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Wyo Business Leaders Tell Gov Gordon: “We Are Losing The Battle” On Covid

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher, Cowboy State Daily

While members of Wyoming’s chambers of commerce agree something must be done to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state, they disagreed on how to accomplish that goal in an online meeting with Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday.

Business owners uniformly expressed concern about the growing number of coronavirus cases in the state, but differed on the measures that should be implented by the state.

“In Natrona County, we are a mess, an absolute mess,” said Kim Devore of Casper’s Jonah Bank. “Our hospital is overrun. Daycares are closing. Businesses are closing. The curve is not stopping. It is going straight up. It seems awful easy to do a mask mandate. We cannot do it on our own, evidently.”

Dixie Johnson of the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce said restaurant owners in Sheridan are suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic. She added she would support a statewide order requiring the use of face masks over business closures.

But Shalee Harvey of Thermopolis, who just started a bakery with her husband, said she does not favor a mask mandate.

“Quality of life is important,” she said. “I will not let my business go under because we had to wear a mask. It should not depend on whether the government should say we are open or not.”

Gordon noted that a statewide mask requirement is a very political issue and added he would like to see the state work together, as it did earlier this year, to slow the spread of the illness.

“We brought this down back in the spring so we know we can deal with this again.  I want us to have a Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Christmas,” he said. “Working together we can do what is necessary so that we can come out in the spring and be OK.”

Gordon said because of his recent experience with coronavirus, he is confident face masks prevent the spread of the illness.

Gordon tested negative for the illness despite spending an entire day with a person who later tested positive. Both wore masks throughout the day.

If the state cannot somehow stem the spread of the illness, business could be forced to close, Gordon said.

“We have got to get a handle on it,” he said. “We have to maintain a productive workforce in the state.  We have tried to use flexibility with the counties.  And I have to take the blame for putting the county health officers in such a difficult position.”

Karlee Applegate, a health care worker in Casper, said the state must work harder to convince people to follow the basic steps needed to prevent the spread of COVID.

“We missed a primary opportunity at the beginning to teach people infection control practices,” she said. “That is the key to solving this. People have not been taught mask hygiene.”

Gordon wound up the meeting by saying “we all have rights and we all have responsibilities. We need both. We have to work together or we are sunk together.” 

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Survey: More Than Half Of Wyomingites Trust Trump’s COVID Leadership

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than half of surveyed Wyomingites approve of the way President Donald Trump is handling the coronavirus pandemic, with 54% strongly or somewhat approving of his actions.

This was just one of the findings in the recent survey conducted by the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center.

Trump’s net approval rating among surveyed Wyomingites for his handling of the pandemic — the difference between the percentage approving of his work and the percentage disapproving — is at 10.3 points.

Only around 47% of surveyed residents trusted the information they heard from Trump about the coronavirus either a great or good amount, though.

However, this number dropped when it came to trusting a great or good amount President-Elect Joe Biden’s information about the virus, coming only to 34%, the survey showed.

Respondents’ approval of Gov. Mark Gordon’s handling of the pandemic remained steady, with 60% strongly or somewhat approving of the way his actions.

Gordon’s net approval rating is at 24 points.

A majority of surveyed Wyoming residents, 65%, trusted the information they heard from Gordon about the pandemic a great deal or good amount.

Around 70% trusted the information they heard from local government officials about the pandemic, as well.

However, Wyoming’s approval of the way Congress is handling the pandemic is low, with just 21% strongly or somewhat approving of the work being done. Congress’ net approval rating is a negative 51 points.

The survey is the tenth conducted by WYSAC since March to measure public opinion on a number of topics related to the coronavirus.

A total of 465 Wyoming residents participated in the survey representing all Wyoming counties, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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Gordon Warns State Employees Of Second Shutdown If COVID Cases Continue To Rise

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon warned Wyoming state employees that a second shutdown of government buildings and businesses could occur if coronavirus cases in the state continue to rise.

In a letter sent out to all state employees on Thursday, Gordon expressed concern about the fact that there has been a “significant” spike in cases across the state, as well as in government offices.

At least 20 state employees tested positive for the virus since last week and 152 state employees have requested administrative leave due to a positive test.

“The rising number of positive cases and quarantines among state employees is impacting our operations, our ability to deliver products and services, and is resulting in numerous building closures,” Gordon wrote in the letter.

All but one employee of the state’s central mail room are in quarantine.

Last week, portions of seven state buildings in Laramie County were closed for coronavirus decontamination, two of them for a second time.

“Our ability to provide critical services across the state is critical to Wyoming’s economy and to ensure the public health and safety of its communities,” Gordon wrote. “The impacts to our state workforce…foreshadow the possibility of future business closures due to staffing shortages and sick workers. No one wants to see that.”

He reiterated the point that he and state public health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist have been driving home over the last six months, such as wearing a face covering when in public spaces, physically distance when possible and stay home from work when sick.

Gordon will likely have a news conference this week to discuss the rising coronavirus cases, office spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

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Wyoming Governor In Quarantine After Possible COVID-19 Exposure

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Governor Gordon on Monday was informed that he had a potential exposure to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.

The possible exposure occurred at a meeting where all attendees took precautionary measures, including the wearing of masks for the entirety of the meeting.

After he was notified, the Governor took a rapid test at the Laramie County Health Department, which came back negative for COVID-19. He is currently awaiting the results of a secondary test. As a precautionary measure, and in alignment with CDC guidance, the Governor is currently self-quarantining for 14 days from the possible exposure, which would be until November 11.

The Governor is appreciative of the preventative measures taken by the hosts of the meeting.

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Gordon, Health Officials Upping Contact Tracing, Expanding COVID Testing After Cases Surge

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With an average of more than 200 new coronavirus cases being reported daily in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health are stepping up the state’s COVID-19 testing at nursing homes and boosting its contact tracing efforts.

Wyoming has averaged more than 200 new cases of the coronavirus per day over the past 14 days, and 109 Wyomingites with the virus were hospitalized around the state as of Thursday.

“This surge in cases in our communities is directly impacting Wyoming’s healthcare system, our businesses and industries, and straining our healthcare workforce,” Gordon said. “This is the time to recognize that our actions impact others, their lives and livelihoods. All of us have a role to play in ensuring that our hospitals can continue to care for all patients, not just those suffering from COVID-19.”

To protect vulnerable citizens, the state will continue to provide enhanced testing at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including testing all residents and staff at facilities where COVID-19 outbreaks or clusters have been detected.

At other facilities that are not experiencing outbreaks, the state will continue its surveillance testing program, where a percentage of residents are tested regularly. 

WDH is also supplementing its contact tracing efforts by bringing on a Wyoming-based company, Waller Hall Research, to provide assistance.

The Wyoming National Guard will step down next week from its mission of helping with contact tracing. Contact tracing is one of the state’s most effective strategies in isolating the virus and preventing its spread Gordon said.

“I want to thank our citizen soldiers for being ready and willing to serve their communities when counties requested assistance with this vital service,” Gordon said. 

The state is supporting health facilities, correctional facilities, counties and other entities through testing available at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory and through the 175,000 tests Wyoming purchased with CARES Act funds.

A free, at-home saliva testing program remains available to residents, and WDH is launching a program to support businesses and employers across the state with free testing as well.

Wyoming’s school surveillance testing program is also underway, with 27 districts currently participating. 

Gordon said the state is also exploring a program that would reward businesses that voluntarily make changes to their operations to enhance the safety of employees, customers, and the general public. 

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Despite Improvement, Gordon Says Wyoming’s Fiscal Picture Still Concerning

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite recent improvements in the Wyoming’s financial outlook, the state still faces some major challenges, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon’s comments came in response to a report by state fiscal analysts that showed the state’s main bank account, the General Fund, will fall about $451 million short of what is needed to pay for government operations in the current biennium.

The estimate provided by the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group showed a deficit that was $426 million less than what had been estimated in a report issued in May.

However, Gordon said the state still must deal with significant drops in funding.

“I have a fundamental belief that we must live within our means,” he said. “Wyoming suffered its greatest budget shortfall in history this year … By any stretch of the imagination this crisis is unique, but it is real and we must be prepared.”

The report also showed that the state will end its current biennium about $300 million short of what is needed to continue current funding levels for schools.

Gordon earlier this year asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 10% and he said he is still asking agencies to consider further cuts of 10% to make sure state spending stays within its revenues. He noted that the state’s savings will not be sufficient to offset budget shortfalls in the long-term.

“I am not interested in building a budget that just tries to get us to next year,” he said. “Wyoming, if she wants to remain competitive and productive, must live within her means and structure herself for economic opportunity.”

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Gordon Allocating CARES Funds To Help With Wyoming Insurance Enrollment

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday that he is directing federal CARES funds to assist Wyoming residents in signing up for health insurance this fall.

Gordon is allocating $600,000 to be used for the Enroll Wyoming program, which will be used to hire trained enrollment counselors to provide outreach, education and assistance. This will also ensure Wyomingites are made aware of the upcoming open enrollment period for insurance coverage (Nov. 1 – Dec. 15).

“Wyoming is facing increased numbers of uninsured residents as a result of the pandemic,” Gordon said. “This assistance is an important resource for those seeking health insurance during these challenging times.”

The enrollment counselors will work with community partners, such as libraries, community colleges, workforce centers, public health nursing offices and more, to identify individuals who need assistance enrolling in the federal insurance marketplace.

The Enroll Wyoming program is a collaborative effort between Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s Institute for Population Health, the Wyoming Primary Care Association, which operates the statewide community health centers, and Wyoming 2-1-1.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, federal funding for the Enroll Wyoming program in Wyoming has been cut by 83%.

“We are thankful for the opportunity to help meet the increased need for health insurance during this pandemic by building on our efforts over the last seven years of providing enrollment services,” Amy Spieker, CRMC’s director of community health and analysis, said. “Enroll Wyoming is an excellent example of how Wyoming organizations come together to care for our neighbors during tough times.”

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Gordon on Covid-19: When We Act Irresponsibly, “Our Patriotism Has Gone Awry”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon had strong words for the people in Wyoming during a Wednesday news conference, telling those questioning precautionary measures — such as wearing masks — designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, that acting irresponsibly isn’t helping anyone.

The governor gave an example of how easily the virus is spread stating that a friend of his recently experienced a truck breaking down and called for help.

Someone, Gordon said, who had just tested positive for the coronavirus and wasn’t wearing a mask, came to assist him. This passed on the virus to Gordon’s friend, making him very ill.

“That just tells me our country, our patriotism have gone awry,” Gordon said. “If you are a patriot, if you love this country, you will recognize this is an hour of need for our country and we must come together to help fight this terrible, terrible disease. We can do that … in a way that our children will respect and tell of for generations to come.”

Referring to a copy of U.S. Constitution, he said the document, along with the Wyoming Constitution, is what he lives by and further gives him a strong belief that Wyoming residents will rise up to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“I will say, we act irresponsibly, we put our liberties and our government in jeopardy,” he said. “This is something that every Wyoming citizen should take seriously.”

Gordon also noted during his conference that the virus was neither the flu nor the chickenpox, and certainly not a cold.

Cases are spiking significantly in long-term care facilities, Dr. Alexia Harrist said during the news conference. There are currently 23 lab-confirmed cases in five facilities across the state.

She did point to the lack of outbreaks in Wyoming’s schools, showing that using masks does make a difference when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus.

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Wyoming Submits Plan For Distributing, Administering COVID Vaccine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention its initial plan for distributing and administering a coronavirus vaccine to its residents, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.

The draft plan relies on much of the vaccine ordering, distribution, administration and reporting infrastructure already in use by the Wyoming Department of Health.

The plan is expected to change over time and be continually updated as the state learns more details about the vaccine and the pandemic situation overall.

Gordon stressed that Wyoming won’t recommend and distribute a vaccine without being assured of its safety.

“I am truly impressed by the progress being made on a COVID-19 vaccine, and it is important for Wyoming to be ready when the vaccine arrives,” the governor said. “We have worked to put together a comprehensive plan, and I am delighted to say that Wyoming is ready to take action as soon as a vaccine becomes available.

I want to thank the Department of Health for their efforts in developing this plan even while we are still battling this pandemic in such a dynamic environment.”

The timing of the vaccine’s availability is unknown at this time. The vaccine is expected to be free.

Wyoming has developed mass vaccination plans as part of its pandemic planning efforts.

The state plans to use its network of public and private healthcare providers to first identify and prioritize at-risk populations, including long-term care facility staff and other healthcare workers.

Providers who enroll in Wyoming’s coronavirus vaccination program will receive the vaccine at no cost and must agree to provide the vaccine to any patient regardless of his or her ability to pay. Providers will be able to bill insurers for administration costs and to seek reimbursement for vaccination of uninsured individuals.

More information is expected to be made available in the coming months about priority populations, storage and handling requirements and federal allocation strategies.

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Gordon Gets Flu Shot; Urges Citizens To Do The Same Especially With Covid Threat

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon got a flu shot Thursday morning and posted photos of the action on his Facebook page.

The governor urged citizens to follow suit citing the presence of the coronavirus in the state.

“Flu shots are particularly important this year as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory offers testing that can detect influenza or COVID-19 from the same sample,” Gordon said.

If this seems like common sense, it’s not a unanimous sentiment in the state of Wyoming.

According to a recent study, Wyoming has 48th lowest flu vaccination coverage rate among adults in the U.S. and is dead last for flu vaccinations for children 17 and under.

Some medical experts are worried that the flu and the coronavirus could form an “unhealthy alliance” and pack hospitals this year.

To that end, there is a reported flu vaccine shortage in China as people are afraid of “twindemic.”

“In Beijing, clinics have reported serious shortages and elsewhere in the country residents complain they have not been able to get the shots,” The Guardian reported.

Gordon said flu shots are safe and help reduce illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

“They are available throughout Wyoming at public health nursing offices, workplaces, doctors’ offices and pharmacies,” he said.

Wyoming’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Alexia Harrist, echoed the governor’s remarks adding that because of fewer coronavirus restrictions issued by the state, she is increasingly concerned.

“As we approach a new flu season, we know flu viruses will circulate while COVID-19 remains a threat,” she said. “Because there are fewer restrictions in Wyoming now than in the spring, we are concerned about the potential harm to our residents and strain on our healthcare system from the combined threat of both influenza and COVID-19.”

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