By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Orders requiring the use of face masks in public settings and restricting gatherings of people to 10 people or fewer were adopted only when it became clear the spread of the coronavirus was not slowing in Wyoming, the state’s public health officer said Monday.
“We are only trying to balance the impact of all of our actions,” Dr. Alexis Harrist said during a media briefing Monday. “It has become clear that the previous steps have not been sufficient.”
Harrist and Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday issued new public health orders Monday requiring the use of face masks in public settings, restricting gatherings of people to 10 or fewer and requiring restaurants and bars to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.
Gordon has resisted issuing a statewide mask order and has instead asked Wyoming residents to follow precautions suggested by the Health Department as a way to prevent the transmission of the virus.
But Harrist noted that since September, the state has seen a rapid increase in both coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalizations and officials realized additional steps were needed.
“More people are getting sick and dying in Wyoming and it’s happening in every county,” she said. “The steps we are moving forward with this week are measures we can take without closing schools or businesses.”
Wyoming’s hospitals are already feeling the pressure of hospitalizations caused by the illness — 202 as of Monday morning — so action was needed to reduce the number of people forced into the hospital by the illness, she said.
The reductions in hours of operations for bars and restaurants was seen as one way to prevent situations where many people gathered in one enclosed area could be exposed to the illness, Harrist said.
“We have learned from the data that certain indoor settings where masks cannot be worn, you pose a higher risk of transmission,” she said. “So limiting the amount of time people are in those settings limits the risk of transmission.”
She added state officials were working with industry officials to provide assistance for bars and restaurants that might lose business because of the shorter hours, however, she did not know what form that assistance might take.
The new health orders were issued as the number of people hospitalized around the state for coronavirus treatment declined slightly. While Harrist said the declines were good to see, the department wants to see a sustained reduction in hospitalized numbers.
She added news of pending federal approval for a coronavirus vaccine should be seen as a very promising sign, but said until the vaccine is readily available, precautions to prevent the spread of the illness need to be observed.
“I think we should look at this vaccine as a light at the end of this tunnel,” she said.