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Six New Coronavirus Cases Reported In Wyoming On Monday

in Coronavirus/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of coronavirus cases seen in Wyoming since the illness first reached the state in mid-March  increased by six on Monday to reach 644.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, reported new cases were detected in Albany, Big Horn and Fremont counties.

As of Monday afternoon, Fremont County had 220 cases; Laramie County had 122 cases; Teton County had 69 cases; Natrona County had 57; Washakie County had 27; Albany County had 20; Campbell and Sweetwater had 17; Converse and Johnson had 14; Sheridan had 12; Lincoln had 11; Carbon and Uinta had nine; Hot Springs had eight; Crook had five; Goshen had four; Big Horn had four, and Park had two. Niobrara, Platte and Sublette counties each had one case.

Weston County remained the only county in the state without a coronavirus case.

The number of recoveries went up on Monday by 24, all in Fremont County, to total 599, including 450 among patients with confirmed cases of the virus and 149 among those with probable cases.

A probable case is defined as one where a patient shows symptoms of coronavirus and had been in contact with someone who has a confirmed case, but has not been tested for the illness. As of Sunday, the Department of Health said the state had 200 probable cases.

The number of active cases in the state stood at 244 on Monday, with 174 active confirmed cases and 50 active probable cases.  [READ MORE]

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Denver Mail Facility Handling Wyoming Mail Refuses to Close

in Coronavirus/News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The United States Postal Service distribution center in Denver, which processes most of Wyoming’s mail, is pushing back against orders from the city and county of Denver for it to temporarily close because of a possible coronavirus outbreak.

Facility spokesman David Rupert told Cowboy State Daily in a phone interview that USPS employees are a bit confused as to why the city and county chose to try and shut down the facility now.

“[Denver] public health told us we’ve had five cases [of the virus] and our last positive case was May 2,” he said. “In corona terms, that’s a long time.”

The facility processes 10 million pieces of mail per day for all but extreme western Wyoming and all of Colorado. In one year, it processes about 1.4 billion pieces of mail, and that’s just the numbers for incoming parcels and letters. Wyoming’s mail is sent to sorting centers in Cheyenne, Casper and Rock Springs.

Rupert said that on Wednesday, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment staff attempted to visit the facility in response to reports of “clusters of COVID-19 cases involving multiple employees at several USPS locations over the last week.”

The spokesman noted that the DDPHE staff members arrived unannounced at the secure federal facility, spoke with a “random” employee and were denied entry to the building.

Rupert added that since the DDPHE staff have no knowledge of USPS’ attempt to protect its employees and the public, he and the other Denver USPS officials are confused by the shutdown order.

In a tweet issued Thursday afternoon, the facility reaffirmed its commitment to staying open, as the facility meets all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

Postal workers are now wearing face masks and gloves. Plastic shields have been installed at facilities where employees interact with the public. Staff are also being provided with hand sanitizer and various personal protective equipment.

Rupert said USPS and city/county officials are continuing talks about the order, with the spokesman adding that USPS is doing its best to be “good neighbors.”

Rupert noted that although USPS is a federal entity, it doesn’t receive federal funds, staying self-sufficient through sales of stamps and other items in its facilities.

“We’re an essential service,” he said. “It’s in the United States Constitution that the post office is essential. We’re delivering stimulus checks, medication, election materials. We’re helping keep America safe and that’s why we need to stay open.”

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Evanston Child Positive For COVID-19 – Related Testing Yields 53 Negatives

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EVANSTON — Following the confirmation of a COVID-19 infection in a child enrolled at the Evanston Child Development Center, a second point prevalence survey mass testing event was conducted at Evanston Community Health Center for ECDC on Tuesday, May 19.

Results from that testing were available on Wednesday afternoon and all 53 people tested were negative for the presence of the novel coronavirus.

A press release from Uinta County Public Health said the survey was recommended by the Wyoming Department of Health due to the high potential impact of a positive case in a child who had been attending a childcare facility and was targeted toward individuals who may have been in contact with the child.

Evanston Community Health Center volunteered time, staff and personal protective equipment to take samples from the dozens of children and adults in a drive-thru setting over two hours on Tuesday.

In an effort to expedite testing and results, the Wyoming State Fire Marshall’s Office volunteered to transport the samples directly to the Wyoming Public Health Lab in Cheyenne, which allowed for results to be returned in approximately 24 hours.

Uinta County Public Health staff said the results are very encouraging for the community and are very good news for the families of children attending ECDC, along with the center’s staff.

“This is a good sign, especially after the worry of not knowing the source for the infection in the positive case,” reads a release from public health. “The families involved were also incredibly patient and kind as they dealt with uncertainty and frightening prospects.”

Another case was confirmed in Uinta County on Thursday morning, unrelated to the child case. The new case is in an adult female residing in Evanston, who is said to be isolated and recovering at home. As with the last case, there is no known source for this infection.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Wyoming Department of Health website stated Uinta County has had nine confirmed and three probable cases, with seven of the confirmed and two of the probable listed as recovered.

Statewide, the WDH says there have been 596 confirmed cases with 191 probable for a total of 787 cases.

Of those 787, 534 are listed as officially recovered, which means at least 10 days have elapsed since the onset of symptoms and the infected individual has had no fever and improving symptoms for at least three days.

There have been 11 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Wyoming residents.

More than 18,000 tests have been conducted in the state, for a current positive test rate of about 3.3%, which is well below the current national average of approximately 10%. Uinta County’s positive test rate is listed on the WDH website as about 1%.

As the amount of testing increases, declining percentages of positive tests is one of the metrics utilized to determine whether it is safe to ease restrictions on businesses and individual activity.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said there were currently nine individuals hospitalized throughout the state.

During that conference, Wyoming State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist emphasized officials continue to be concerned about high-risk individuals living in long-term care facilities around the state. Harrist said due to that concern the state is launching a proactive testing program of those individuals.

Harrist said there are two parts to that program. The first is that facilities without a confirmed outbreak are being asked to test at least 20% of residents and staff every two weeks for monitoring purposes and to ensure early signs of a potential outbreak aren’t being missed.

The second part of the program involves facilities that have had confirmed cases, which will be asked to test all residents and staff weekly until officials are sure the outbreak has been controlled. Harrist said state public health offices will work with facilities to help facilitate and orchestrate the testing.

Gordon also addressed the challenges facing schools throughout the state, from the University of Wyoming and community colleges to K-12 schools and preschools, as they already begin to prepare for the next school year, noting those challenges are “extraordinary.”

He said folks statewide are already working every day to address the huge amount of work that will likely be required to get students back in buildings in the fall.

Gordon spoke of the looming challenges facing the state and the Wyoming Legislature to deal with the revenue losses related to the pandemic and what that will mean for the overall state budget, acknowledging the stark realities ahead.

The Legislature just wrapped up a two-day special session to delineate how the state will handle the $1.25 billion dollars received through the federal CARES Act.

Gordon signed three bills on Wednesday to cover many aspects of the pandemic, including costs related to testing and contact tracing, personal protective equipment, assistance to renters and landlords, workers’ compensation claims and more.

The Legislature also established three grant programs to help Wyoming small businesses, which will be handled by the Wyoming Business Council (WBC).

There are different grant programs designed to help businesses based on factors like the number of employees, whether a business was under closure orders, whether COVID-19 related expenses were incurred and more.

The WBC is working to get the programs up and running and accepting applications as soon as possible and plans to announce informational webinars in the coming days.

In the meantime, business owners are encouraged to get documents together, including W-9 forms and certificates of good standing, in preparation to file for some of the $325 million allocated for small business assistance.

There is also assistance available through the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security for businesses needing to acquire personal protective equipment required due to the public safety orders. Gordon said businesses can submit requests for assistance on the Wyoming DHS website at

Gordon again asked for continued cooperation with social distancing guidelines and recommendations for wearing cloth face coverings in public places, while also acknowledging the difficulties for businesses at the present time.

“I know that it is difficult to try to run a business at 50% capacity,” he said. “I want to thank the people of Wyoming for continuing to do the right thing, for your patience. … We are where we are today, and proudly so, because of what you were able to do exercising restraint, exercising responsibility and understanding that delicate balance between right and responsibility.

“The threat of COVID-19 has not gone, but with common sense precautions we will continue to make progress,” Gordon continued. “We’re way ahead of our peers and I’m excited about that. Our journey back won’t always be simple and easy, but here in Wyoming we are not scared of work. We know the value of community. We know the value of responsibility, of family, of common sense, and most especially, of faith. … I have faith that our state will continue, that our economy will improve, and that through the efforts of our people, we will continue to strengthen and that our great country will once again be able to do everything that we’ve wanted to do.”

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Denver Postal Center That Handles All Wyoming Mail Ordered Closed Due to Covid-19

in Coronavirus/News

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UPDATE: The Postal Service on Friday told Cowboy State Daily they will not close their facility despite orders from the city and county of Denver.

The United States Postal Service distribution center that handles the mail for all of Wyoming was told to shut down by the City and County of Denver on Thursday due to coronavirus concerns.

According to a United States Postal Service tweet, however, the facility will remain open despite the order.

“The Denver Distribution Center remains open as we sort 10 million pieces of mail a day for every person in CO and WY including medications, stimulus checks, and election materials. We are meeting all CDC and federal guidelines for COVID-19.  USPS is an Essential Service,” the tweet reads.

According to a letter from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, the state of Colorado has confirmed multiple cases of Covid-19 among the employees who work at the distribution center.

The United States Postal Service is protesting the closure stating that the mail service is an “essential service.”

James Boxrud, a spokesman for the USPS said the potential closure could impact citizens of Wyoming.

“This closure notice … has the potential to impact stimulus checks, prescription medications, personal correspondence, and vital goods delivered to the more than 6.5 million customers who live in Colorado and Wyoming,” he said.

Boxrud said the USPS has provided Denver Public Health “the necessary documentation to satisfy their inquiry and are confident the order will be rescinded.”

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After 50 Days in Hospital, Fremont County Man Discharged After Beating Covid-19

in Coronavirus/News

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It’s always inspiring to see the people who have recovered from Covid-19 finally make it out of the hospital.

A month ago, two patients recovering from the virus were wheeled out of the Cheyenne Medical Center with more than 100 employees cheering them on.

Today, it was Dennis Hurst’s turn. 

Hurst was one of the first people diagnosed with the coronavirus who was hospitalized at the Sage West Health Care center in Lander.

Today, 50 days after being checked-in to the hospital, Hurst was discharged.

And just like the reception in Cheyenne, employees of the hospital lined the hallways to celebrate his discharge.

Hurst triumphantly carried a sign that said “Crushed Covid-19”.

Congratulations Dennis!

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Elderly Washakie County Man Becomes Wyoming’s 12th Coronavirus Death

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An older Washakie County resident has died after becoming infected with coronavirus, the Wyoming Department of Health reported Thursday.

The man is the 12th person to die in Wyoming as a result of the illness.The department said the man was a resident of a Washakie County long-term care facility who had earlier tested positive for the virus.

The facility had been identified earlier as being hit by a coronavirus outbreak. Testing has identified five cases among staff and six among the facility’s residents.

No further information on the death was immediately available.

In addition to the 12 reported deaths, 608 lab-confirmed cases, and 193 probable cases have been reported so far among Wyoming residents.

COVID-19 can be transmitted by infected people who don’t yet have symptoms. Disease symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after virus exposure and include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

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260+ Staff, Residents From Natrona County Health Facility To Be Quarantined

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than 260 residents and staff from a Natrona County long-term care facility will have to be quarantined due to a coronavirus exposure this week.

The Casper-Natrona County Health Department was notified of an additional positive coronavirus case late Wednesday night.

Through contact tracing, the new case was identified as a person living at a long-term care facility in Natrona County.

The source of the resident’s exposure is currently unknown.

On Thursday, Natrona County health experts and Wyoming Department of Health officials notified the facility.

Due to the communal and high-risk setting, all staff and residents identified as being associated with the facility will be tested as soon as possible.

The majority of the people will be tested on Thursday. In total, around 265 staff and residents will be tested and quarantined.

Due to the large number of staff required to quarantine, individuals who are asymptomatic but awaiting test results will be allowed to work only with appropriate personal protective equipment to ensure resident safety.

Following the return of the Thursday test results, the health department will follow up with anyone who might need additional testing.

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Gordon Signs $1.25 Billion Federal Coronavirus Bills

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Three measures authorizing Gov. Mark Gordon to spend $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds and spelling out how some of that money should be spent have been signed into law.

Gordon on Wednesday signed all three pieces of legislation, approved during the Legislature’s special session May 15-16, but he vetoed one piece of language to expand eligibility for one of the business relief programs.

The “Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend” program is designed to provide grants of up to $50,000 for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that lost money because of the pandemic. The grants will be to compensate businesses for actual losses.

As written, the smallest grant that could be provided would be $20,000. 

Gordon said many small businesses lost less than $20,000, however, under the rules for the distribution of the federal money, businesses are to be reimbursed for no more than actual losses.

As a result, Gordon removed the reference to a minimum grant of $20,000 to allow those with lower losses to apply for the program.

“The line-item vetoes I have implemented fairly preserve the eligibility of any applicant, while making it clear that applicants must be able to point to attested losses consistent with the language of the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act,” he said in a letter explaining the veto to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.

Gordon praised the Legislature for work on all three bills.

“You wrestled with complicated programs in challenging times under trying circumstances and demonstrated what we in Wyoming do so well — work together to find solutions,” he said in his letter. “We all agree that the support of Wyoming’s small businesses is a priority as we reawaken our economy and fortify the state for the year ahead.”

In addition to the bill setting up three business relief programs at an initial cost of $325 million, the Legislature approved a plan to reimburse landlords who forgive past due rent payments by tenants who may have lost their jobs or had their wages cut during the pandemic.

Also created was language to make businesses immune from lawsuits that may be filed by people claiming to have been infected with the coronavirus by the actions of the businesses. The language says that if a business adhered to all recommended safety guidelines, such as requiring staff to wear face masks, then it will be immune from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The language began life as a separate bill filed for consideration the day before the special session began, but eventually was turned into an amendment of one of the three bills approved.

“Ambush legislation rarely results in good legislation, but in this case, the resulting amendment was a reasonable extension of other protections already in statute,” Gordon wrote.

Legislative leaders have said another special session will probably be held later in the year to deal with revenue shortfalls expected to affect the state’s biennium budget approved in March.

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Gordon Will Veto Part of Bill To Expand Business Relief Program

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will veto a part of the business relief bill approved by the Legislature last weekend to let more businesses receive funds under the program, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon, during a news conference, said he would change the “Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend” program to allow businesses that lost less than $20,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic to apply for the program.

As written and approved, the program would allow businesses with 50 or fewer employees to obtain a grant of $20,000 to $50,000. However, Gordon said businesses that lost less than $20,000 should also be able to apply for assistance.

“We want to be sure that every small business owner will be eligible for assistance as this virus has affected businesses of all sizes,” he said.

Gordon praised the work of the Legislature during its two-day special session on May 15 and 16, especially given the conditions of the session. Most legislators attended through a video meeting app.

“I was very proud of our Legislature for dealing with very difficult issues in a very challenging environment … working under enormous amounts of scrutiny and stress.

“This is an unprecedented time and we have to make sure that we are working together, and we are,” he continued. “We are building Wyoming back.”

Legislation included three relief programs for businesses at a cost of $325 million, including one compensating businesses that were forced to close by statewide health orders and another to repay businesses for direct costs related to the illness, such as the purchase of special equipment.

The programs are to be administered by the Wyoming Business Council and Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s CEO, said the council is working now on the rules and guidelines for the program and hopes to begin accepting applications for the Business Interruption Stipend program by June.

“We must work as fast as possible to deliver on the vision of getting the money to these businesses with as little red tape as possible,” he said.

Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, also urged members of the public to continue to observe the health safeguards that have been recommended since the illness first reached Wyoming in March, including wearing face masks and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

“I just want to ask everyone to make smart decisions and follow the basic advice and recommendations we’ve been sharing all along,” Harrist said. “Let’s all do our part to keep Wyomng on the right path and stay focused on the goals of slowing and limiting the spread of disease in our state.” 

Harrist also new coronavirus testing rules for nursing homes and assisted living centers, seen as a way to head off any outbreaks before they occur. 

Under the new rules, officials at facilities with no coronavirus cases would be asked to test 20% of the facility’s employees staff and residents twice a week. At facilities with coronavirus cases, all staff and residents will be tested weekly.

On other issues, Gordon said he still did not know exactly what the state’s revenues would look like for the coming biennium, but he said the state must look forward to serious reductions in income.

“I can say it’s going to be profound,” he said. “It’s going to be a big deal.”

Legislative leaders plan to meet in a special session later this year to review the biennium budget they approved in March in the light of anticipated steep declines in mineral revenue.

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Sheridan Police Release Body Cam Footage In Brewery Incident

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Sheridan Police Department has released body camera footage detailing an encounter with a brewery owner last week.

On May 13, Smith Alley Brewing Co. owner Tiffany McCormick hosted a Facebook livestream where she told of an incident she had with Sheridan police earlier in the day.

McCormick told viewers that Police Chief Rich Adriaens and another uniformed officer told her that if her business didn’t comply with health regulations, it would be fined and its license could be revoked.

This was due to the fact that Smith wasn’t requiring her staff to wear face coverings, one of the 21 mandates required by Sheridan County and the state for restaurants and breweries to reopen.

In her original video, McCormick stated she wouldn’t ask her staff to wear masks, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

On Thursday, a SPD spokesman countered that neither police officer threatened Smith with closure.

“We’re trying to seek compliance through education, warnings and citations as an absolute last resort,” Lt. Tom Ringley said to Cowboy State Daily. “When we got the complaint on Wednesday, Chief Adriaens and the second officer went and met with the owners to educate them on what the standard was and how they weren’t in compliance.”

In the video shared by SPD on Wednesday, Adriaens and the officer enter the brewery and begin talking with a manager, letting her know they received a complaint about staff not wearing masks. The manager confirms this and isn’t wearing a mask herself.

Soon, McCormick joins the conversation, asking Adriaens how he’s able to enforce and fine business owners. When he asks if she’s read the county order, she confirms she has.

“If you want me to write you a violation, if you want me to shut you down, that’s great,” he says. “We don’t want that. We just want you to comply with the order.”

When McCormick asks for clarification of which order Adriaens is referring to, he cites the variance issued for the county that allowed restaurants and bars to open.

She also inquires about HIPAA and ADA laws, stating that if an employee refuses to wear a face covering, she can’t question them or require them to do so. The police chief responded that McCormick also didn’t have to employ anyone who refuses to wear a mask.

The chief reiterates that if McCormick didn’t follow the rules, she would be in violation of the variance order and could be shut down.

In an interview last week, Ringley noted that the same day McCormick’s Facebook video was posted, a Sheridan officer on foot patrol checked in on the brewery and saw employees were wearing masks.

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