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Gordon: Wyoming May Put More Restrictions in Place

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The impacts of the coronavirus in Wyoming are likely to last far beyond two weeks and the state may have to put more restrictions in place to slow the spread of the virus, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the business closures and restrictions imposed on social gatherings by state officials may help reduce the extent of COVID-19’s impact.

“I will say this isn’t going to be over in two weeks,” he said. “This is going to impact life in Wyoming for a long time to come. We are going to have community spread (of the virus), but the actions people take now will make a difference.”

Gordon’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in the state grew to 28, but also in the wake of news that two Fremont County residents diagnosed with the illness have fully recovered and have been removed from isolation.

Many Wyoming businesses have been ordered closed and the state has banned all gatherings of more than 10 people in attempts to slow the spread of the virus.

Gordon said the willingness of Wyoming residents to live with the orders will help determine whether more restrictions are needed in the future.

“I think it’s really important that every Wyoming citizen understand that it is their responsibility to exercise their right to do the right thing,” he said. “Our hope is that people will take this seriously, understand what the consequences are. It is absolutely imperative that we address this quickly so that we don’t overrun our medical capacities.”

Gordon also said hoped Wyoming could avoid the kind of orders for people to “shelter in place” and not leave their homes that have been issued in other states.

“At this point, we do not believe a shelter in place order is necessary,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is to find a balance that respects private property rights, personal liberties and prudent health standards. We can hopefully look to Wyoming being a bellwether state that leads the nation in not having to proceed with shelter in place. But that can only come with citizens stepping up and doing their part with social distancing, maintaining good hygiene and doing their best to meet these orders.”

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, also gave updates during the news conference on progress being made in testing people believe to have coronavirus.

Harrist said the state Public Health Laboratory can now complete about 100 tests a day for coronavirus, but added the state is also running sort of the supplies needed to conduct tests.

Also speaking at the conference was state Auditor Kristi Racines, who is heading up one of Gordon’s five task forces dealing with the impacts of coronavirus.

Racines’ task force is looking at the impacts to the state’s business sector. She said the task force has broken up its focus to three areas— providing support for the state’s businesses, support for the state’s employees and support for the state’s financial and banking industries.

Gordon closed by urging Wyoming residents to follow the advice to stay home if possible, limit trips and remain a safe distance away from others.

“This is a battle, this is a war,” he said. “And as we address this war, we will be victorious if we work together.

Statewide Shutdown: Governor Shuts Down Bars, Gyms, Museums, Other Public Places

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Bars, fitness clubs and museums and other public spaces were ordered closed Thursday by the state’s health officer in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday afternoon that the order from Dr. Alexia Harrist will require the closure of public places including schools, theaters, bars, coffee shops, cafeterias, self-serve buffets, gyms, conference rooms and museums through April 3.

Restaurants will be allowed to remain open under the order, but only for curbside takeout and drive-through service.

Gordon had said earlier he would leave the decision on whether to close businesses in the hands of local officials. Three counties, Teton, Laramie and Park, had taken such action on Wednesday and Thursday, but Harrist’s order encompasses the full state.

“This governor has never been inclined to overstep local authority, but these are unprecedented times,” Gordon said in a news release. “It is critical that there is uniformity across the state in how social distancing measures are implemented.”

Harrist joined officials in saying she understood the hardship that the closures would create for people employed by the businesses.

“But it is an important step to help them avoid becoming ill and to help them avoid spreading COVID-19 to those who are most vulnerable,” she said in the news release. “We should all work together to help keep our friends and neighbors safe.”

The Wyoming Department of Health has confirmed 18 coronavirus cases in the state.

Wyoming Coronavirus: Gov Gordon to Form Five Coronavirus Task Forces

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus
Mark Gordon file photo

Posted by Governor Mark Gordon on Monday, March 16, 2020

The state’s top elected officials will create five task forces aimed at finding solutions to problems posed by the coronavirus both during the illness’ outbreak and after, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon, in a news conference, announced that the task forces would focus on health, state services and operations, business, transportation and education. Each task force will be chaired by one of the top elected officials.

Gordon said in addition to looking at the threats posed by the coronavirus, the task forces would look at what would likely be a “serious curtailment” of business activities that would result from efforts to stop the spread of the illness.

“It is important as a state and a region that we begin to think about how we re-emerge with a more stable state of affairs, one in a world where we understand business processes must work, people have to go to work, kids must be educated and life must go on,” he said “And that is part of what I’m doing today, not only ascertaining the threats we see from the virus and to the business communities but to begin to lay the groundwork for coming out of what is going to be a prolonged period of very serious curtailment of business activity.”

Wyoming has three confirmed cases of coronavirus, two from Sheridan County and one from Fremont County.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said as of Monday, the state has run 45 coronavirus tests, while nine more have been run by commercial laboratories and another 100 samples are on their way to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory for analysis. She added the laboratory has increased its capacity to test samples from 10 per day to 20 to 50.

Gordon said the number of people infected with the disease is likely to up as more testing is conducted as test kits become more available.

“There should be a corresponding number of positives that would come from that, that would be expected,” he said. “Because we’re testing more people, there is a likelihood that there will be, perhaps, an increase in the number of positive tests that we would see. That is normal.”

The key to dealing with the increasing numbers will not be to simply shut down operations, he added.

“We want to make sure Wyoming continues to function efficiently,” he said. “It is not about closing everything, it is about doing things in creative ways to maintain services and connections among people.”

The task force on state services, headed by Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, will look at how the state can continue providing its services without disruption, Gordon said, while the task force on business, chaired by Auditor Kristi Racines, will look into ways the state can help businesses weather the inevitable downturn from the virus outbreak.

Treasurer Curt Meyer will head up the transportation and infrastructure task force and will make sure transportation continues in the state efficiently. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow will chair the task force on education, which will look at how the state responds to the lengthy break students at every level are taking now. Gordon’s office will work with the state Health Department to make sure the state’s health care providers and hospitals have everything they need to treat the sick.

Gordon also once again took advantage of the news conference to urge calm on the part of the state’s residents.

“In spite of circumstances, it is important for all of us as Wyomingites to insure that we are transitioning from a state where we react to everything that comes over the Internet to one of orderly conduct,” he said. “It is important that we remember Wyoming has always been a resilient and a strong community. It is a community where we look out after our neighbors and it is a community where we think about our actions and exercise common sense.

“Wyoming, I know we’re better than this,” he said.

Gordon Says Final Closure Decisions Because Of Coronavirus Will Be Made Locally

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus

Posted by Governor Mark Gordon on Thursday, March 12, 2020

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Decisions to close local facilities such as schools or cancel events in the face of the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 will be left in the hands of local officials, Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said while the state will work with local officials as they deal with the illness, the decisions on actions taken will be handled at the local level with input from the state.

“The Superintendent (of Public Instruction Jillian Balow) and I have both discussed the importance of local control on these issues,” he said. “We ask … that as decisions … are made that it be communicated with our office.”

“Every community has the capacity to make great decisions when done in conjunction with local, county and state health departments regarding closures, hybrid education, homebound education, etc.” Balow said.

However, Gordon also encouraged residents to carefully consider whether they want to proceed with plans to hold events that would be attended by large numbers of people.

“With an overabundance of caution and as a proactive measure to protect the residents of Wyoming, I am recommending that we consider carefully whether large community gatherings and events of over 250 people should take place,” he said. “We want to be proactive in our approach and I encourage anyone planning large events to contact their county health officers, to work with their elected officials to make sure their county officials are fully in that loop.”

Gordon’s news conference came one day after the state Department of Health announced that one Wyoming resident, a Sheridan woman, had tested positive for COVID-19.

It also came on the heels of decisions by the University of Wyoming. Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington and Northwest Wyoming College in Powell to extend their spring breaks by one week to give officials more time to determine how to respond to the coronavirus.

Also on Thursday, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department canceled the state Class 4A and 3A basketball tournaments in Casper, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said the state was not involved with the decision to cancel the tournament.

Gordon and other officials at the news conference stressed that the risk of the spread of coronavirus in Wyoming remains low.

“However, every state’s situation is different,” Gordon said. “At any given time, things are evolving rapidly.”

Gordon also announced that the Department of Health and Wyoming Office of Homeland Security were working to establish a “unified command center” where officials can coordinate planning and response efforts.

“We’ll be having all state agencies that will be working in support of this effort joining us there,” said Lynn Budd, the office’s director. “We’ll be having doing regular meetings. It’s just to establish a … ‘battle rhythm’ or a planning committee cycle so we’re all on the same page and we have all the information that we need. It helps to have everybody in one place.”

Gordon made a point during the news conference of urging people to follow the Health Department’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the illness, such as washing hands thoroughly, staying home if sick and avoiding sick people.

He also urged people to follow the state’s advice to have enough supplies at home for two weeks — within reason.

“We started this year talking about being two weeks ready,” he said. “Being two weeks ready does not mean you need to stock up on a year’s supply of toilet paper.

Gordon/Wyo Leadership: Million Acre Land Purchase Great for Wyoming

in Mark Gordon/Column
Mark Gordon file photo

By Governor Mark Gordon, House Speaker Steve Harshman, Senate President Drew Perkins, and State Senator Eli Bebout

That is wise advice that we took to heart when we first became aware of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring lands in Wyoming into Wyoming hands. Occidental Petroleum recently acquired Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, a company that owned most of the original Union Pacific Land Grant (lands that were granted to the railroads during the Civil War).

Today, Wyoming has a unique opportunity to acquire them. These lands could be a strategic investment that will add income to the state and unprecedented multiple-use access for the public.

Over the next few years, Wyoming will face some hard choices about how we fund our schools and senior centers, how we maintain infrastructure like our sewer systems or irrigation canals, and how we continue to provide critical services.

It’s no secret that Wyoming has seen a significant dip in coal and natural gas production, illustrating how precarious our revenue streams are. Our latest estimates project state revenue dropping another $156.3 million over the next two years, and it is anybody’s guess where it will go from there. The state could see its existing deficit grow by $200 million. So why would we want to buy more land and minerals at this time? Well, because it could be an amazing investment, inflation hedge, chance to better secure our state’s future and can be bought at a particularly advantageous time.

Yes, Wyoming faces big challenges – challenges that must be met with big ideas and thoughtful solutions. Bills in the House and Senate that were introduced last week are meant to begin a thorough examination of a potential opportunity that might prove to be extraordinarily beneficial for Wyoming and her citizens.

The lands and minerals that President Lincoln granted to Union Pacific in 1862, six years before Wyoming became a Territory, helped finance construction of the Transcontinental Railroad and they play an historic role in how Wyoming became a state. They were and are some of the most mineral-rich lands in our country and they helped provide the resources to power locomotives across the West.

This railroad land grant surrounded the lands where train tracks were to be laid. Odd-numbered sections were given to the railroad while the federal government kept even-numbered plots. This checkerboard pattern extends 20 miles on either side of the Union Pacific railroad as it traverses the southern part of the state.

Today, this checkerboard pattern makes land management challenging and can hinder access, both for multiple-use and mineral development. Sections owned and managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management are intermingled with sections owned by Occidental Petroleum and other private landowners. The purchase we are considering seeks to acquire only the Occidental Petroleum lands that are for sale – no other private lands or federal lands are involved, as they are not for sale.

The asset totals around 1 million acres of surface lands and about 4 million acres of mineral ownership. It includes a majority mineral ownership underneath the world’s largest naturally occurring soda ash deposit, a bedrock of Wyoming’s economy. It also includes proven developed and undeveloped oil, gas and coal resources, significant grazing operations, potential for renewable energy development and future exploratory opportunities in everything from lithium to rare earth minerals. It is also home to some of our state’s most iconic game.

Activities on this land already provide current income and the promise for future revenue, which could yield stable cash flow and help diversify Wyoming’s revenue picture. A steadier income stream would be good for our schools and communities.

Wyoming is not looking at this purchase to try to become a developer or a mining company; rather, we see the land grant opportunity as a way for the state to expand the areas where we already have expertise: land and mineral management.

This opportunity is not just about the money. This acquisition has enormous potential benefits for multiple-use that are valuable to all citizens of Wyoming, giving us the opportunity to assemble one of the largest contiguous pieces of public land in the continental United States. One that will benefit wildlife, hunters, fishermen and outdoor recreationists while achieving responsible development of rich natural resources.

This potential acquisition, though, like any investment, is not without risk and we must weigh that risk carefully. Significant questions involving county property and ad valorem tax must be thoroughly explored. There is a lot to consider, and as of today there is still much to learn about the prospect.

The bills being considered by the Legislature lay out a process for the state’s elected leaders to thoroughly evaluate this opportunity and determine if it is a prudent investment. It will require significant due diligence and outside appraisal of the lands in question. If the investment doesn’t make sense, we will not proceed. Nothing is determined at this point.

We also recognize opportunities like this will not last forever. Passage of these bills will allow us to advance this unique opportunity if a purchase seems fiscally prudent. It is important to remember that a potential purchase of this magnitude must have legislative oversight and approval.

Opportunities like this don’t come along very often. The land grant has only changed hands twice in its 150-plus year history. It’s likely that this would be the largest government purchase of private land since the United States purchased Alaska. That’s a big deal.

But thinking big is nothing new to Wyoming. In 1968, Gov. Stan Hathaway and the state’s leaders stepped forward and levied the first severance tax on mineral production. In 1974, they did it again and created the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund.

These examples of big thinking paid off for Wyoming, and it made us the envy of the nation. Now, we have the chance to do it again by making the best investment of all – in ourselves.

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