More restrictive public health orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus will probably be issued by the the state within the next week, Gov. Mark Gordon said Friday.
Gordon, speaking during a media briefing, said the current health orders that were set to expire next week will be extended for a week while the state creates new, more stringent orders.
“There will be changes and they will be more restrictive,” he said. “I want to make sure our businesses stay alive, our schools stay open. People need to come together and stop arguing about stuff.”
Gordon’s comments came after a week that saw more than 3,500 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and new reports of the deaths of 22 Wyoming residents linked to the illness.
In the face of rapidly growing case numbers, 20 of the state’s county health directors asked Gordon to implement a statewide face mask mandate.
Gordon said the state is looking at such a mandate along with a number of other measures to prevent the spread of the illness.
“We’re looking at a whole suite of ways to respond to this,” he said. “It’s not just about masks, it’s about physical distancing, it’s about making sure you wash your hands. It’s about being mindful of whether you’re ill or not, it’s about not coming into work if you don’t feel well.”
The state’s public health orders first issued in April had forced the closure of a number of businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry. Those businesses were allowed to reopen later in the year under certain conditions, but the state health orders still in place continue to restrict the number of people who can attend outdoor and indoor events.
Gordon said he would talk with business leaders around the state in the coming days in an effort to determine how best to implement new orders while keeping the impact on the state’s economy light.
“I’m anxious to learn from them what they think would be helpful,” he said.
The continued spread of the disease is already making it difficult for businesses to remain open because their employees are having to take time off because of the illness.
“We’ve had more businesses closed by sick workers than any of our state orders,” he said.
He also noted that in his meeting in October with Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, he was told the surge in cases could continue for eight weeks, which will require a long-term approach to slowing the spread.
Mike Ceballos, the director of the Wyoming Department of Health, said many of the new cases appear to be coming from informal social gatherings rather than large gatherings at events or bars.
“One of the problems we have is we are being very careful in the street, but at home, we relax and we start meeting with friends and family and we are seeing infection rates there,” he said. “That’s where my concern is.”
Several counties, with state approval, have implemented orders requiring the use of face masks by anyone in a public place and Gordon said he would continue to work with counties if they want to adopt their own mask mandates.
“From the start, we said there was the opportunity for variances at a local level,” he said. “I feel very strongly that (county officials) have my support because they know what the conditions are on the ground.”