Wyoming statutes give state law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce public health orders such as the statewide mask mandate issued recently by Gov. Mark Gordon and state public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist.
However, some county sheriffs have already stated they will not be issuing citations for those who refuse to abide by mask orders.
The section of Wyoming law regarding public health, Chapter 35, gives Wyoming’s public health officer and Health Department the authority to “investigate and control the causes of epidemic … affecting public health.”
It also specifically gives the department the authority to “close theaters, schools and other public places and to forbid gatherings of people when necessary to protect the public health.”
A violation of any “lawful rule or regulation” issued by the department is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, a 1-year jail term or both.
In addition to the statewide mask mandate, the state’s latest public health orders restrict the hours of operations for bars and restaurants and limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
However, law enforcement officials in several counties have announced they will not issue citations for violations of a mask mandate.
When county-level mask mandates were issued in a number of counties in November, sheriffs in Washakie, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties said they would not be enforcing the orders.
While urging residents to take common-sense precautions that might prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the three said they consider the decision to wear a mask a personal one.
Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle said he does not believe the mask mandate is enforceable because law enforcement officers will not be able to prove whether someone has a medical condition that would exempt them from the requirement.
The Washakie County Sheriff’s Department will not act as “the mask police” and won’t track anyone down for not following the orders, according to Sheriff Steven Rakness.
In light of the Lincoln County Public Health Office receiving the OK to implement a countywide mask mandate, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said its officers not enforce it.