By Ellen Fike and Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily
Local government officials are the best leaders when it comes to making decisions about the coronavirus in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon told a group in Jackson on Tuesday.
Gordon appeared at the Teton County Library on Tuesday as a part of the library’s Teton County Centennial series, where he started his comments by addressing the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
As of Tuesday, the state had more than 3,400 active cases and 195 people hospitalized for treatment.
However, Gordon has steadfastly refused to implement a second statewide mandate for the use of facemasks and he told his Jackson audience Tuesday he feels it is better to let local governments, rather than his administration, make decisions regarding how their communities should handle the the pandemic.
“We don’t believe that mandates from on high work,” he said. “We do think local control, local government is where the nexus lies. Those are locally-elected people, they’re your communities. They can appreciate the circumstances at a local level in a way that we find from on top can’t happen.”
He did note that his office will work to make sure the state’s communities have adequate supplies of vaccines, personal protective equipment and COVID tests.
Currently, only Teton County has implemented a countywide mask mandate, which came late last week after a rise in cases both in the county and state.
The mandate for Jackson was extended until December by the Jackson Town Council in a special meeting Monday. The Teton County Board of Commissioners will meet later this week to discuss extending the life of the mandate in the county outside of Jackson.
Gordon said that while he respected Wyoming residents’ freedom to choose, he also said residents know what they need to do to slow the spread of the virus — wash their hands, wear facemasks and practice social distancing.
“In this environment, I think it is extremely important that we recognize we are a community and what we do together can be very successful in defeating the virus,” he said.
Gordon also addressed the record tourism year being seen in northwestern Wyoming, saying the state is looking at ways to control visitation without imposing a permitting system to limit the number of visitors in one area.
“I think that there are some ways that we can look at how we can manage the number of visitors that come through Jackson, come through our parks, and do that without imposing some sort of permitting system,” he said. “Do that in a way that doesn’t hamper the freedom of people wanting to come visit.”
If visitors can be convinced to see areas other than Jackson and Yellowstone National Park, it might ease the burden on those areas, Gordon said.
“So if people come and they want to see the oldest national park, on their way if they could stop and see, perhaps a hot springs, perhaps some of the wonderful soft terrain that we see elsewhere in the state,” he said. “We need to encourage that. We need to be able to make sure that visitor see how friendly people in Wyoming are and how great our communities are.”
The governor also touched on the drought that has gripped the West this year, noting that for the first time ever, water has been pulled from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to supply downstream users on the Colorado River system.
“For the first time, Flaming Gorge level will diminish this year and probably will diminish more next year if we don’t have recharge of snow, rain, etc.,” he said.