By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
While there is no way to determine exactly when the coronavirus pandemic will lose its hold on Wyoming, actions of the state’s residents have moved the state closer to the end of its impact. Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.
Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said Wyoming residents have heeded his requests to self-isolate and helped reduce the number of infected people needing medical assistance at any one time.
“We are a long ways from being out of the woods, but we are thinking about what it’s going to look like when we get to the other side,” he said.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said by staying at home, practicing social distancing and observing hygiene recommendations, Wyoming’s residents have “flattened the curve,” a term that describes spreading out the impact of the virus over time to avoid overwhelming health care providers and facilities.
As a result, the date for the anticipated peak in the number of cases seen in the state and the corresponding decline has been pushed back, Harrist said, although she said she could not predict exactly when the peak might occur.
“I don’t want to say the peak will be in mid-May, we don’t have enough certainty in that to reassure people that will happen,” she said. “What we have done is through the public health orders we’ve written, we’ve flattened the curve.”
Harrist also said that while Wyoming had not recorded any deaths attributed to coronavirus as of Wednesday, she did believe some would eventually occur.
“I think that the virus is as serious here as it is anywhere else,” she said. “Unfortunately, I do expect that we will see deaths in Wyoming from this virus. We know this virus can be especially serious and deadly for some people.”
Gordon also announced during the news conference that on Wednesday, he requested an emergency declaration on behalf of the state, as well as the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Indian tribes.
The declaration will allow the state to seek assistance from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, if needed, to build medical facilities and to make state residents eligible for additional federal assistance, such as disaster unemployment insurance.
State agencies are working to put the mechanisms in place so workers and businesses can obtain the emergency assistance made available through congressional action, said Robin Cooley, director of the state Department of Workforce Services, and Josh Dorrell, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.
Cooley also said the DWS is also working to speed up the process for filing unemployment claims.
Cooley said in addition to the fact that claims have increased in some cases by up to eight times, processing is being complicated by the fact many people seeking unemployment benefits have never filed a claim before.
“They don’t know how to handle the process, what to do, how to answer some of the questions,” she said.
The DWS is putting extra people on its claims desk and trying to obtain more phones to shorten the wait faced by people seeking benefits, she said.
Dorrell said the WBC is working with the state’s banks to set up a way for the state’s businesses to take advantage of the low-interest loans and grants made available to help businesses get through the pandemic.
On other issues, Gordon said he would work with any county that would like to implement its own “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” order.
Gordon has resisted such an approach, instead adopting three public health orders that closed schools and businesses where more than 10 people would be likely to gather, closed businesses providing personal services such as hair salons and tattoo parlors and banned gatherings of 10 people or more.
Last week, Teton County, with state approval, adopted a “stay-at-home” order that allows people to travel for purposes such as obtaining or delivering groceries and medical supplies, to take care of a pet or to take part in outdoor recreation.
Gordon said if other counties feel they need a similar order, he and Harrist would work with them.
“We are happy to work with the counties as they see fit to see that their needs are well met,” he said. “Generally, across the state, we are seeing a decrease in activity, we are seeing people socially distance.”
He pointed to a Google study that said Wyoming residents have reduced their travel to recreational and retail destinations by 37 percent since his orders were put in place.
“This data shows that more people are staying home,” he said.