By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
New statewide health orders requiring people to wear face masks inside buildings open to the public and to limit gatherings to no more than 10 were issued by Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday.
Gordon, citing rapid increases in coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalizations in Wyoming in recent weeks, issued the orders, which will take effect Wednesday and remain in place until at least Jan. 8, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our state and those surrounding us are facing a hospital capacity crisis that now compels us to take additional action. All through the fall, Wyoming has seen a rise in serious cases of COVID to a point where every county is facing critical and dangerous levels of spread of the virus. Too many people have died,” he said in a news release. “Science tells us limiting gatherings of groups and using face coverings are effective in slowing transmission of this virus. With these actions we can avoid taking the more drastic step of closing schools and businesses.”
Gordon has resisted issuing a statewide mandate for the use of face masks, but he said taking such a step now might help shorten the life of the outbreak.
“We are at a critical juncture for our state,” he said. “These next few months are going to be challenging for our businesses, citizens, families, and our healthcare workers. This is a necessary step to ensure a happy and healthy holiday season and a safer and Merry Christmas, and set ourselves in good stead for the new year. The deployment of the vaccine in the coming months will help put this awful virus finally at bay and bring us back to some semblance of normal.”
The mask order requires the use of face masks while in all indoor public spaces and while riding on public transportation such as taxis, private car services and rise-sharing vehicles.
Those who cannot wear a mask because of medical conditions are exempt from the order.
Gordon noted that 16 Wyoming counties have already adopted their own mask mandates.
“We stand behind the local actions that are in place. These new orders are meant to support local leadership and we should all know that in Wyoming these mandates are not about citations, but about caring for others,” he said.
Another order limits the size of gatherings to 10 individuals, reduced from the maximum group size of 25 that had been in place for several months.
Indoor facilities may allow more than 10 people to be at their locations, but may allow no more people than 25% of the facility’s capacity.
Outdoor facilities may also allow more than 10 people on-site, but must limit the number of people to no more than 50% of capacity.
The order limiting gatherings does not apply to religious facilities, funeral homes, residential buildings or grocery stores. Nor does it apply to retail businesses as long as patrons remain at least six feet away from one another.
Also approved was an order limiting the number of hours restaurants and bars allow on-site service.
Under the order, such businesses must close their doors between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., although they can continue to provide takeout and delivery service during those hours.
Gordon said counties can ask to be exempted from the orders if local conditions are deemed adequate to remove the safeguards.
He also asked Wyoming residents again to abide by the rules to slow the spread of the illness.
“Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to mitigate the economic damage and social costs to the state,” he said. “But how we emerge on the other side is in large part up to us.”