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‘Threatened’ Status For Tree Concerning, Gordon Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is expressing concern about a federal proposal to list a tree in Wyoming as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

While the listing of the whitebark pine would not impose any restrictions on activities on private property in Wyoming, the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek the “threatened” status for the tree is worrisome, Gordon said in a news release Wednesday.

“Any listing under the ESA is concerning,” he said. “Wyoming always seeks to avoid the need for listing and will remain committed to working with our federal partners to approach species conversation in a pragmatic manner.”

The whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree, is threatened by a fungal disease called white pine blister rust. The Fish and Wildlife Service did not find that any human activities are a threat to the tree.

The proposed “threatened” listing would not restrict activities such as grazing and logging and does not propose any critical habitat designations, Gordon said.

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Gordon’s Office Closed Tuesday After COVID Exposure

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark’s Gordon’s office was forced to close Tuesday due to one of his staff members testing positive for the coronavirus.

The office was to be thoroughly cleaned on Tuesday to prepare for reopening on Wednesday.

Staff members considered close contacts of the employee who tested positive have been notified and may have to quarantine, according to a release from the office. Gordon isn’t required to quarantine, but is working remotely out an abundance of caution, it said.

Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily that he didn’t know the exact number of people who were exposed to the virus.

“Governor’s office staff are telecommuting on a rotating basis, so there are only a handful of people in the office every day and I don’t know who of those may have been in close contact with this individual,” he said in an email. “Those who are in the office are wearing face coverings at all time when they are not in their private offices.”

He added that the one-day closure is per state policy, which requires a 24-hour closure and deep cleaning when a confirmed positive individual has worked in a state office.

Pearlman affirmed the office would reopen on Wednesday so someone would be available to answer phones and receive deliveries.

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Wyoming Hospital Association Director Says Statewide Mask Mandate Important For Curbing COVID

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A statewide mask mandate remains an important part of preventing the spread of coronavirus, although Gov. Mark Gordon declined to issue such an order, according to the director of the Wyoming Hospital Association.

In an email to Cowboy State Daily, WHA Director Eric Boley reiterated that the organization still feels masks are “super important to bending the curve and curbing the outbreak.”

“It is a simple thing that allows us to help ourselves and also shows that we want to help others,” Boley said to Cowboy State Daily. “There are many counties that will not impose a mask mandate on their own and we feel that a statewide mandate is the only way to ensure that there is a directive across the entire state.”

Earlier this month, the WHA, the Wyoming Medical Society and the state’s county health officers signed a letter to Gordon, asking him to implement a statewide mask mandate.

Gordon has hesitated to do so, and avoided doing just that in his recent health orders, which limited the number of people in crowds, both in and outside.

Since Gordon hasn’t passed a statewide order, many counties have decided to do it themselves, with counties like Teton, Laramie, Carbon Sublette passing mandates in recent weeks.

‘We realize enforcement may be difficult but in an attempt to help keep businesses open, to keep people safer and healthier and to ease the strain on our healthcare providers and facilities we would really like to see a statewide directive,” Boley said.

A call placed to the Wyoming Medical Society wasn’t answered, and the group’s spokeswoman was out of the office until Monday.

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Gordon Issues New Health Orders Reducing Crowd Sizes

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has issued the newest health orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, reducing allowable crowd sizes at both inside and outside gatherings.

Gordon said the move will ease the pressure on the state’s health care system and preserve the viability of the state’s economy.

The new health orders, which take effect Monday, will not require the closure of any businesses. The orders will limit inside and outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people without restrictions.

“We have said from the start that data would drive our approach,” Gordon said. “With this spike, we must respond to these new conditions. We have seen that larger gatherings are playing a role in the spread of this disease.”

If physical distancing measures are employed, gatherings for indoor events are limited to 25% of venue capacity with a maximum of 100 people. 

Gatherings for outdoor events are limited to 50% of venue capacity with a maximum of 250 people. Faith-based gatherings are exempt. 

Church services, funeral homes, parades and other specified businesses are also exempt from the gathering limits listed in the new orders. There are no changes to operations of K-12 Schools, child care facilities, restaurants and performance spaces.

“These measures are intended to assist our healthcare system in meeting unprecedented demands for services, assure that in-classroom education can continue, and importantly keep Wyoming’s people working and her businesses open,” Gordon said. “We have reached out extensively to our business community across the state and will continue to do so. We heard a clear message from them that they want to work cooperatively to ensure our economy, workforce and general public are healthy.”

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, the governor is also asking Wyoming residents to celebrate safely.

“Thanksgiving is a special day for families. This virus is insidious and it strikes even at family gatherings where we are tempted to let our guard down,” he said. “Jennie and I encourage families to be careful this Thanksgiving and to keep gatherings smaller to protect their loved ones. We also wish everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.”

The new orders remain in effect until Dec. 15 and may be revised earlier if needed.

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Gordon Providing Resources For Wyoming Hospitals Due To COVID Surge

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is providing additional support to hospitals across Wyoming in response to skyrocketing coronavirus cases all over the state.

The state will receive resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Wyoming National Guard and through traveling medical staff contracted using CARES Act funds he directed to the Wyoming Hospital Association.

“I want to thank President Trump and his administration for providing much-needed resources to Wyoming to deal with the serious strain COVID-19 has put on our healthcare system,” Gordon said. “We have had to call upon resources from outside the state to help deal with this surge in hospitalizations. Many thanks to the National Guard for answering our call to help in our hospitals. I also want to express my deepest gratitude to our frontline healthcare workers. Help is on the way.”

Hospitalizations are at record levels and have been increasing rapidly over the last several weeks.

There are also several Wyoming hospitals that have expanded capacity to meet the influx of coronavirus patients. Right now several hospitals are also at capacity for ICU beds.

Two Health and Medical Task Force (HMTF) teams from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System will deploy to Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to help medical providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each 15-member team includes physicians and nurses who will support hospitals in Campbell and Laramie counties for two weeks. The communities were selected based on where the immediate need was greatest.

The Wyoming National Guard will also be providing support to hospitals by augmenting hospital staff. Guard members will be assisting with activities such as delivering meals and other activities to free up medical staff.

There will be 10 guard members assigned to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Cheyenne who will be deployed for 30 days unless extended upon request.

Assistance with non-medical tasks helps the hospitals focus their medical resources on tasks where they can have the most impact.

“Our Guardsmen are poised to assist when the state is in a time of increased need,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Porter, adjutant general for the Wyoming National Guard. “Our soldiers and airmen are always ready to aid our neighbors and affected communities and partner with other agencies.”

Traveling medical staff has also begun to arrive in Wyoming to assist with the state’s coronavirus response.

Gordon has allocated $10 million in CARES Act funding to the Wyoming Hospital Association to coordinate this previously announced effort. As many as 50 additional personnel are expected to be deployed throughout the state by the end of the week to provide staffing relief and ease the burden on hospital resources.

“This much-needed assistance came together with the coordination of several agencies,” Lynn Budd, Wyoming Office of Homeland Security Director said. “The result is a direct validation of the teamwork that is typical of Wyoming.”

As a part of the WDH efforts to support Wyoming hospital capacity, the department has been in contact on an ongoing basis with Wyoming hospitals to discuss hospital capacity and surge plans.

“Consistently we have been informed by hospitals that availability of medical personnel, specifically nurses, is their largest concern,” said Dirk Dijkstal, Health Readiness and Response Section chief with WDH.

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Wyoming GOP Central Committee Asks Gordon To Rescind State Of Emergency

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The central committee for Wyoming’s Republican Party has adopted a resolution calling for Gov. Mark Gordon to rescind the state of emergency he declared early in the coronavirus pandemic.

The central committee, during a meeting Saturday, adopted the resolution as a way to send a message that restrictive health orders mandating actions such as the use of face masks or the closure of businesses are not the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“It appears some of our health experts have jumped on some political bandwagon a little too early before enough was known about COVID-19,” said Frank Eathorne, chairman of Wyoming’s Republican Party. “Now some of those facts are coming out and some of those takings of freedom were unjustified. I think that’s what the central committee is saying.”

The central committee’s action came after several counties, including Weston and Uinta, adopted similar resolutions, Eathorne said.

“It’s not necessarily the same resolution, but it’s the same result,” he said. “We don’t see the shutdowns or a state of emergency as fixing anything.”

The central committee’s resolution noted that complications and deaths related to the flu and other illnesses have been seen in past years, but have not led to the declaration of a state of emergency such as Gordon’s, which was put in place in March.

The restrictions imposed under the state of emergency have been more damaging than helpful, the resolution said.

“The ongoing State of Emergency … that has been imposed by the state’s restrictions on the right of individuals and business owners to make a living in support (of) themselves and their families continues to greatly damage the citizens and economy of the Great State of Wyoming,” the resolution said.

“This is just a disease with a new name and a whole lot of media attention, but it’s not really changing the situation in Wyoming,” Eathorne said. “We seem to be going to a lot of lengths to flatten the curve and it is not working.”

Eathorne also pointed to conflicting information about the effectiveness of the use of face masks coming from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and referred to an analogy he had heard comparing the value of mask use to block the virus to the use of a chain link fence to block mosquitoes.

“COVID particles are far too small to be stopped by most of the face masks we are using,” he said.

The resolution said the state should allow its residents to decide on their own the best course of defense against the virus.

“Although we urge continued personal vigilance, it has always been up to the citizens of Wyoming to make their own health care decisions, even when they are in at-risk groups,” it said.

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Gordon Suggests $500 Million In Budget Cuts In New Proposal

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon released his supplemental budget proposal on Monday, which includes additional cuts on top of the 10% he implemented in July.

This proposed budget reflects Gordon’s commitment to the Wyoming people that the state must live within its means in the face of declining revenues. 

Gordon’s proposed budget would cut state spending by more than $500 million and fulfills the constitutional requirement to present a balanced budget.

This proposed budget reflects total cuts to state agencies averaging 15%, but Gordon said he strived to preserve the health, safety and welfare of Wyoming citizens. 

“Our circumstances require that we make further reductions in order to meet our Constitutional obligation to balance Wyoming’s budget. These cuts to state agencies will result in the elimination of  both private and public sector jobs,” Gordon said in a release. “In approaching this supplemental budget, I have focused first on what is constitutionally mandated, thereby protecting the health, wellbeing and liberties of all Wyoming citizens.

“These are difficult cuts to make and they will affect people and communities,” he continued. “I regret that. While there were some efficiencies gained, I want to thank all our agencies for their hard work and helpful recommendations in such difficult times.”

Gordon is also proposing to simplify the state’s budget structure, which currently includes a large number of accounts where money is set aside for specific purposes. His proposal is for “One Checking Account, One Savings Account.”

“This would make the state’s budgeting process more transparent, reflecting my pledge for fiscal transparency,” Gordon said.

After July’s budget cuts, Gordon took a more strategic approach to his next round of reductions, achieving a balanced budget with some agencies absorbing deeper cuts than others.

“It is a fact that we cannot reduce our spending without looking at our largest agencies,” Gordon said. “The Department of Health, the University of Wyoming, the community colleges, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Family Services make up two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget.”

Among the Governor’s total proposed cuts is $135 million to the Wyoming Department of Health. The WDH cuts will impact programs including health care coverage for disabled and low-income residents, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and developmental preschools. 

“My proposed cuts to the Department of Health followed the agency’s recommendations and will minimize the negative impacts on the citizens of Wyoming. However, it is a harsh reality that at this point every cut will hurt,” Gordon said.

The $700 million general fund budget of the University of Wyoming and the community colleges makes up almost a quarter of the total general fund budget.

Last week, the UW board of trustees approved a $42 million reduction plan presented by UW president Ed Seidel.

To balance the budget and prepare for future revenue shortfalls, Gordon is proposing nearly 15% reductions to higher education.

Some agencies, including the Governor’s Office, will experience nearly 20% cuts if the Legislature approves this proposed budget. 

Gordon did caution that after these budget reductions there remains a nearly $300 million deficit still as of Monday, resulting from the cost of K-12 education.

This overrun is covered with dollars from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” an account the Legislature established. However, Gordon noted that if the shortfall is not addressed, this deficit could grow to as much as $600 million in two years.

This is one area where only the Legislature can act.

“A well-funded educational system is a source of pride and economic opportunity for our state. It is essential for our families and our children just as low taxes are,” Gordon wrote in his budget message. “Our circumstances require that we evaluate all school spending and consider its importance to our state’s future. These are dollars that go into local economies too.  I appreciate the Legislature’s Recalibration Committee’s hard work on this topic and look forward to their proposals.”

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Gordon Launching Oil, Gas Economic Recovery Program This Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is launching a program this week that is designed to help with Wyoming’s economic recovery and to boost employment in the oil and gas industry.

The Energy Rebound Program will utilize up to $15 million in CARES Act funding to provide business relief targeted towards drilled, but uncompleted oil and gas wells, wells that were unable to be recompleted and plugging and abandonment projects which could not be finished due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When global demand for oil plummeted due to COVID, work stopped almost immediately in the oil and gas industry in Wyoming,” Gordon said. “This program is tailored to provide opportunities for employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased.”

The program will reimburse operators for work done on completions, recompletions, workovers or plugging and abandonments before Dec. 30, up to $500,000 per project.

Operators who were unable to perform or finish projects in these categories for wells they operate due to the effects of the virus, and who can spend funds before Dec. 30, are encouraged to apply.

The Wyoming Business Council will start accepting applications at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Applications will be accepted through 10 a.m. on Nov. 23rd.

Operators are encouraged to start preparing information for the application, including basic well data, type of project (completion, recompletion/workover or P&A), estimated start and end dates of projects, estimated production, costs of projects and other information.

Priority will be given to projects that provide the greatest immediate economic and employment benefit to Wyoming.

Other factors include, but are not limited to: estimated time of start and completion of the project; completeness of the application; estimated amount of increased production of oil and gas; and ability to commence P&A projects in a timely manner.

“We recognize this is a short window for applications, however, these funds are for projects that were planned, but could not be completed due to the effects of COVID-19. Companies who were ready to roll last March should have the information in hand. We will maximize the impact these dollars have on restoring economic and employment opportunities in Wyoming” said Randall Luthi, Chief Energy Advisor to Governor Gordon.

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Gordon: “Knuckleheads” Who Ignore Medical Experts Are Putting Wyo Citizens At Risk

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon began his Friday morning news conference by expressing both concern and anger about the fact that coronavirus cases and deaths are rising rapidly in the state.

Gordon said those who refuse to take recommended precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus are putting the state’s most vulnerable citizens at risk, noting that most of the deaths associated with COVID so far have occurred in long-term care facilities. Residents of those facilities are already suffering from anxiety and depression, he said.

“We need to allow people to get in to see [their family], so they don’t feel so isolated,” Gordon said. “We’re also putting them at greater risk, because we’re being knuckleheads about this.”

He stressed the point that coronavirus cases have surged all over the state, noting that stricter health orders were coming, likely in the next week.

“We’ve relied on personal responsibility throughout this pandemic,” he said. “So ask yourself has that really been working? Have people been taking the resposibility we’ve asked them to?

“So my problem is if I can’t rely on you, I’m going to have to do something else.” he added.

Gordon touched on the fact that in the last month, Wyoming has seen the most coronavirus-related deaths of any period since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in mid-March.

“Our state is under the most strain that it has seen since [the pandemic] began and it’s not letting up,” he said. “It’s going straight up.”

South Dakota, which has also seen a skyrocketing of cases, is now sending patients to Wyoming, but the state’s hospitals and medical facilities under further strain.

Infection rates have heavily increased almost daily for more than a month, with Gordon noting that Wyoming is either fifth or third in nation currently for infection rates, not far behind both Dakotas.

“I’ve had to provide funding to bring in more personnel to be able to augment the challenges we see with increasing hospitalization rates,” Gordon said.

He expressed frustration at Wyomingites who have treated the virus as a hoax or have disregarded the calls for masks and social distancing, even raising his voice at one point.

“Our state is at a fever pitch,” he said. “Every piece of information that is conveyed, somebody comes up with another piece of bogus information to try to disprove it.”

He called on those who didn’t believe the virus was a real threat to ask themselves if they felt better about what was happening in Wyoming compared to the summer, when infection rates and hospitalizations were at a low point.

Wyoming health officials and organizations are asking Gordon to implement a statewide mask mandate, something he wouldn’t confirm during the Friday news conference.

Three Wyoming counties, Teton, Laramie and Albany, currently have mask mandates in place, but Sublette County recently requested a variance for an order, as well. Natrona County has a softer mandate implemented, requiring masks in all county buildings.

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Gordon Won’t Congratulate Biden, Trump Until Winner Officially Announced

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has become the first of Wyoming’s top elected officials to speak out regarding last week’s presidential election, but he didn’t offer any congratulations.

Instead, Gordon stated he wouldn’t congratulate either former Vice President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump until the Electoral College officially declared one of them the winner.

“Americans always want to be confident that their vote was counted and that the voting process was correct, accurate and conducted with care,” Gordon said in a tweet on Wednesday evening. “Our country should ensure every legal vote is counted properly. When a result is confirmed congratulations for the winner will be in order.”

Gordon congratulated both U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Senator-Elect Cynthia Lummis on their respective wins about 45 minutes after the polls closed on Nov. 3.

Neither Cheney nor Lummis have spoken about the election publicly. Nor have outgoing U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi or U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, who was recently re-elected as Senate Republican Conference chairman.

The Associated Press and other media outlets have called the election for Biden, but results won’t be official until either mid-December or early January. The AP has called every election since 1848, when President Zachary Taylor was elected.

However, it is the Electoral College that officially decides who will be president. Each state chooses electors, a number based on the size of each state’s population and how many representatives and senators it has in Congress (Wyoming has three total).

Those electors, who are sworn to vote for the candidate who received the most votes in the state, won’t vote until Dec. 14. The Senate president and an archivist will receive certificates recording the electoral vote, which must be in by Dec. 23.

The results of each state’s electoral votes are then sent to Congress, which will meet in a joint session on Jan. 6 to announce the results.

While media outlets have called the election for Biden, it is possible for outlets to be wrong, as seen in the 2000 election, when many news outlets declared former Vice President Al Gore the winner in his presidential race against George W. Bush.

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