Wyoming. Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington and Northwest Wyoming College in Powell to extend their spring breaks by one week to give officials more time to determine how to respond to the coronavirus.
Also on Thursday, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department canceled the state Class 4A and 3A basketball tournaments in Casper, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said the state was not involved with the decision to cancel the tournament.
Gordon and other officials at the news conference stressed that the risk of the spread of coronavirus in Wyoming remains low.
“However, every state’s situation is different,” Gordon said. “At any given time, things are evolving rapidly.”
Gordon also announced that the Department of Health and Wyoming Office of Homeland Security were working to establish a “unified command center” where officials can coordinate planning and response efforts.
“We’ll be having all state agencies that will be working in support of this effort joining us there,” said Lynn Budd, the office’s director. “We’ll be having doing regular meetings. It’s just to establish a … ‘battle rhythm’ or a planning committee cycle so we’re all on the same page and we have all the information that we need. It helps to have everybody in one place.”
Gordon made a point during the news conference of urging people to follow the Health Department’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the illness, such as washing hands thoroughly, staying home if sick and avoiding sick people.
He also urged people to follow the state’s advice to have enough supplies at home for two weeks — within reason.
“We started this year talking about being two weeks ready,” he said. “Being two weeks ready does not mean you need to stock up on a year’s supply of toilet paper.