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Wyoming’s Economy At Risk Because Of Rising COVID Numbers, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is backsliding on taking the action needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and if the number of cases seen in the state continues to grow, the state’s economy could suffer, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon, during his regular press briefing, said if the state continued its pace of seeing 98 new laboratory-confirmed cases per day, people would stop leaving their homes and contributing to economic growth.

“Here in Wyoming our diligence seemed to slide a little bit,” he said. “Now we have some very serious deterioration in conditions. That means fewer people are going to feel safe going out for supper, going to the store. That will slow our economic recovery. We need exactly the opposite to happen. We need people to feel comfortable going out.”

He added that the number of cases has grown so quickly — with 1,304 active cases recorded Monday — that he has directed the Wyoming National Guard to help the Wyoming Department of Health conduct contact tracing to track those who have been in contact with people who have the coronavirus. The Guard will help the department for 30 days, Gordon said.

Gordon did not say that more stringent public health orders might be restored if the state’s coronavirus cases continued to grow.

However, he did note that the state has relaxed most of its limits on activity, hoping Wyoming residents would continue to practice the steps recommended to stop the spread of coronavirus, such as social distancing, frequent washing of hands and wearing face masks when social distancing is not possible.

If those precautions are not followed, the state’s economy will go backward, he said.

Both Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, said the rapid growth in cases is putting a strain on the state’s hospitals. As of Monday, 36 coronavirus patients are in Wyoming hospitals, the highest number seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in mid-March.

“A big and very real worry is for the hospitals to be pushed beyond their limits,” Harrist said. “It is important to remember that many of Wyoming’s hospitals are small, with a limited number of beds for the most seriously ill patients.”

Harrist noted that no restrictions are in place for most activities in the state, now, but urged residents to take the proper precautions as they engage in activities.

“Everything is open in Wyoming right now,” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t do. The key is to be able to do them safely. Take those relatively simple precautions.”

Harrist also announced that the state has signed a contract with a private company to provide at-home coronavirus testing kits.

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Gordon: DC Mayor Put Wyo on Travel Advisory List Because She’s Afraid of Republicans

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday raised some questions about travel advisories issued by the mayor of Washington, D.C., against a number of states led by Republican governors that were in place when he visited Washington, D.C. this week.

In his coronavirus update, Gordon noted that the Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued travel advisories against 31 states, most of which, like Wyoming, are Republican-led.

The advisory requires anyone traveling from or returning to Washington, D.C., to self-quaratine for two weeks after participating in non-essential travel.

Other states on the list include South Dakota, Utah and Nebraska.

Gordon pointed out that many of the states on the list (including Wyoming and South Dakota) have relatively low coronavirus case counts compared to California or New York, both states led by Democratic governors which are not on the list even though both have significantly higher case and population counts.

“I was wondering [after seeing the list] if the virus the mayor was worried about was Republicanism and fiscal responsibility or if they were really talking about the [corona]virus,” Gordon joked.

The governor joined U.S. Sen. John Barrasso in the nation’s capital this week to call for updates to the federal Endangered Species Act.

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Gordon, Barrasso Call For Update Of Endangered Species Act

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso joined forces in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to call for work to update and modernize the federal Endangered Species Act.

Gordon testified during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday. He expressed strong support for allowing states and tribes to continue to expand their work on conserving imperiled species.

He pointed to some significant improvements proposed in the Endangered Species Acts Amendments of 2020, which would elevate the role of state wildlife agencies in species management, allow impacted states the opportunity to help develop recovery plans and delay judicial review of delisting rules during the post-delisting monitoring period.

He also emphasized the damaging impact excessive litigation has had on those efforts.

“These lawsuits, and the associated investment of money, time and energy, detract from species recovery and conservation and divert important resources away from species that truly need help,” he said. “The states have proven time and time again they are committed to and capable of managing wildlife within their borders. They should be given the chance to do so for delisted species without the threat of endless and costly lawsuits that in the end do not benefit the species in question.”

Gordon pointed specifically to the staggering costs of managing wildlife through litigation and stressed his belief that prohibiting judicial review during post-delisting monitoring will not be harmful to species conservation. 

“The largest barrier to returning the management of fully-recovered species to the states and tribes is litigation,” Gordon said. “These suits, and the associated investment of money, time and energy, detract from species recovery and conservation and divert important resources away from species that truly need help.

Private landowners also need to be recognized for their contributions to the conservation of wildlife, Gordon said.

“Private landowners, ranchers and farmers across our nation have made amazing contributions to wildlife conservation and should be recognized,” Gordon told the committee. “In my state, farmers and ranchers have demonstrated their commitment to wildlife as the ultimate conservationists.”

During his testimony, Gordon outlined Wyoming’s leadership on efforts to protect several species, including the grizzly bear, gray wolves, black-footed ferrets and the greater sage-grouse.

He noted that Wyoming’s core area strategy to conserve greater sage-grouse populations was copied by other states and has been effective at preventing listing of the species as endangered, allowing multiple-use activities to continue in those areas. 

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Gordon: Trump Administration Policies Have Benefited Wyoming

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By Gov. Mark Gordon, guest columnist

America’s economy has been hamstrung by COVID-19 and revitalizing it must be the essential mission of the next administration.

Key to that recovery is the need to explore and responsibly develop America’s energy and minerals. This President recognizes that a healthy country must be free.

That a free people are a healthy people anxious to build a vibrant economy, a strong health care system and a country able to stand on her own two feet as the envy of our globe.

Such a country, a people, an economy can lead the way to solving the most urgent problems facing our nation not by holding our people down, but by energizing their enterprise and recognizing their capacity. 

Wyoming has benefited from the Trump Administration’s policies that have helped to expand our weakened economy and get more people back to work quickly. 

Wyoming’s abundant natural resource assets are fueling our state’s economic recovery and underpinning our nation’s resurgence. Resources such as coal, natural gas, wind, oil, soda ash, helium, uranium, and what are often referred to as critical or rare earth elements are essential to almost every aspect of modern life.

New products like cell phones, batteries, composites and other high-tech materials play a critical role in our national defense and our everyday life. These products will power our economy, clean our environment and allow us to pursue this work more thoughtfully.

We are the leading producer of coal, uranium and soda ash. The world’s largest known naturally occurring trona deposit, the primary source of soda ash, is a geologic gift to Wyoming. We export nearly $1 billion worth of soda ash, and the industry employs approximately 2,300 workers earning an average salary of $100,000.

Next time you drive, remember that your windshield probably contains a part of Wyoming. Just as they do in so many industries, China subsidizes its synthetic and natural soda ash industry creating an unequal playing field for our soda ash companies.

President Trump’s continued efforts to establish fair trade policies has benefited this Wyoming industry.

Moreover, this President recognizes that COVID-19 has drastically reduced demand in the glass market. His support of a temporary federal royalty rate reduction for soda ash is important to the long-term viability of this industry – a good thing for Wyoming jobs and the local and state revenues they will bring.

The previous administration established policies that were designed to crush Wyoming’s coal industry. These were policies which ruthlessly promoted market changes, not to benefit consumers, but to decrease the use of coal for electric generation.

President Trump’s efforts have been focused on addressing the real issue: how to intercept and remove CO2 from our atmosphere. His support for the funding of Carbon Sequestration Utilization and Storage projects recognizes coal’s role in a reliable, reasonably priced, carbon-emission limited energy future.

America’s economy grew because of low-cost electricity from coal for many decades.  We have learned better, cleaner ways to use it, and we along with the rest of the world deserve the opportunity to utilize it. Wyoming, like the Trump administration, is for an all energy cleaner future.

Fortunately for Wyoming, we are now seeing that coal can be used in a variety of products for roads and other construction materials. In addition to being an excellent filter for purifying water, new research also indicates that many critical elements can be found in coal and coal ash. 

President’s Trump’s efforts to enhance US production of such products can only bode well for Wyoming.  

Wyoming could also be the uranium supplier to the US. President Trump’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) pointed out that the US has lost its place as the world’s leader in nuclear energy due to Russian- and Chinese-subsidized markets.

That decline is an issue of national security.

Once again, the President’s willingness to take on difficult trade issues is welcome. In addition, the NFWG recommended that we expand the existing nuclear fuel supply by 17 to 19 million pounds beginning this year.

Finally, the President proposed a strategic uranium reserve in his budget. These efforts could allow the Wyoming uranium industry to create new jobs and help secure our Nation’s uranium supply.

And what is more important to Wyoming than our water, which is critical to our agricultural, energy, outdoor recreation, and mining industries. Wyoming knows best how to manage our waters. It’s a fight we have had to continually take up.

Malcolm Wallop led the charge 40 years ago and now, thankfully, we have had an Administration which respects our values.

The regulatory changes we have seen under EPA on two of the most important water matters to Wyoming: repeal of the Obama-era Waters of the United States and replacement with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule and Clean Water Act Section 401 reform, are nothing short of monumental.

Wyoming thanks the Administration for these bold efforts.
This Administration respects states’ rights.

They have gone to bat for us on many fronts, from appointing judges more prepared to interpret the law than make it, to understanding decisions are best made closest to the people.

As we emerge from this crisis I look forward to continuing our work with the Trump Administration. Wyoming will be stronger and much better off because of it. 

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Gordon Extends Wyoming Health Orders For Fifth Time

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Public health orders limiting the size of outdoor and indoor gatherings will remain in place for at least two more weeks, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday.

However, the rules have been relaxed in some areas to allow indoor group close-contact activities such as sporting events.

Gordon had cited a desire to see the impacts of the Labor Day holiday and the reopening of K-12 schools for in-person learning before easing the current health orders, something he echoed in his news conference last week.

“Wyoming has really held its own; Schools are open and sports are being played on Fridays and Saturdays,” Gordon said in the release. “We want to be careful to avoid going backwards and losing the high ground we hold. Steady progress beats the alternative, which would be devastating to our businesses, our schools and our citizens.”

Restrictions on gatherings have been slowly eased over time. Health officials have continuously evaluated the easing of those restrictions and the resulting impact.

There were minimal issues identified as a result of outdoor contact sports resuming under the rules in August, Gordon said. Health officials will continue to take specific, measured steps in the easing of orders, as conditions warrant.

Health orders continue to allow outdoor gatherings of no more than 50% of a venue’s capacity, up to 1,000 people, as long as social distancing and increased sanitization measures are in place.

Indoor gatherings in a confined space remain limited to 50 persons without restrictions and 250 persons if social distancing and sanitization measures are incorporated.

The governor and state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist noted that the procedures implemented by school districts across the state have been largely successful in limiting the spread of the virus.

Protocols including social distancing and mask usage by staff and students have been effective in preventing widespread outbreaks.

To date, no school buildings in Wyoming have been required to close.

Over the past 14 days, Wyoming has averaged approximately 31 new laboratory-confirmed cases per day, and the percent of COVID-19 tests with a positive result is 2.1.

As of September 15, Wyoming has recorded 3,762 lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, 676 probable cases and 46 deaths. Nearly 138,000 tests have been completed by the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory and commercial reference laboratories.

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Survey: Gov Gordon’s Social Media Audience Less Stressed About Pandemic Than Audience Of Any Other Governor

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Social media followers of Gov. Mark Gordon are less stressed about the coronavirus pandemic than the followers of any other governor in the country, a recent study has declared.

Social media analysis platform StatSocial released a study on Thursday that looked the social media accounts of all 50 U.S. governors. The study concluded that audiences of Republican governors showed lower levels of stress, anxiety and isolation as a result of the pandemic than followers of Democratic governors.

Gordon’s audience (including 6,000 followers on Twitter, 24,858 on Facebook, 3,100 on Instagram and 42 on Youtube) had the lowest level of concern about the pandemic of the audience of any governor. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (both Republicans) followed Gordon in that ranking.

Rounding out the top five least stressed audiences were those for Gov. David Ige of Hawaii and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, both Democrats.

StatSocial studied the audiences of all the governors in late July using a technology that analyzed more than 1.2 billion social accounts to understand influencer and trending topic audiences across more than 85,000 segments.

The most stressed audiences were mainly followers of Democratic governors, although South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was included in the top five ranking for anxious followers. The other four included Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshar and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The governors with the least concerned audiences when it came to just social isolation included Noem, Lee and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

On the other hand, Gordon’s social media followers were considered some of the most concerned when it came to social isolation, along with Ige, Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

The data also reflected topics such as which governors’ audiences were most engaged with conversations about firearms and self-defense and which were struggling the most with parenting during the pandemic.

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Gordon Keeps Existing Public Health Orders In Place

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon said he and other Wyoming officials want to be careful about easing the state’s current public health orders because they don’t want to find themselves in a position of having to reimpose restrictions later.

In a news conference Wednesday, Gordon and state Public Health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist provided updates on the coronavirus in Wyoming.

Gordon said he and other officials wanted to see how many cases pop up following the Labor Day weekend before taking the next step to further relax the state’s few remaining health orders designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Harrist noted there have been some cases of the coronavirus popping up in schools around the state, but no schools have had to close.

“This is an indicator of all of the efforts school administrators, staff, parents and students are putting in to ensuring safety while providing in-person education, which is so important for many children,” Harrist said.

She added that state health officials are seeing cases spring up from “preventable” situations, using an outbreak at the University of Wyoming as an example. Officials are blaming social gatherings in the university’s community for exposing more people to the virus.

Faced with 70 active coronavirus cases among university students and staff, University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel announced Wednesday that the university’s phased return plan for the fall semester would continue to be on a pause until at least Monday, partially to see how many cases pop up following the holiday weekend.

Harrist pointed out that some well-planned large gatherings have taken place without a hitch due to precautions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Then, informal gatherings of participants after the events led to the spread,” she said.

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Wyoming Applies Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds To Internet, Processing Plants

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Two programs set up to help Wyoming businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are almost out of money, but the distribution of federal relief funds to help the state is continuing, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, during a briefing, said the state is working to use the federal coronavirus relief money for items such as broadband service improvement, medical facility upgrades and agriculture relief as the two business relief programs still in operation draw to a close.

“Our two business relief programs are still open, but funding is beginning to run low,” he said. “These funds are open for small businesses and we are trying to be as accommodating with small businesses as we possibly can. We want to be sure the people of Wyoming and businesses of Wyoming have every opportunity to relieve some of the burdens placed on them by COVID-19.”

Of the $1.25 billion sent to the state through congressional action, the state has distributed $829 million, Gordon said.

Much of the money has been distributed through three business relief programs approved by the Legislature during a special session earlier this year.

Of the two programs still in operation, one is designed to offset the impacts on Wyoming businesses with up to 50 employees of business restrictions imposed to help limit the spread of coronavirus and the other is designed to compensate companies for the direct costs of dealing with the coronavirus, such as the purchase of protective equipment.

The state is required to spend the full $1.25 billion by the end of the year and the Legislature gave Gordon the authority starting Sept. 15 to spend any of the funds not already spent.

Gordon said one program that will use money will launch next week, when meat processing plant owners will be able to apply for funds to expand their operations. Gordon said meat producers around the state have been able to have their meat processed because of shortages of processing facilities.

The state has also used some of the money to expand broadband Internet service to rural areas of Wyoming.

“I’m pleased to report that some of the most rural parts of Wyoming will now have connectivity when these projects are completed,” he said.

The state has already started work to get some of the federal money into the hands of local governments and medical facilities

Reason For Optimism In Wyoming’s Future, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Despite the economic problems that have forced Wyoming to make deep budget cuts to its government agencies, there is reason for optimism in the state’s future, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the state is actually in good condition in several areas, including its low coronavirus infection and unemployment rate, and has been helped by actions that have been taken to provide assistance to portions of the state’s economy.

“This is a challenging time, but I do believe there are reasons for optimism,” he said. “There are bright days ahead because of the sacrifices we are making. Those are having positive effects and those positive effects will have a ripple into our economy.”

Gordon pointed specifically to Wyoming’s low rate of positive results on coronavirus tests, which are averaging 2.45%, and to the state’s unemployment rate of 7.1%, well below the national average of 10.5%.

The state has directed more than $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to the state’s small businesses and has worked to issue contracts for the cleanup and reclamation of old coal mines and oil wells, he said, to help offset losses seen in the state’s coal, oil and natural gas industries.

“This year we are spending more on more (reclamation) projects,” he said. “It is anticipated that we will spend more than $200 million this year.”

Gordon also noted that Wyoming was one of the few states to allow its state and county fairs to proceed.

Such forward steps will be important as the state continues its work to climb out of the economic problems created by the coronavirus pandemic and energy industry slump, he said.

“Right now Wyoming feels pretty good,” he said. “We’re doing what Wyoming does. Let’s just be mindful about it. Let’s make sure we have a successful fall. That’s what’s going to be important for us to get out of this economic slump.”

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Gordon: Budget Cuts Will Be Devastating And Just Tip Of The Iceberg

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The first round of Wyoming government budget cuts as proposed by Gov. Mark Gordon has been finalized, totaling more than $250 million, with an additional $80 million in cuts to maintenance of state buildings.

The 10% cuts to state agencies, boards and commissions will have significant effects on Wyomingites and their communities because they will affect important services that people depend on and will reduce general fund dollars that enter the private sector, Gordon said Wednesday as he announced the cut.

Gordon said the state’s largest five agencies would see the largest cuts, totaling almost $200 million.

“These cuts that we have made are devastating, but necessary given the state’s fiscal picture,” Gordon said in a news release. “A third of our revenue has dried up since the beginning of the year. I am constitutionally required to balance the budget. Our state cannot deficit spend the way the Federal Government can. Just to manage this crisis, difficult decisions had to be made.”

The governor began his Wednesday press conference with remarks about the budget, detailing some of the cuts that have been made. He noted it’s taken about two months to decide on what would be best to cut in the first phase.

He also asked the Wyoming school districts to make voluntary 10% budget cuts, although he noted it would make for difficult decisions.

The Wyoming Department of Health, with the state’s largest budget, will see a 9% cut totaling approximately $90 million.

WDH programs facing cuts and elimination include those that serve senior citizens, disabled individuals and those with very low incomes, Gordon said.

Among the cuts planned are the phased elimination of the Wyoming Home Services program, an Aging Division program which provides services to individuals who are at risk of premature institutionalization; the elimination of some immunization funding for children; and a reduction in funding for early childhood developmental and educational programs. 

UW and the state’s community colleges had their budgets cut by 10% as well.

These cuts will mean reduced higher education options for Wyoming students, Gordon said. One program eliminated was Wyoming Works, an initiative the governor supported to help prepare adult students to enter the workforce. 

The Department of Family Services is eliminating vacant positions in the state office and field offices across the state, including at the Boys School in Worland and the Girls School in Sheridan.

Additionally, this means fewer people will be able to work on foster care and child protection Gordon said.

DFS cuts also mean the defunding of the Community Juvenile Services Boards, county-based diversion programs to prevent juvenile incarceration, and the burial program, which pays up to $500 to funeral homes for burial expenses for the indigent. 

The Department of Corrections will also see significant cuts to programs that keep the public safe. Parole agents will now be required to supervise additional offenders, and programs that help inmates re-enter Wyoming communities and not reoffend will see reductions in funding. 

The Department of Health, Corrections, Family Services, the University of Wyoming and the community colleges make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget. 

The governor is considering options for addressing the remaining $500 million shortfall.

State agencies have already developed proposals on further cuts to services, and the governor is working with legislators on other options, all of which require legislative action. 

On top of these cuts, Gordon has put furloughs in place for higher paid state employees and is consolidating human resources across the state government. 

“None of the cuts are easy, nor are they designed to highlight critical programs for political effect,” Gordon said. “These are the types of cuts we will continue to have to make to get our budget in balance. These hurt, and what comes next hurts more. I recognize the impact these cuts will have on Wyoming families and I am truly saddened that we had to make them.”

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