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

in Coronavirus/Mark Gordon/News
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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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Wyoming Coronavirus Count Goes To 166

in Coronavirus/News
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The Wyoming Department of Health reported a total of 13 new coronavirus cases in the state Friday evening, bringing the state’s total to 166.

During the day, new cases were reported in eight counties, including the first case to be seen in Lincoln County.

As of Friday evening, Laramie County remained the state’s hardest hit with 40 cases. Teton County had 32; Fremont had 27; Natrona had 21; Sheridan had 10; Johnson had eight; Campbell had six; Albany and Carbon had four; Converse and Sweetwater had three, and Goshen and Washakie had two. Lincoln, Park, Sublette and Uinta County each reported one case.

Laramie County also had the highest number of patients to recover from the coronavirus at nine, followed by Teton County at six. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, 37 of the state’s coronavirus patients have fully recovered.

Gov. Gordon Estimates Wyoming Peak For Coronavirus in May

in Coronavirus/News
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Posted by Wyoming PBS on Friday, April 3, 2020

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

State officials now believe the coronavirus outbreak in the state will peak sometime in May and restrictions on social interactions should be relaxed a little later that month, Gov. Mark Gordon said Friday.

“What we’re looking at is our peak coming sometime in early May and our behaviors, we will look at on a regular basis, but we’re hoping that by sometime in May, we can look at the metrics … and have good news for the people of Wyoming,” he said.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, repeatedly stressed the need for Wyoming residents to stay home if at all possible, wash their hands regularly, limit trips to grocery stores and practice social distancing and said it appears Wyoming residents are paying more attention to those guidelines.

“We are seeing the effects, we are seeing the benefits,” he said. (Wyoming Department of Transportation) Director (Luke) Reiner showed me statistics on the number of passenger cars that are traveling not only on our interstate highways, but also on our back roads. And that has declined precipitously. We are seeing people take this seriously. Don’t let up. Let’s make sure we beat this thing.”

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, sad if residents do not comply with the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness, the state’s health care system could collapse.

“Our health care systems could be overloaded,” she said. “Deaths that we could have prevented that will occur. These are very serious consequences, but ones we have are a role in being able to prevent if we follow the governor’s recommendations.”

Harrist said she worries the state will not have enough hospital beds or health care workers to take care of the sick if worst-case scenarios for the spread of coronavirus occur.

On other issues, Gordon said he is frustrated by the fact that federal officials have been canceling the state’s orders for personal protective equipment used by health care workers and first responders to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Gordon said many states have seen their orders canceled and the materials they requested from national stores moved instead to cities in the eastern United States considered “hot spots” for the illness.

“It is very frustrating when we have orders that are supposed to be on their way and we find (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the agency that is supposed to help us, has pre-empted that order,” he said.

Gordon said he tried to ask President Donald Trump to send some supplies to other states.

Superintendent Jillian Balow, who joined Gordon in the news conference, announced the state’s school districts are prepared to resume classes for students on Monday, although classes will not take place in schools.

Balow said every district in the state has prepared a plan to teach students at home. She added the at-home education will require the involvement of parents.

Gordon’s news conference came shortly he issued an order for all out-of-state visitors to Wyoming, except those in the state for work, to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Gordon and Harrist also extended the orders closing schools and some businesses until April 30.

Gordon maintained the orders are sufficient to limit interactions between residents and slow the spread of coronavirus, making a statewide “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” order unnecessary.

Gordon referenced such orders in place in other states and noted they contain many exemptions, making them very similar to the orders already in place in Wyoming.

“My point is and has been that people don’t need to have somebody tell them to put a raincoat on when it’s going to rain,” he said. “And believe me, it is raining.”

Wyoming Coronavirus: Gordon Extends Statewide Restrictions, Issues Quarantine Order For Visitors

in Coronavirus/News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Visitors to Wyoming from other states were ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days on Friday as Gov. Mark Gordon extended the statewide order closing schools and some businesses until the end of April.

Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, in a news release, said the quarantine order would apply to any out-of-state visitor in Wyoming for non-work purposes.

“We know that travel from another state or country is a source of COVID-19 infections in Wyoming,” Gordon said. “Visitors from neighboring states have strained the resources of many Wyoming communities so we are asking them to do the right thing to protect the health of our citizens and resources of our rural health care facilities.”

The orders were issued as the number of coronavirus cases in Wyoming increased by nine Friday morning to total 162.

The state has issued three statewide orders aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus. One closed schools and businesses likely to draw more than 10 people, such as bars and theaters, one closed businesses that provide personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, and the third prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.

Gordon said he and Harrist decided to extend the orders from April 17 to April 30 because of the growing number of coronavirus cases in the state.

“We are seeing community transmission of COVID-19 occur around the state and we will continue to see more confirmed cases in the weeks to come,” he said. “This action will help lower the rate of transmission and protect both our health care system and the health care workers we all rely on.”

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University of Wyoming Cancels Graduation; Will Hold Online Ceremony

in Coronavirus/News
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The University of Wyoming’s graduation ceremony is the latest public event to be canceled in favor of an online option.

Acting university President Neil Theobald said in a release that the university “had no choice but to look for alternatives to a public gathering”.

The online ceremony is scheduled for May 16 — the same day as the traditional graduation was to be held.

“Spring commencement is one of the great traditions of the university, something we all look forward to every year. The decision to modify the ceremonies this year is challenging for everyone,” Theobald said. “Our primary focus is on the health of our graduates, their family and friends, and the hosting community in Laramie.”

Theobald said students may be offered other options as well, such as a ceremony next winter or spring.

Students will receive more information about how to opt in to a commencement package via their UW email accounts next week. Students who already have ordered commencement regalia will be contacted directly by the University Store.

“Nothing is the same as walking across the stage in front of your family and friends, but we hope these options will allow our graduates to still create and preserve memories marking their hard work and achievements,” said Kim Chestnut, the UW’s acting vice president for student affairs.

Coronavirus Causes Unemployment Spike in Wyoming

in Coronavirus/News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment numbers have skyrocketed over the last three weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wyoming had 4,652 new claims for unemployment insurance during the week of March 22-28, an increase of 909 from the week prior. The week of March 15-21 saw 3,743 new claims, climbing from 3,234 the week before.

Compared to the week before businesses were forced to close by the coronavirus, March 8-14, new unemployment claims have more than quadrupled, growing from 509 to 4,652.

Continued claims also rose last week, going up to 6,010 claims from 4,199 during the week of March 15-21 and 4,201 during the week of March 8-14.

Due to the significant increase in claims activity, the Department of Workforce Services has changed the way people should file their claims, said Robin Sessions Cooley, director of the DWS.

“We are seeing the effects of this virus in our Unemployment Insurance filings,” said DWS Director Robin Sessions Cooley in a news release. “Because there are many people seeking help, our telephone lines are very busy. In order to help those affected by this pandemic and meet this increased need, we have made some changes to our filing system.”

The new process will reduce the volume of calls to the call center by taking claims on specific days, based on the claimant’s last name. This alphabetical sorting system is applicable only to claims called in by phone or in person at the Workforce Centers. If someone is looking to file a claim by phone, call 307-473-3789.

If your last name begins with A-M: file your claim on Monday, Wednesday or before noon on Friday.
If your last name begins with N-Z: file your claim on Tuesday, Thursday or after noon on Friday.

Claims filed online at wyui.wyo.gov can be completed at any time, regardless of last name.

Wyoming Coronavirus: Nine New Coronavirus Cases Friday

in Coronavirus/News
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Nine new cases of coronavirus were reported in six Wyoming counties on Friday morning, boosting the state’s total case number to 162.

The Wyoming Department of Health said the new cases included Lincoln County’s first, reducing the number of counties with no infections to six.

Laramie County was still the county hardest hit by the virus with 37 cases. Teton County had 32; Fremont County had 27; Natrona had 21; Sheridan had 10; Johnson had eight; Campbell had six, Albany had four; Carbon, Converse and Sweetwater had three, and Washakie and Goshen counties had two. Lincoln, Park, Sublette and Uinta counties all had one case.

The Health Department also reported that of the 162 people infected since the virus reached Wyoming, 37 have fully recovered. A full recovery means seven days have passed with a patient showing no symptoms of the illness.

Legislators Call For Investigation of Meat Processors For Monopolistic Practices

in Agriculture/Coronavirus/News
Cows
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming legislators joined Wyoming’s congressional delegation in calling for investigations into the four major beef processors in the United States, as the companies continue to make record profits during the coronavirus pandemic.

While retail beef prices have surged due to consumers hoarding beef, prices paid ranchers for cattle continue to stay low. State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, noted that cattle prices are some of the lowest he’s seen in 40 years of ranching.

“This as bad as it’s ever been,” Driskill said. “We’re really in a segment where people are going to see mass closures in the ag industry.”

Driskill and his Wyoming House of Representatives colleague Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, both criticized the four major meat packing companies, Tyson, Smithfield, JBS and Cargill, for creating a monopoly that hurts ranches and small cattle producers.

Driskill recommended the public call for an investigation into these companies and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which regulates interstate and foreign commerce in livestock, dairy, poultry and related products.

The simple step of shopping locally for meat would also be of major help, the senator added.

“The people who produce beef and the consumers are both losing out right now with this monopoly,” Driskill said. “People need to come out and say ‘If you’re going to break the ranchers, at least give us cheap food.'”

On the other hand, Lindholm blamed the companies’ misuse of the Federal Meat Inspection Act as one of the problems behind rising beef prices for consumers, but not ranchers. He believes the four major meat processing companies are using the act to push out competitors, allowing for them to process more than 80% beef in the country.

Lindholm suggested a complete repeal of the act in favor of letting the states decide how to regulate meat processing. He agreed with Driskill about buying meat locally as a solution.

“Major corporations are going to make the American West disappear,” he said. “Everyone loves seeing the green landscapes and wide open spaces out here, but the reason we have that is because of agriculture. We have to find suitable ways to promote local agriculture.”

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney signed on to a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requesting it provide immediate assistance to cattle producers.

The letter asked USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to take advantage of the resources provided in the recently-enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act, including the replenishment of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and additional emergency funding. This would facilitate the stabilization of farm and ranch income for producers who are facing market volatility in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, the letter said.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the need for domestic food security,” the members of Congress wrote. “All farmers and ranchers are vital to our country’s ability to keep food on the table in a future pandemic or related crisis, and many producers, including young producers, are often highly leveraged and cannot fall back on years of equity in a time of crisis. As such, we urge you to quickly deliver relief to producers as we work to lessen the economic impact of this pandemic.”

Both Driskill and Lindholm praised members of the delegation for calling on the USDA, but Driskill also admitted that the federal help will come with a bit of a stigma.

“We don’t want government payments,” he said. “We just want the ability to compete in a fair marketplace. This isn’t about getting rich. We just want to get a fair share of the profitability.”

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Medical Society President to Governor: “Take Even More Drastic Actions”

in Coronavirus/News
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Wyoming will experience a “shocking” death rate if citizens don’t stay in their homes except in emergency situations, according to Wyoming Medical Society President Dr. David Wheeler.

Wheeler, appearing on KTWO-TV on Wednesday, added to the comments he made while appearing with Gov. Mark Gordon in a news conference earlier this week. At that time, Wheeler stressed it is crucial that officials take action to restrict the movements of the state’s residents.

“We recommend and encourage him and our local leaders to take even more drastic actions than what we’ve seen so far,” he said Thursday. “We continue to see what we consider are a number of non-essential businesses with their doors open and their lobbies open and people venturing out to take care of normal every day business.”

Wheeler said Gordon’s mandates closing schools and some businesses aren’t enough and implored the governor take further steps to encourage people to stay in their homes.

“It is critically important that folks take seriously this message that you need to stay away from people and stay safely in (your) homes,” Dr. Wheeler said. “If we don’t do this now … the number of people who are going to die in Wyoming is going to be shocking to all of our souls.”

Wheeler said he understood that implementing a stay-at-home mandate would be challenging as Gordon is “operating from a political reality” that would make it difficult.

“We do have a common message,” Wheeler said. “He and I both absolutely 100% encourage every person in Wyoming to stay in their home unless they have some critical and urgent need for them to be out and about.”

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Why Aren’t Wyoming’s Gas Prices Lower?

in Energy/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As oil prices plummet worldwide, the price of gasoline at the pump in Wyoming is following a similar trajectory across the nation, albeit not as dramatically. 

“I call it the rocket-feather effect,” said Rob Godby, a University of Wyoming energy economist. “Gasoline prices go up like rockets and fall like feathers.” 

Wyoming’s average price for a gallon of regular gasoline as of Wednesday, April 1, was about $2.17, not quite 20 cents higher than the national average of about $1.98, according to AAA’s gas map at gasprices.aaa.com.

GasBuddy’s price map, at gasbuddy.com, displays a more detailed summary of national gasoline prices, but both maps show the same thing — west of Wyoming, gas is more expensive, and for the most part, gas to the east is cheaper.

The price a consumer pays at the pump is affected by numerous factors — from the price of oil per barrel to the distance between gas stations — but for the sake of brevity, Godby, the director for UW’s Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and a college of business associate professor, boiled it down to three factors: the regional taxes or additive requirements at play, a pump’s proximity to large clusters of oil refineries and demand in an area.

“Typically the West Coast is more expensive than the rest of the country, because it’s more difficult to get oil there,” Godby explained. “And, the lowest prices for gasoline are in the Gulf states to the Southeast. That’s simply because that’s where all the gas is made.”

Hawaii boasts the nation’s highest gasoline prices with an average of about $3.35 per gallon, and California comes in second at about $3.02 per gallon. 

Gas prices around the Gulf are lower than much of the nation, but the lowest prices are in Wisconsin with an average of $1.53 per gallon and Oklahoma at about $1.54 per gallon.

While Wyoming is home to a number of petroleum refineries, the lack of demand can inflate pump prices. What Wyoming has in oil assets, it lacks in population. Fewer people attracts less competition, allowing gasoline providers to keep their prices higher for longer.

“In a small town in Wyoming with only one gas station, you’re not competing against anybody,” Godby said. “So, why lower the price?” 

Ultimately, gas stations are forced to reduce prices at pumps near neighboring towns to remain competitive, but Wyoming’s gas trends trail the national average.

“Wyoming’s holdout can’t last forever,” Godby said.

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