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Rep. Scott Clem: Gov. Gordon’s Coronavirus Response Is Unconstitutional

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As Gov. Mark Gordon moves to ease restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, some Wyomingites question whether the restrictions were ever the right response. 

Larry Herdt, a 63-year-old Wyoming native living in Casper, said requiring businesses to close was a step too far, no matter how dangerous coronavirus is.

“Closing down businesses and all this stuff — to me it’s infringing on people’s rights,” Herdt said. “(Gordon) never asked people how they would mitigate it (in their businesses), and I think that should have been his first step.”

In Wyoming’s northeastern corner, Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, wrote an open letter to Gordon, calling for businesses and schools to reopen weeks ago.

“We’re citizens in this country, not subjects,” Clem told Cowboy State Daily. “To see China respond to this in a very authoritarian and draconian way was not surprising. But when we had governors here in America, like sheep, follow the China model, I was not expecting that.”

Wyoming did not impose strict stay-at-home orders like some states, which Clem applauded, but he said he felt the state still went too far in restricting residents’ ability to work.

“I think we ought to start reopening today and tomorrow,” he explained. “I think the cosmetologists, barbers, tattooists …  should be open today.”

Herdt expressed similar sentiments, adding bars and restaurants to the mix.

“I’m not a bar person, but I eat in a lot of bar-and-grill places, and I think they should be able to make their own decisions,” he said. “To me, what (Gordon) did was unconstitutional.” 

On March 13, Gordon declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a statewide public health order to close bars, restaurants, theaters, gymnasiums, child care facilities and schools in an attempt to limit the virus’ ability to spread among congregated people.

While Gordon issued an advisory for residents to stay at home, the governor did not order them to do so.

Clem said during these unprecedented times, he felt Gordon was doing the best he could, but closing businesses overstepped the Constitution by quarantining healthy people, rather than just the sick. 

“We give pretty broad statutory authority to our public health officer to deal with these kinds of pandemics,” he said. “But upon looking at those statutes, it’s clear to me those statutes have more to do with quarantining sick individuals than healthy individuals. For me, that’s the disproportionate response.”

While Clem acknowledged the severity of the pandemic and the need to cater a response to prevent the state’s health care facilities from being overwhelmed, Herdt said he viewed threats posed by COVID-19 as part of the natural course of life.

“Walking out the door is a risk,” Herdt said. “With all the pathogens in the air, you’re going to get sick no matter what.”

Although he said he doesn’t believe the fatality numbers broadcast in the media, Herdt explained people should have the right to take the risk if they so choose. 

With recovered cases in Wyoming topping 300, Clem said he believed the state’s efforts flattened the curve, preventing hospitals from being overburdened and allowing the state to stockpile ventilators and personal protective equipment for dispersing to areas should the need arise. Now, Wyoming should turn its attention to the next crisis — the economy, he said.

“We haven’t gone off the rails in suppressing our economy, but I think we’ve gone too far,” Clem explained. “I’m reminded that our health experts are not economic experts, and we need to listen to both.”

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Interview: Gordon Discusses Thinking Behind Not Issuing Stay-At-Home Order

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon’s approach to restricting the movements of Wyoming residents to slow the spread of coronavirus has been based on the idea that most will follow advice intended to keep them healthy, he said Tuesday.

Gordon, in an interview with Cowboy State Daily, said he and the governors of South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska all agreed that given the chance, their residents would act in their own best interests without “stay-at-home” orders.

“(We) have all kind of taken the approach that you tell people what’s important and you ask them to do the right thing and they’ll exhibit the common sense that we know they have,” he said.

Gordon and fellow governors who have resisted adopting the more restrictive rules had been criticized by some, but Gordon noted that even Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the key advisors to the White House, endorsed the approach.

“It was nice to have a conversation with Dr. Fauci where we went through that and he said ‘You’re doing all the right things,’” he said. “And he even said it nationally.”

Wyoming was the last state to see a death attributed to coronavirus and the last state to see more than 300 cases of the illness.

“We’re not out of the woods, but I feel so far our efforts have been successful,” Gordon said.

Gordon has faced pressure not only at the national level, but from his constituents for his actions.

On Monday, he spoke with a group of protesters demanding that the state lift the restrictions it imposed in March. Meanwhile, some residents have said they would rather the state issue a “stay-at-home” order to restrict the movements of state residents and prevent the spread of the disease.

In March, Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, issued three orders to try to slow the spread of coronavirus. One closed schools and businesses where 10 people or more are likely to gather, another closed businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, and the third prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.

The state has not ordered the closure of “non-essential” businesses or required that people remain in their homes.

Gordon said his approach embodied a balance state officials knew would have to be reached to both protect the public’s safety and allow the economy to continue operating, where possible.

 “In Wyoming’s case, we really had to find the balance because we had the virus arriving late … it hit us in a sort of unpredictable way,” he said. “So we tried to find a course that could balance that.”

The result was that rather than being shut down, most of the state’s major industries have been able to continue operations.

Gordon said he also understood the opinions of those who want to lift all the restrictions immediately rather than leave them in place until at least April 30.

“What I heard yesterday was frustration that I think almost everybody in Wyoming is feeling,” he said. “We need to get moving again. We need the country to get moving again.”

State officials are working this week on developing a process which can be used to guide how the state gradually reopens its businesses, he said. 

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Gordon Expresses Condolences for Wyoming Coronavirus Victims

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon opened his Wednesday afternoon press conference by offering condolences about the two Wyomingites who died from the coronavirus.

The first person died in Johnson County late last week and the second victim was an older man from Laramie County. The latter was confirmed as the second death on Wednesday. Wyoming was the last state to see any deaths related to the virus.

Gordon noted that the second victim was around his own age, while the first was a friend of his.

“I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of both of the victims that have passed away in recent days,” the governor said.

He added that these deaths were a reminder to Wyomingites to continue self-isolating and practice social distancing.

As of Wednesday, Wyoming had 288 confirmed cases of the virus, with 19 hospitalizations occurring. The number of recoveries is up to 176.

Gordon: Do Business With Companies that Keep Employees and Customers Safe

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is urging the state’s residents to give their business to companies taking steps to keep their customers and employees safe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gordon, during a news conference Wednesday, singled out some stores that remain open as “heroes and zeros.”

“I think we are adapting,” he said. “I think there are heroes and zeros. I continue to encourage people to shop at the places where they see the heroes, the ones that take care of their workers.

“The zeros, they can avoid, which will solve the problem both ways,” he continued. “One, people won’t frequent the stores that don’t take those precautions. Two, it will reduce the crowds at those stores.”

Since issuing public health orders that closed schools and some businesses and prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, Gordon has encouraged managers of stores remaining open to take steps to limit the number of people in their businesses and encourage social distancing.

He said one of the stores he had identified as failing to address his concerns, Walmart, has taken steps to resolve the issues.

“I am happy to say that Walmart has responded, indicating that they are doing the very best they can to make sure that both their workers and their clientele are better protected,” he said.

Gordon also singled out Albertson’s and King Soopers grocery stores for their programs to deliver groceries to cars and PetSmart for its work to limit the number of people in its stores.

However, he added he has been told that Menards has not taken sufficient preventive steps.

“Reportedly, Menards has not done a particularly good job here,” he said. “There have been crowds assembled at check-out lines and other things.”

Menards recently announced it would not allow pets or children under the age of 16 in any of its stores to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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Gordon: Digital Church Safer Than Physical Church on Easter Weekend

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With Easter fast approaching, Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday reminded Wyoming residents to practice social distancing throughout the holiday weekend.

Speaking during a news conference, Gordon encouraged people to avoid large gatherings while celebrating the Easter holiday, pointing to the massive death toll in Italy due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While churches were closed in Italy, many religious officials continued to hold outdoor services, which caused the virus to spread. As of Thursday morning, Italy has seen more than 18,000 deaths due to the virus.

Gordon shared a letter from Bishop Steven Biegler, of the Cheyenne Diocese of the Catholic Church, to reiterate how critical it is for Wyomingites to stay away from others, even on Easter.

“‘An essential value behind our decisions is solidarity,'” the governor read from the letter. “We are obligated to do all we can to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Solidarity requires us to act to prevent any person from being infected. At this time, public gatherings endanger those in attendance who, in turn, can infect others.”

Gordon admitted it was saddening to cease public religious services, it was for the good of everyone, helping to avoid the transmission of the virus.

He praised the state churches who have pivoted to worshiping digitally while the pandemic continues.

“It is important to remember on this Easter weekend that we are a community and we have a responsibility to our fellow neighbors,” the governor said. “I will say that it is heartening to me that so many churches and congregations have reached out to make their services available online that (don’t) endanger people.”

Defiant Gordon Defends Reluctance On ‘Stay-At-Home’ Order

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Apologizing later for what he called an “outburst,” Gov. Mark Gordon spent the first five minutes of his press conference on Friday defending why he would not issue a “stay-at-home” order in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gordon said his three statewide orders closing schools, some businesses, and prohibiting gathering of more than 10 people was enough and an example of “Wyoming values.”

“Our orders talk less and say more,” he said.

Raising his voice more than once, Gordon said his call to “stay home, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, don’t mob the stores, or allow your kids to gather for playdates” accomplishes the same thing as the official mandate.

“That’s essentially what a stay-at-home order is,” he said. “Are you waiting for ‘Mother may I? Or are you taking care of yourself and practicing the common sense we expect?” 

The governor said the focus on whether he issues such an order — something that Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Donald Trump’s leading medical advisor, has urged every state to do — isn’t helpful to his message but “makes for a good headline.”

Although members of the medical community including Dr. David Wheeler, President of the Wyoming Medical Society and Dr. Mark Dowell, an infectious disease specialist at the Wyoming Medical Center, have publicly disagreed with Gordon on the issue, the governor said they are united in a common goal.

“We are all saying the same thing,” he said. “Stay at home, wash your hands, maintain six feet of distance between yourselves, only go to the store as an individual – not as a group – do not congregate in groups of more than 10, and if you (run) a store, for heaven’s sake, don’t allow shoppers to mingle in the aisles or checkout lines.

“That is the behavior that we need,” he continued. “That is why we agree and that is why we behave this way.”

Earlier in the day, Dr. Dowell told the Casper Star-Tribune that he hoped Gordon would issue a stronger order.

“I hope (Gordon) does it,” he said. “I don’t know. I am now pushing. I don’t really want to have to do it in this county, but I have the — I may have to. I’m hoping the governor will step forward here.”

After Gordon’s news conference, Wheeler said he agreed with the governor’s emphasis on the best ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but argued an official “shelter-in-place” order would be more effective.

“I appreciate the energy and emotion (Gordon) put into that statement,” he said. “In that sense, he and I completely agree. We recognize that any law or order won’t be followed by 100% of the people, but more people will stay home if they are directed by the governor to do so.”

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Teton County Spokesperson: Governor Gordon is Failing Us

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A public information specialist for Teton County had harsh words on Saturday for how Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist are handling the coronavirus epidemic.

Kristen Waters, who moved to Wyoming in 2014, lambasted Wyoming’s governor in a Facebook post she published late Saturday morning.

“Governor Gordon and our State Health Officer are failing us,” Waters said. “Especially when you consider our states (sic) massive elderly population and small town hospital capacity.”

“Many counties SHARE hospitals, that have 30 or less beds and 10 or less ventilators,” she continued. “Western states that surround us are all in a shelter in place but not us, we’re gonna let the numbers climb, allow hospitals to get inundated and watch people die.”

Adopting a sarcastic tone, Waters criticized citizens of Wyoming.

“But that’s cool because we’re cowboying up and doin’ it the Wyoming way, where essential businesses are firearm & ammunition and liquor stores,” she said.

Waters suggested the state’s counties should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to mandate “shelter-in-place” policies.

“At a minimum, the state should let counties do what is right for our own individual counties, instead of continually rejecting public health orders presented by our own public health officer that literally says the purpose is to limit PREVENTABLE death,” she wrote.

On Friday, Gordon and Harrist extended three existing statewide health orders through April 17.

These orders close public places including schools, prohibiting gatherings of 10 people or more in a single room or confined space (including outdoors).

Bars, restaurants, coffee shops and some personal services businesses will also be closed through April 17. Food establishments can continue to provide take out and delivery services.

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Gordon: Wyoming May Put More Restrictions in Place

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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

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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

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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.

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