In contrast to a group of Republican legislators who criticized Gov. Mark Gordon’s reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, two lawmakers from northeastern Wyoming said Wyoming is further ahead in opening businesses than any other state in the nation.
Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower and Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance took to YouTube on Thursday to discuss the governor’s most-recent health orders and why they put Wyoming ahead of the pack nationally.
“As it stands tomorrow, the State of Wyoming will be farther ahead than any state in the nation in regards to relaxing [public health] orders,” Lindholm said. “Farther than any state and that includes South Dakota. South Dakota is going to be behind us.”
South Dakota has been singled out by the national media as the state that has most strenuously resisted statewide “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders. However, there is little — if any — difference between the policies of South Dakota and those of Wyoming.
Wyoming officials closed only schools, businesses likely to draw more than 10 people and businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors. Its leaders never ordered a closure of “non-essential” businesses or ordered people to remain in their homes.
On Tuesday, Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, announced that gyms and businesses providing personal services will be allowed to open Friday.
Seven Republican members of the Legislature, in an open letter to Gordon, asked why it made sense to let some businesses open, but leave restrictions in place for others and continue to limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
Driskill and Lindholm, dubbed the “crypto cowboys” because of their work in technology, said people apparently do not understand that businesses can apply for for an exemption to the restrictions that are still in place.
Driskill said because the governor “kicked it down to the county level”, businesses have the freedom to apply for exemptions.
“That’s the exciting news, “Lindholm said. “You own a restaurant or a bar, you can put in an exemption with your county health officer right now,”
He said as long as businesses show how they will keep the restaurant clean, have a plan in place for social distancing and agree to screen patrons, they can work with their county public health officer to get an exemption.
The state has said that county health officers can ask for an exemption to the state health orders to allow specific businesses to open or for a county-wide variance from the orders to allow all of the businesses in a certain category to open.
Lindholm said the public health officer from Weston county is working with county commissioners and local officials to submit such a plan.
“This is great,” Lindholm said. “This is Gov. Gordon recognizing that Crook County and Weston County damn sure don’t look like Teton and Laramie counties.”
“This is a really good opportunity and I hope our counties take advantage of that,” Driskill said. “We don’t have the cases up here.”
Both cautioned that in order for the rules to continue to be relaxed, Wyoming citizens need to follow public health guidelines like social distancing.
“The models keep getting destroyed because of the actions of the people of Wyoming,” Lindholm said.
“Wyoming has done a phenomenal job of flattening the curve,” Driskill said. “Assuming we continue to follow these practices, we won’t have new cases. If people ignore the protocols, we will go backwards on this.”
Lindholm did sound a note of caution, however, stating that warmer temperatures should bring more good news for the state but “then winter will come around.”
“By that time, I hope it is a cured situation,” he said.
Lindholm said most of the restaurant and bar owners he spoke to on Wednesday were “pretty pumped” to hear they could apply for an exemption, but not all.
“I did get my ass chewed a couple times,” he said. “I’d rather be just kicking open the doors. I think we can handle this ourselves without any type of restrictions but that’s not the reality that we’re living in.”
“These are just baby steps to get everything open,” Driskill said. “You will see a lot of things will relax quickly.”
In typical Lindholm fashion, the lawmaker had some fun when concluding the first segment of the YouTube broadcast by reminding people that quarantine orders still exist for out-of-staters.
“If you are some yahoo from Colorado to come in to Wyoming, you still have to quarantine for 14 days and stay the hell away from everybody,” Lindholm said. “Because we know that Colorado has the coronavirus.”