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Bill Sniffin: With Restrictions Easing, The Tourists Are Coming

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily publisher

With energy and ag experiencing tough times, this was the year that tourism was going to help the Wyoming economy soar. 

And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time in our lifetimes, the whole world shut down. 

Wyoming is a destination reached mainly by auto and camper.  With national gasoline prices hitting historic lows, it could have been assumed that we would get far more than our usual 9 million visitors and maybe even set new tourism records.

Tourism is a powerful force. People today feel their vacation trips are an entitlement.  And Wyoming is a place they want to go.

Drawn by our national parks, forests and monuments, Oregon Trail, fantastic state parks, mountain ranges and lakes, luxurious private tourism destinations, and local areas promoted by 20+ lodging tax boards – well, it’s a steady stream of tourists launched in early spring that doesn’t tail off until the snows of November. The industry employs 33,000 people and generates almost $4 billion annually. 

Wyoming was pretty much shut down in late March and here we are, two months later, tentatively starting to open up. 

For the first time in perhaps decades, the Wyoming Office of Tourism launched a $140,000 “in-state” tourism campaign. (Note: That TV ad can be found on Cowboy State Daily web site.)

Diane Shober, state tourism director, encouraged a cautious start with lots of emphasis on social distancing, face masks, and lots of sanitizer. 

Leslie Jefferson of Carbon County Visitor Council said their museums are open and they are starting their annual promotions. 

“Our county is so big and so full of amazing sites and sights that people can easily come here and still practice safe distancing,” she said. “Both of our wonderful scenic mountain roads, Battle Mountain and Snowy Range, are now open.” 

She called the current situation “an interesting animal at this point.”

Sandy Hoehn in Torrington said their tourism situation is improving and their motels “are filling up.”

Shawn Parker in Sheridan Travel and Tourism said: “We are cautiously optimistic that Wyoming, as a premier road trip market, will be at the forefront of the travel industry rebound. Demand continues to increase in the Sheridan County market.” 

Local tourism professionals like Paula McCormick of the Wind River Visitors Council felt it was an uneasy balancing act between encouraging tourists to come to Fremont County and while making sure local health was not threatened by thousands of newcomers. She said it has been disappointing to see all the events that have been canceled in April, May, and now in June and July.

I founded the Wind River Visitors Council 30 years ago and was its president for its first three years. I know something about tourism. But I have never had to be involved in the decisions she and her board have to make. 

All 23 counties have tourism boards and all are taking baby steps. Some officials are a little more aggressive and some, like Paula, are probably a little more cautious.  That darned virus looms large in their decisions.  But once you throw that gate open, it is almost impossible to close it back up.  

There is an enormous pent-up demand across the country to get out of the house and go someplace.  And Wyoming, with its wondrous wide-open spaces and relatively low impact from the coronavirus, will look especially enticing to tourists from coast to coast. 

“As far as caution, I think we are doing a great balancing act that is supporting our tourism businesses to get back into business, while assuring our residents as the state and national lands open up in Wyoming,” McCormick said. “I don’t think of it as being cautious, because, no matter what we do, now that the Governor and some of the public lands have relaxed their restrictions. It also helps that the weather is working in our favor, after people have been cooped up.  Like the Governor said, a lot of the responsibility is in the hands of the visitors, who need to Travel Responsibly. So that’s why we’ve created our Meme campaign to educate those visitors who will come from in-state and out-of-state about safety protocol.”

Paula summarized her thoughts with: “The tourism industry, while the second largest in Wyoming, is made of smiles of people on vacation, happy in Wyoming’s open spaces and western life. Yes, there are millions of visitors, but as long as you aren’t standing at Old Faithful in the middle of summer, we can spread them out pretty well. Especially we can spread them out in Wind River Country. It’s a healthy industry, and we are trying to make people have their dream vacation while we keep them and us healthy. 

“So, the balancing act is assuring our residents and visitors that we can be both safe and have a tourism economy, although it looks a little different than previously,” she concluded. 

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Why Is Wyoming So Exceptional When It Comes To Surviving COVID-19?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of Cowboy State Daily

Statistics here in Wyoming are incredible. No other state, and perhaps no other place in the world, is coming across as “healthy” as we are, when it comes to this once-in-a-century plague called coronavirus or COVID-19.

Out of a population of 556,000 people, we have had just seven deaths, as of this writing on May 14, 2020.  Out of 523 people testing positive plus another 165 who were probable, but not tested — we have just those seven deaths. And although these deceased folks might have lived longer, all seven were either quite elderly or had compromising medical problems like kidney failure, diabetes, and respiratory issues.

So far, only 15,250 people have been referred for tested – about 2.5% of the population.  Two counties still have not had a single positive. Some 477 who tested positive are now considered recovered.

Why are we so much healthier than everybody else?

There have been more traffic deaths – 10 – since coronavirus was first seen in the state in mid-March than it has had COVID-19 deaths.  

Let’s give a shout-out to our Wyoming people who are pretty good citizens.  Our businesses, churches, social groups, and almost everything else voluntarily shut down over the past six weeks. As a result, our economy was devastated.

The Wyoming business world was mostly shut down because of fears of a worldwide pandemic that killed fewer people here than traffic accidents. 

Few people predicted that we would be so much safer than the rest of the world.

Wyoming is a big, lonely empty place with six people per square mile.  New York City has 27,000 people per square mile. The Big Apple is full of crowded apartments and subways. It is both a wonderful and a claustrophobic place for most Wyomingites. Watching the horror on TV of their emergency rooms and listening to the daily beseeching from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, well, it was easy to believe the world was coming to an end. This plague was coming for us, too.

Milan, Italy, has 19,000 people per square mile.  Have you been to Italy? People there live long lives. It is a wonderful place.  These are truly the most loving and sociable people on the planet with many three-generation family units. Italian life span is 83.2 years. This compares to 78.5 in the USA. Watching the carnage on TV was awful. Yet 80 percent of the people who died in Italy were over 60 years of age and most had underlying health conditions.  Was this going to be our future?  Back on March 31, it looked like it could be.

It was not.  Most definitely.

Here in Wyoming, the hardest hit place for both deaths and positive testing has been the Wind River Indian Reservation.  In our state, there is no group of people more family-oriented and more sociable than our Shoshone and Arapaho friends. 

They often live in large family units covering three or four generations. It is normal for the generations to congregate together constantly.  There is a lot of love among these folks and they care deeply for each other. But that tendency created a potential of the easy spread of this COVID-19 disease. 

Health officials and Tribal leaders reportedly bought 6,000 testing kits and are testing thousands.  They are offering some of the only drive-thru testing opportunities in the state and you do not need to be sick to get tested. You just need to be a tribal member. This is why Fremont County is showing one-third of all the positive tests in the state.  One family had 14 members who tested positive.

On a personal note, my wife Nancy and I are in what might be called a vulnerable group because of our ages and underlying health issues. We have been in self quarantine at our house since March 19.  Our children worry that we are not behaving. But we are. And we intend to continue.

The Wyoming economy opened up this week with some restrictions – people are recommended to wear masks, practice social distancing, and use lots of sanitizer. Our people are suffering from cabin fever and are anxious to resume their normal lives.

Seems like some folks think we need to worry about the medical health or the economic health of our population.  I say it is medical health and the economic health of the people. We need to take care of both.

Based on the current statistics, the shutdown of the Wyoming economy may be judged, sometime in the future, as a miscalculation. But what could you do?

I will never forget watching those images on TV of Italy and New York City.  It was like we were living in the middle of Science Fiction movie. It was like we had been invaded by aliens.

Just think about it – the world literally shut down. None of us living have ever been through anything like this.

So, to answer the question posed at the beginning:  I think Wyoming people really are healthier.  Plus, folks here have been practicing social distancing since 1890. It was not hard to stay put, especially during wintry March and April days. Our Wyoming economy probably did not need to be slammed shut but who knew? It is better to be safe than sorry.

I am glad the economy is opening up and I can see much better days ahead.  Two years from now, we will look back at these times in amazement and wonder.

We need to hit the ground running and get our Wyoming back. But let’s be smart and careful about it.

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Bill Sniffin: Masks, Social Distancing Define The Class Of 2020 Graduations

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

High school graduations are unique traditions and rites of passage in our America. 

This year, these events will be different than at any other time in our existence.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, just about every “normal” graduation in America has been canceled.  And in their places are some unique ways to celebrate. 

Social distancing will be encouraged.  Masks will be worn.  We have become a society of nervous, jittery bystanders.  Hopefully this will be a once in a lifetime event.  I am looking forward to 2021 when normalcy returns. But enough complaining, this column is about graduations here in 2020. 

Some places are doing drive-by graduations.  One school will reportedly allow a family to drive up to a stage. The student and the family will get out and walk across the stage and then get back into their cars. Sorry I cannot remember which one. 

In my hometown of Lander, a group of parents led by Tara Berg and Patty Massey put posters of all the seniors up on poles on Main Street.  On Friday, May 15, a parade of all the seniors will be held honoring these wonderful kids. 

Margie Hornecker says her grandson Elijah is graduating from Rock River. “The student will approach the platform with no more than 10 family members who can join them for photos. Then everyone returns to their vehicles to watch the next graduate. This will be held on the football field. Not ideal but making the best of everything,” she says.

John Davis says: “Since the traditional graduation ceremony was canceled, a Worland High School graduation parade has been set for 2 p. m. on Sunday, May 17 down Main Street (Big Horn Avenue) in Worland.  That’s the time when the commencement was otherwise to begin.  

“Speeches from the valedictorians, salutatorian and keynote speaker are to be broadcast on 96.1 FM.  People will be asked to maintain social distancing while watching the parade. Diploma covers are being presented to graduates, with videotapes and photos being taken; each student will receive a copy of the video,” he said.   

Chad Banks said in Rock Springs: “This is one thing our community is doing. Each senior is on a sign lining the major road through RS. We’re doing a cruise with seniors. The signs will be up until Graduation,” he said.

Some colleges are doing their graduations on TV or on computers with the application called Zoom, which has taken over the whole system of having meetings.

My own high school graduation was a modest affair with some family coming by in our little town of Wadena, Iowa. It is a town about the size of Hudson with 316 living there. It was such a small town I always said both resume speed signs were on the same post – just attached to opposite sides. 

Our four children graduated high school here in Lander. We also had a traditional gathering for family and friends afterward.  Relatives would travel hundreds of miles to get to our events.  The last one of these was in 1999 for our son Michael. 

We would then travel hundreds of miles to attend graduations for our grandchildren as far as Dallas, TX and Montrose, CO.  Again, wonderful parties would occur after some tedious graduation ceremonies.  

One time in Montrose we sat out in the sun at a football grandstand for two hours as a parade of speakers droned on.  A month later we were in Texas when there were 3,000 graduates.  Good grief, how are they going to get this done? The event was held in a giant basketball arena and there were over 10,000 people present.  Amazingly, those folks got it done in one hour.  Best one of those I ever attended!

This year, we have two grandchildren graduating from high school; Hayden Johnson here in Lander and Alexys Gibbons in Warden, WA. 

Doubt we can make it to Washington state in June because of travel restrictions but hate to miss it. Still unsure of how the Lander event will be handled but people are planning many events for a June 14 official production. 

I feel for these young people because they did not have a prom, a skip day, and most importantly the chance to spend their waning years of high school with their best friends. 

We all will remember 2020 because of this pandemic but it will be an especially bittersweet memory to those young people missing out on these events. Let’s hope 2021 will bring back more normal times. 

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Bill Sniffin: When God Created Mothers; Have A Wonderful Weekend!

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State daily

When Mother’s Day occurs, this column serves as a salute to all the mothers out there.

A special note to my own 96-year old mother, my wife Nancy and our daughters, Alicia, Shelli and Amber, who are also mothers plus daughter in law Lisa Sniffin and finally, granddaughter Mallory Barnett.

Also, a pat on the back to all our friends who are mothers and grandmothers and even great-grandmothers and one special great-great grandmother.  Have a great weekend! You deserve it.

Famous humorist Erma Bombeck wrote one of the finest pieces about mothers that I ever read and I want to reprint it here.

It certainly is true, in my opinion:

When the Lord was creating mothers . . . and way into the sixth day of overtime, an angel appeared and said:

“You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And the Lord said:

“Have you read the specs on this order? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic . . . have 180 movable parts — all replaceable . . . run on black coffee . . .have a lap that disappears when she stands up . . . a kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair . . . and six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook its head, “Six pairs of hands? No way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

“That’s on the standard model?” the angel asked.

The Lord nodded and said:

“One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to. And of course, the ones in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, ‘I understand, and I love you” without uttering a word.’ “

“Lord,” said the angel sympathetically, “go to bed. Tomorrow is another . . .”

“I can’t,” the Lord said, “I’m so close. Already I have one who heals herself when she’s sick, can feed a family of four on one pound of hamburger, and can get a six-year-old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother and sighed: “It’s too soft.”

“But tough,” said the Lord excitedly, “you cannot imagine what this mother can do and endure.”

“Can it think?”

“Not only think, but it can reason and compromise,” the Creator said. The angel bent over and ran a finger across the cheek: “There’s a leak!”

“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride.”

“You’re a genius,” the angel said.

The Lord looked somber. “I didn’t put it there.”

The above appeared in a Denver Post column by Trisha Flynn, who describes herself as: an Irish-Catholic, Republican, middle-class, middle-aged, married mother who writes from her Denver home.

When Flynn called her friend who gave her the above clipping, to ask who wrote “When God Created Mothers,” she said what Flynn felt: “Are you kidding? At this point, all I retain is water!”

Flynn wrapped up her column with:

“There’s an old joke that applies here: How can you prove God is a man?

“Who else would give a woman teenagers, menopause and a wedding to plan at the same time!”

Bill Sniffin: What Will You Remember About The Pandemic Of 2020?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of the Cowboy State Daily

As a journalist, covering the pandemic has been possibly the biggest story of my life. That is the main thing I will remember about this crazy period. 

I reached out to some other interesting folks and asked them what they will remember: 

World traveler and bestselling author Mark Jenkins of Laramie says: “The world is suffering horribly, so much so that I feel guilty living in Wyoming. Due to our wide-open spaces and small population, we can still get outside without seeing a soul. I have cross country skied or rock climbed or mountain biked or hiked every single day since the beginning of the pandemic.”    

Down in Wheatland, Chuck Brown says: “Kate has cleaned every drawer, every closet, every other conceivable surface in the house, and my greatest fear is that she is going to start on me very soon! She also has been seen out scouting around the yard, just waiting for one or two weeds to surface so they can be demolished as well! Happy Covid 19.”

Helen LaRose of Lander: “We’ve gone back to basics. Both of us are over 60 years old and one of us is immunocompromised.  We drove back home from a winter retreat in Texas under the radar and quietly self-quarantined for two weeks.  

“No bread on the shelves? I restarted my sourdough. It’s never been so bubbly and well attended. Home cooking at its peak, the grill and smoker under my husband’s care is turning out delicious meat. And the seedlings for my victory garden are receiving close monitoring, moving by my hand to meet the sun all day long. Our retirement income and long walks continue. Occasional drives out to our Wyoming beauty have taken our breath away.  

“What do I miss? Being able to help. I fall into the elderly ‘be careful’ group.   I can’t volunteer to this community and it hurts my soul. Deeply.  Our kids in Houston FaceTime regularly but we miss them and worry about them as they maneuver through this new economic and health pandemic.” 

Former Green River resident Jack Pugh: “The Spanish Flu killed about 18 million people worldwide. We’re all too young to have lived through that. But we’ve got this one, this pandemic. We need to see the present through the lens of the past. This current pandemic will have to do us, I suppose, and the docs say it’s far from over.” 

Tom Cox: “The best part of this pandemic is speculating on how it’s going to change our culture. With the technology available today, I can see some big advances in the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe even, a better understanding of cancer or neurological maladies. It’s been a rough few weeks with some more to come before we develop immunity for everyone. The biggest disappointment, I think, is the pervasiveness of politics in dealing with this crisis.” 

Bill Schilling of Casper is hunkering down near Princeville on Kauai says: “Two standouts: first, how quickly Rotary at the club, district and international have adapted to zoom meetings without missing a beat in terms of congeniality; and second, how mindful citizens have become regarding social distancing. And how the vast majority are behaving with acceptance of the new normal 

Bill and Sue Lee of Lander: “In the last month drove twice to Bellingham, Washington, for the birth of our second grandson.  Driving straight through.  Clorox wipes, gloves and face mask.  Stopping only to get gas.  Taking food in cooler.  Potty breaks in the woods.  Now on to self-quarantine for two weeks now that we are home.”

Jerry Kendall of Hudson says: “We’re gonna make it through this. When we do, I hope that we will use what we have learned from it and not go back to the way it was before, but instead move forward in a decent, honorable way. Look out for one another instead of senseless bickering and refusing to even talk to someone who does not think the same way we do.” 

In my own case, as of this writing, we have been hunkering down at our home in Lander. We have been self-quarantined here since March 15, over six weeks. 

We have gotten along surprisingly well and on the health front, neither of us has had the flu, a cold, or even the sniffles.  This quarantine business has its positive effects.  If you are not exposed to anyone, especially, the grandkids, you are less likely to pick up some of those nasty spring diseases. 

So far, Zoom, Uber, and Go-to-meeting virtual meetings — have been over 30 so far.  Rarely did I ever do one of these before. Now some days can see as many as four such meetings. 

We are proud of those ordinary folks delivering food, stocking shelves, doing police and firefighter work, cooking in restaurants (for take-out), and a whole slew of folks we always took for granted. They are my new heroes and I will never look through them or take them for granted again. Ever. 

The medical folks and EMT folks deserve special consideration. All across the country, American citizens have a new appreciation for the dangerous work they are doing.

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Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Man Predicted Pandemic 15 Years Ago, At World Economic Forum

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By Bill Sniffin

Hank McKinnell of Jackson predicted today’s worldwide pandemic during a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 15 years ago.

McKinnell recalls making a joint presentation with Dr. Julie Gerberding of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, where they said the world was overdue for a pandemic. When it comes, he asked the crowd, you may be asked to isolate yourselves in your home for six months. “How many of you are able to do that willingly?”  He said that only himself and Gerberding raised their hands.

So here we are one and a half decades later and the people are in a pandemic for the COVID-19 coronavirus. And folks are practicing the social isolation McKinnell both predicted and recommended in that speech.

McKinnell knows all about this stuff. He is the retired CEO of Pfizer, a worldwide pharmaceutical company with 110,000 employees. He has worked with President Trump’s chief advisor Dr. Tony Fauci for years. McKinnell spent 50 years in the healthcare field and has been on several presidential commissions.

Some weeks ago, he approached the Teton County Health Officer about coming up with a way “to test everyone in our valley for the virus.”  He believes data is the key to solving this crisis.  His plan was thwarted at the time because of the inability to locate enough tests.  He is still hopeful this effort could be done, especially with the arrival of the new same-day tests coming down the line.

He is huge proponent of social distancing. “Since we do not have tools right now, we have to flatten out the effects,” he says. “Keeping people apart is the best tool available.”

He is hopeful that a treatment will be available in 3-4 months.  “We may have a treatment by September,” he says.  He said his son is an infectious disease specialist in California and is also working on this. “The medical profession is learning how to manage this disease,” he said. “The death rate will go down.”

McKinnell published a book in 2005 called A Call To Action, which outlined a new prevention-based approach to employee healthcare. He also pointed out why pharmaceutical companies had lost the public’s trust and how they could regain it. One of the key chapters in the book detailed “how we can lose the race between the world’s most insidious virus,” which is a subject he knows a lot about. He was talking about the HIV virus which had killed millions.

In his book, McKinnell writes about the HIV pandemic, which is the worst the world has ever known. He writes that it is beyond the scope of governments acting alone – and how, even in the face of devastating global catastrophes, public-private partnerships can deliver real hope.

McKinnell was a keynote speaker at the Governor’s Business Forum in Cheyenne about 10 years ago.  

While CEO of Pfizer, he founded the Infectious Diseases Institute in Uganda, one of the most respected facilities in the world when it comes to pandemic-style viruses.  The building there is called the IDI- McKinnell Knowledge Center.  Horrific viruses like HIV and Ebola have come from Africa, thus creating the need for such a center. Dr. Fauci was of assistance in helping to set up the center.

In other news related to the current times, McKinnell recently announced the donation of $250,000 for scholarships for young men and women, to attend the state’s community colleges to learn “trades.”

He was not always a businessman.  He explained that he grew up wanting to be a ship’s captain and worked on boats while growing up in British Columbia. As a young person uncertain of his future, his father convinced him to go to college. He ended up going to Stanford for a Masters and Ph.D., which led to his five-decade career at Pfizer.

“I was sort of drifting along,” he recalls. “Much like many young people in Wyoming today probably are, too.”  He said it occurred to him that many of them may have needed a helping hand.

He responded to an announcement by his friend Foster Friess who also granted $250,000 for students headed to the state’s community colleges, as a way to learn well-paying trade jobs and improve their lives. McKinnell said they are still working out details to see if they should double the number of scholarships or increase the amount of each scholarship.

McKinnell is an inspiration. He is an example of a person using his unique talents to help his fellow man. 

Bill Sniffin: Okay, Now What To Do? Open Fast? Open Slowly? What’s A State To Do?

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of the Cowboy State Daily

So, is Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon ready to gently lift restrictions on everyday life here in the Cowboy State?

He has been saying we will be in our current shutdown status until April 30, but perhaps there is some wiggle room here.  Gordon says data will drive his ultimate plans.  He will need good data and good advice from a myriad of people working on his committees studying all aspects of the state’s economy. 

Data is based on statistics. And therein often lies the problem. 

Legendary American Humorist Mark Twain is credited with pointing out that there are three kinds of lies:

1. Lies.

2. Damned lies.

3. Statistics.

I always loved that line because it would come into play so often during major discussions of local, state, and national policies.  Sure, there are statistics, but which ones can you believe?  Don’t you naturally believe the ones that favor your side?

On local, state, national, and international fronts, we are facing two of the biggest crises in our history. One is a health crisis (pandemic) and the second is an economic crisis, caused by governments reacting to the first crisis. 

The two are totally related but sometimes it is hard to feel that way.

For example, a person infected with the COVID-19 might be fighting for his or her life and could care less about whether the economy opens up or not. That person probably believes it should not. In this group also fall those senior citizens or people with underlying health issues who literally are fearing for their lives. 

Then there are the working folks and the owners of small businesses who fear a different kind of demise – economic death. They risk losing their lifetime investments or their seniority or whatever prosperity they were enjoying just six weeks ago.  And these folks are not sick and do not know anyone who is sick.  They feel like victims of a drive-by shooting.  The emotions these folks are feeling are serious. 

Today, I am seeing three sets of statistics that seem to be affecting our lives here in Wyoming. 

The first is a medical question:  how many people got sick from COVID-19?  Wyoming has done many things well but a huge deficiency is the lack of testing.  It is a shame that so few people in Wyoming have been tested by now. How can you get a real picture of the extent of COVID-19 infestation without more tests?

The second is an economic question:  with the state entering possibly its worst depression ever from a state government perspective, where does Gov. Gordon and the legislature cut to balance the budget? I would predict there is a group of hard-nosed legislators lining up to cut the money allocated for education.  This is a fight that could go to the state Supreme Court for a third time. 

The third is how to restore our economy.  Six weeks ago, our hospitality industry was booming.  Can it bounce back?  Will there be a pent-up demand to come see our wonderful state?  I would think people across America would favor going to wide open spaces rather than Disney theme parks or Las Vegas casinos. 

Oil rigs were working and oil was flowing in Wyoming this year until the Russians and Saudis destroyed that market with their recent price war. Now those countries have agreed to cut back dramatically, which will raise oil prices. This will be good for Wyoming. 

One of my biggest fears are the local-owned stores up and down our Main Streets across Wyoming. Right now, these businesses are running on fumes. A few actually made money on the federal CARES act but a lot of them might just have to call it quits.  This is such a tragedy.

Gov. Gordon concludes: “We have got to get this right,” he said. “We are living in a time where the new reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. Until we have a vaccine or a treatment, things are going to be different.” 

We wish Godspeed to the governor and his committees when it comes to how to solve all this.  It seems like he might open the economy but request that folks more prone to catch the illness still maintain their shelter-in-place recommendations. 

In the end, we are all soldiers in this world-wide battle against one of the world’s greatest plagues. Few people alive have experienced what we are going through.

Please follow the rules. Be careful. Reach out in a safe way to stranded or lonely people. We will emerge from this as a possibly much different people than we were before this all started.  

We are a resilient people and we will be stronger in the end. 

Check out additional columns at He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to

Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Heroes — Getting By In The Age Of COVID-19

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Face it, we are living in unusual times. Probably the craziest times of our lives. 

The COVID-19 coronavirus has turned our personal lives, our towns, our state, our country, and our world upside down. 

Folks that we all took for granted just three weeks ago are now recognized as heroes.  I am talking about grocery store workers, janitors, truck drivers, local food delivery servicers, utility workers, and many, many others. 

Notice that I did not mention doctors, nurses, EMTs, hospital workers, and other medical personnel.  Obviously, they are already high up on that pedestal. We love and appreciate these folks for literally doing death-defying work. Hopefully for a generation, at least, we will recall their sacrifices and honor them.  Forgive their school debts?  Hell yes.  

But in our daily hum-drum lives those other formerly almost invisible folks have moved into our range of focus.  We appreciate what they are doing. We need to realize they may be risking their lives, too. 

There is a deadly virus out there called CO for corona, VI for virus, and D for disease, which gives it the game COVID.  The 19 is because of the year 2019, thus COVID-19. 

In cities and towns across Wyoming, people turned out Friday night at 8:20 p.m., which on a 24-hour clock, is the time known as 2020. Folks gathered in central locations to cheer, honk their car horns, and flash their headlights in thanks to all the heroes on the front lines.  This included all the folks mentioned earlier in this column.

In Lander and Riverton, folks did the same thing but also used that time to salute their high school senior classes of this unusual year 2020.  These seniors will not be able to go to their proms, enjoy all those things you get to do in your last semester of school, and probably will not be able to attend their graduation ceremonies.  These young people are our heroes, too.  We are proud of them.

As a sidelight to all this, folks in Lander and Riverton decided to do a “Cruising Main” event where hundreds of cars and pickups drove back and forth on the main drag, much like they did back in their younger days. 

I even heard a few complaints that the event was dominated by geezers, such as my wife Nancy and me plus our pals from the Fox News All Stars. Ha! It was fun and we would recommend it to other towns. 

Dale and Jennifer Peterson of Lander do not look like heroes, but they really are.  They set good examples of how to help people during good times. And in the crazy times, like right now during the age of COVID-19, they really shine.

Dale and Jen were stranded in Honduras at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 43 years, the Petersons have been taking care of members of the Miskito Tribe of indigenous peoples in the extreme rainforest of Honduras.  

The Petersons were finally able to fly home last week.   Dale is the dentist at the Life Resource Center in Lander. He started what they call Mission of Mercy over four decades ago.

They round up a dozen folks, usually dentists, doctors, nurses, and support people to go and treat these most needy people. Jen, who owned a restaurant for years, is the logistics magician. She rounds up $6,000 in medications, charters several airplanes, and packs and hauls 57 bags and crates of supplies for the medical expedition.  They fly back into the wilderness as far as they can and then have to take canoes the rest of the way because there are no roads. 

Some of the folks traveling with them included Doctors Phil Gilbertson and Hart Jacobsen of Lander; dentists Chris Peterson and Eric Sheridan of Lander; dentists Leif Polson and Will Robinson of Thermopolis; and nurses Donna and Racine Estep of Lander. 

They do not fear the COVID-19 virus so much because of their personal experiences with hydroxychloroquine, a medicine used for malaria, which they take when they go to Honduras. They said they were staying on the island of Roatan, where thousands of people live.  Nobody there has the virus, they said, because many people take hydroxychloroquine to combat malaria that is so prevalent. 

During these trying times, Dale and Jen were happy to be back home. They should be, having saved lives and improved health for total strangers who live thousands of miles away. They are the modern definition of heroes in my mind. 

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Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Enters Critical Phase – Next Three Weeks Will Be Decisive

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily publisher

This American fight against the Coronavirus is at a stage, which could be typified by a famous quote by Winston Churchill during World War II:

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  We are using it in reference to our struggles against the coronavirus pandemic. Churchill used it when the USA entered the war after Pearl Harbor.

After some uncertain steps at the beginnings of this crisis, the country has come together and the Herculean effort currently underway will save lives and prevent a long-term devastating health crisis.

Here in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon and most local officials have been pro-active. From Star Valley to Cheyenne and Evanston to Newcastle, local community leaders have been making the right moves.

Here in Lander, we endured a shock last month when we found out a resident of the Showboat Retirement Center, tested positive for the Coronavirus. This was the second positive test in the state, the first being a Sheridan woman.  As I write this, we have over 200 people testing positive. In Fremont County, we have over 600 in self-quarantine because they are showing symptoms.

Early on Lander was an epicenter and the Showboat Center has been our epicenter. Nine more cases were reported positive last week from that same site.

Meanwhile, people in our town seem to be employing the social distance rules, as you see lots of folks out walking dogs. It has been a nice spring and despite a recent 10-inch snowfall, people of this outdoor-loving community cannot help themselves in wanting to go outside.

A recent highlight was Friday night car cruising in both Lander and Riverton.  The Lander one featured music by KDLY Radio folks Maralyne Middour and Joe Kenney. While hundreds of cars “cruised” Main, the families in the cars listened to music from the movie American Graffiti on the 97.5 FM dial.

In other local news, construction is being completed on a new business called Lander Labs, which will be testing for the virus shortly.

Statewide new programs of drive-by testing should save some lives.  Plus, the cancelling of thousands of Wyoming crowd events hopefully will reduce the number of people infected and the list of people killed by this deadly malady.

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, April 5, Wyoming still has not had its first death from coronavirus. Unfortunately, I predict by the time this is published, that record will no longer be in existence.

It is discouraging to me to see the number of folks who are still pooh-poohing this epidemic.  Four weeks ago, in my column, I speculated that this might be history’s greatest over-reaction. That was wrong. This is real.  I have eaten those words.  We should be applauding everyone who is taking a stand against this disease.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. We need to do everything in our power to protect ourselves and our loved ones. 

Sometimes that light you see in a tunnel is that of an oncoming train.  In the case of the current coronavirus pandemic, we can only hope that some of the hopeful signs we are seeing are good.

One of the most familiar clichés in Wyoming is the concept of boom/bust economic cycles.  Well folks, times were not rosy earlier this year, but we were getting along.

In many ways, Wyoming’s state economy on Jan. 1, 2020, was the envy of the country because of a balanced budget, $20 billion in the bank, a decent oil and natural gas economy, and a roaring tourism boom.

We still have a balanced budget and our bank accounts, but oh my god, the world has changed. In a three-week period from March 12 to April 2, truly the coronavirus turned the world’s economy on its head, including Wyoming.  Out here on the frontier, folks are hurting financially. Hurting bad.

Our small business people were resilient and doing okay.  But then wham!

As the most conservative state in the country, we never believed we could ever become a nation-state like Sen. Bernie Sanders wants – but here we are. In a blink, we have all become Social Democrats.  Some 175 million Americans will be getting a check from the government in the next three weeks.

So, there you have it – we are dealing with the worst medical emergency in 100 years (not since the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918) and the worst economic emergency since the great depression in 1930. 

Out here in Flyover Country, this double whammy will have long, lasting negative effects.  Please, folks, be safe and care for each other during these unbelievable times.

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Bill Sniffin: Lighten Up – Here Are Few Of My Favorite Things

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By Bill Sniffin

With just six people per square mile, it has been argued Wyoming has been practicing “social distancing” since 1890.

Is there a group for us hypochondriacs? Call it hypochondriacs Anonymous or Feverish Folks or Itching to get Sick Club?

Once in a while, it seems like my wife has too little compassion for me as I fret over my latest sniffle, or scratchy throat, or slight headache. And during nervous coronavirus times like these, I am bad about imagining that I am getting sick.  I wonder how many other husbands hear this refrain from their wives: “Hey buddy, I am your wife. I am NOT your mother!” Actually, Nancy treats me great but if I linger too long then I get reminded about how well I really am.

Not sure how she did it, but my mom always babied us when we were sick as kids. We would stay home from school, drink chicken soup, gobble up ice cream and watch lots of TV. And we got lots of attention. Love those memories, ha! When I am sick, I admit I miss my mom. She is 96 and confined with no visitors in a Denver-area nursing home. As I write this, luckily, we are feeling fine.

Two of my favorite items on Facebook right now are my old friend Chuck Coon singing the song “Yellowstone Winds” and Annie and Amy Smith singing “Wyoming Where I Belong.” Coon was a PR specialist for the Wyoming Division of Tourism for years but I did not realize he was a crooner.

A song for Kathy Walker along with all of my friends and family. Forgive the sombrero but it is better than the shine coming off my head due to lack of hair.Be well and as my friend Wilford Brimley says: "Stay of the Wise."Yellowstone winter footage was shot by Mike McCrimmon.

Posted by Chuck Coon on Monday, March 30, 2020

The Smith twins wrote their song 20 years ago and performed it all over the world. It was a way for them to recall their home, while being away so much. It was voted an official Wyoming state song in 2018.

Also, I get goosebumps when I hear Wyoming native son, the late Chris LeDoux, singing “Song of Wyoming” on YouTube. It’s great.

Funny guy Tim Mandese of Casper said on his Quarantine Diary that he’s thinking about writing a novel about a Chinese guy who eats a bat. He gets a virus that infects the entire world. “Nah, probably too far-fetched,” he concluded.

My kids are watching a show called Tiger King on Netflix. There seems to be some truth to the story that the main character of the series, Joe Exotic, grew up in Laramie. It is truly a crazy show.

Bob Waits, known as Wyoming’s Bear Guy because he has carved 3,000 wooden bear statues, says children born 9 months from now will be known as “Children of the Quarn.”

A recent police report from Casper, which reflects the rest of the state, stated:
Robberies 0
Speeding 0
Burglaries 0
Domestic squabbles 1,435
Sorry, I just made these stats up.

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