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Wyoming Department of Corrections Suspends Visitation

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Visitations to inmates at Wyoming Department of Corrections institutions has been suspended, the DOC announced Wednesday.

The department said while none of the inmates in its institutions has tested positive for coronavirus, it is taking the step to prevent the spread of the illness.

Visits between inmates and their attorneys will be restricted to non-contact or video-telephone conferences, the release said.

“As we move forward, we will continue to evaluate and monitor these restrictions on a weekly basis,” it said.

All staff, visitors, contractors and incarcerated individuals will be screened for coronavirus, it added.

Check out our continuously updated Wyoming Coronavirus news blog.

Sweetwater County Forms Community Resiliency Task Force

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The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department, Rock Springs Police Department, Rock Springs Fire Department, Green River Police Department, and Green River Fire Department have announced the creation of the Sweetwater County Community Resiliency Task Force.

The task’s force goal is to serve as an information clearinghouse for public health and safety information as it relates to the coronavirus disease in Sweetwater County. 

During a roundtable discussion, Sheriff John Grossnickle, Rock Springs Police Chief Dwane Pacheco, Green River Police Chief Tom Jarvie, Rock Springs Fire Department Chief Jim Wamsley and Green River Fire Department Deputy Chief Larry Erdmann all reiterated the importance of acting on what we know right now, thoroughly evaluating new information as it comes and in and not overreacting to anything based on speculation or what we do not yet know about what the coronavirus disease might bring for county residents.

While there is not yet a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Sweetwater County, the group hopes to curb the uncertainty, confusion and potential panic commonly associated with the unadulterated spread of misinformation.

“The task force plans to meet twice daily, and is currently reviewing a variety of traditional print, electronic and social media outlets to ensure that the information disseminated by the group about COVID-19 is readily accessible to all members of our community,” said task force spokesperson and public information officer Jason Mower.

In the meantime, County Public Health Officer Dr. Jean Stachon reminds everyone, “The best course of action right now for everyone is to respect and practice the Wyoming Department of Health’s current priority coronavirus recommendations for state residents, which includes washing your hands thoroughly and often, sneezing and coughing into your elbow, staying home if you are sick and away from high-risk populations and social distancing. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, particularly a fever, cough and shortness of breath, and are concerned about your possible exposure to COVID-19, please contact your primary care provider by phone or the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County nurse triage hotline at (307) 522-8523 to discuss the possibility of testing.”

Sweetwater County’s Community Resiliency Task Force intends to release more information and details on this rapidly evolving situation as it becomes available.

Four More Wyoming Coronavirus Cases Confirmed

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Coronavirus
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Testing at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory has identified three additional reported cases in the state of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH). An additional case was identified by commercial reference laboratory testing.

The new cases involve an adult female in Park County, an adult female in Laramie County, an adult male in Sheridan County and an adult female in Sheridan County. No more information is available at this time regarding the Park County or Laramie County cases. The two new Sheridan County cases are close contacts of two previously identified cases from the county.

The total number of Wyoming cases is now 15.

WDH will follow up regarding exposure risks and will work to identify and communicate with contacts. Known contacts will be monitored for symptoms and tested as needed.

For more information about coronavirus disease 2019 and Wyoming, visit: https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/novel-coronavirus/.

For more details about the disease from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.

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Laramie County Resident Tests Positive with Coronavirus; Cases up to 11

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The number of Wyoming residents with coronavirus grew to 11 on Tuesday as an older adult male in Laramie County tested positive for the illness.

The Wyoming Department of Health announced that testing at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory revealed the infection. No other information was immediately available.

The case marks the 11th in Wyoming and came just one day after seven people connected with a Lander retirement home tested positive for the virus. All seven were linked with one older male who was living at the Showboat Retirement Center.

Laramie County is the third in the state where the illness has surfaced. In addition to the Fremont County cases, two cases were diagnosed in Sheridan County.

**Follow Cowboy State Daily’s Live Wyoming Coronavirus Blog**

WyoMovies Closes Theaters Until Further Notice

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Theater chain WyoMovies has shut down all of its locations across the state, effective immediately, according to a post on its website.

Meanwhile, Regal and AMC, which both operate movie theaters in Wyoming, also announced the closures of their theaters.

WyoMovies, in a statement on its website, said its more than 60 screens in Casper, Cheyenne, Laramie, Green River and Rock Springs would go dark until further notice.

“This is an unprecedented time for all of us,” the statement read. “As many of you know, our theaters have long been open every day of the year. We look forward to opening our doors and lighting up our screens for you again very soon.”

Anyone who has purchased advance tickets through the WyoMovies website will be contacted to receive refunds. Those who purchased tickets through Atom Tickets must approach that company to obtain refunds.

The theater’s Studio Rewards won’t expire during the closure. 

The theater will reschedule screenings of “Jump Shot,” a documentary about University of Wyoming basketball star Kenny Sailors. The film was executive produced by basketball player Steph Curry and was originally scheduled to be screened in April. 

AMC, which runs the AMC Classic Frontier 9 theater in Cheyenne’s Frontier Mall, said all of its theaters — including those in Fort Collins, Colorado — would close “in accordance with local, state and federal guidelines.”

Theaters in Colorado, along with bars and other places where people congregate, have been ordered closed for 30 days by the state.

No such order has been issued in Wyoming.

Regal, which runs the Regal Fox Theater in Laramie, also closed its theaters across the country “as a precaution amid the current circumstances.”

Wyoming Coronavirus: Barrasso Supports Relief Package

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso supported a proposed coronavirus relief package being considered in Congress during an appearance on Fox on Monday.

“In a time like this, relief is necessary by the government,” Barrasso said. “We want to do it so it doesn’t burden businesses. This is the government’s opportunity and responsibility to help the American people, workers and families.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the emergency relief package on Saturday to help people feeling the impacts of the coronavirus. 

The package includes certain measures to act as a safety net for families, providing some workers with two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave, according to the New York Times. 

However, these benefits only apply to government employees or employees of businesses with fewer than 500 who are infected by the virus, quarantined, have a sick family member or are affected by school closings. 

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up and possibly even pass the aid package sometime this week. 

Barrasso noted in his segment that the first phase of the relief package was to help doctors and researchers secure the equipment they need. Phase two is focusing on families, but Barrasso added he wouldn’t be surprised if a third phase rolled out sometime this week. 

“There are people in restaurants and bars that are out of work immediately,” he said. “There are immediate needs and the government has a responsibility to step in.” 

He also wanted to ensure there would be aid for small and medium-sized businesses, using Wyoming as an example. However, he noted that the economy wouldn’t fully recover until the virus was under control. Currently, the World Health Organization has classified the virus as a pandemic. 

The senator was also asked to give his medical opinion about social distancing and whether or not people across the country were taking sufficient measures to combat the virus. 

While Barrasso admitted the plan to combat the virus was aggressive, he also felt it was more than appropriate. 

“I think this will only work if people cooperate in ways we’re asking them to do,” he said in the closing moments of the segment. “It’s the millenials who will make a difference in spreading this disease. The most vulnerable people are seniors and those who have underlying conditions. Social distancing is very important. This is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. People’s lives have been impacted.”

Wyoming Coronavirus Case Count Grows To 10

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wyoming grew to 10 on Monday as tests of seven Fremont County residents came out positive.

The state Department of Health said each of the seven patients newly diagnosed with the illness is directly connected with the third person to be diagnosed with the illness in Wyoming, an older male living at a retirement center in Fremont County.

The department said it would follow up on information about people who may have been exposed to the newly diagnosed patients.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, had said earlier that the diagnosis in the original Fremont County case was concerning because it appeared the man had been infected by someone in the community.

Dr. Brian Gee, Fremont County’s public health officer, told the Riverton City Council on Monday that the infection was probably brought into the facility by someone.

Gee, quoted by the Wind River Radio Network, told council members that if more residents of the retirement center tested positive for the disease, they would probably be kept at the center unless they became critically ill.

The state has made Riverton, Lander and Fremont County priority areas for coronavirus testing, he added.

Wyoming Coronavirus: Gov Gordon to Form Five Coronavirus Task Forces

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Mark Gordon file photo
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Posted by Governor Mark Gordon on Monday, March 16, 2020

The state’s top elected officials will create five task forces aimed at finding solutions to problems posed by the coronavirus both during the illness’ outbreak and after, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon, in a news conference, announced that the task forces would focus on health, state services and operations, business, transportation and education. Each task force will be chaired by one of the top elected officials.

Gordon said in addition to looking at the threats posed by the coronavirus, the task forces would look at what would likely be a “serious curtailment” of business activities that would result from efforts to stop the spread of the illness.

“It is important as a state and a region that we begin to think about how we re-emerge with a more stable state of affairs, one in a world where we understand business processes must work, people have to go to work, kids must be educated and life must go on,” he said “And that is part of what I’m doing today, not only ascertaining the threats we see from the virus and to the business communities but to begin to lay the groundwork for coming out of what is going to be a prolonged period of very serious curtailment of business activity.”

Wyoming has three confirmed cases of coronavirus, two from Sheridan County and one from Fremont County.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said as of Monday, the state has run 45 coronavirus tests, while nine more have been run by commercial laboratories and another 100 samples are on their way to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory for analysis. She added the laboratory has increased its capacity to test samples from 10 per day to 20 to 50.

Gordon said the number of people infected with the disease is likely to up as more testing is conducted as test kits become more available.

“There should be a corresponding number of positives that would come from that, that would be expected,” he said. “Because we’re testing more people, there is a likelihood that there will be, perhaps, an increase in the number of positive tests that we would see. That is normal.”

The key to dealing with the increasing numbers will not be to simply shut down operations, he added.

“We want to make sure Wyoming continues to function efficiently,” he said. “It is not about closing everything, it is about doing things in creative ways to maintain services and connections among people.”

The task force on state services, headed by Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, will look at how the state can continue providing its services without disruption, Gordon said, while the task force on business, chaired by Auditor Kristi Racines, will look into ways the state can help businesses weather the inevitable downturn from the virus outbreak.

Treasurer Curt Meyer will head up the transportation and infrastructure task force and will make sure transportation continues in the state efficiently. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow will chair the task force on education, which will look at how the state responds to the lengthy break students at every level are taking now. Gordon’s office will work with the state Health Department to make sure the state’s health care providers and hospitals have everything they need to treat the sick.

Gordon also once again took advantage of the news conference to urge calm on the part of the state’s residents.

“In spite of circumstances, it is important for all of us as Wyomingites to insure that we are transitioning from a state where we react to everything that comes over the Internet to one of orderly conduct,” he said. “It is important that we remember Wyoming has always been a resilient and a strong community. It is a community where we look out after our neighbors and it is a community where we think about our actions and exercise common sense.

“Wyoming, I know we’re better than this,” he said.

Wyoming Coronavirus: City of Cheyenne Announces Updated Work Plan

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The City of Cheyenne announced an updated work plan that will be implemented beginning Monday and going until at least March 27. 

Here is the plan by department list: 

Mayor: Mayor Marian Orr and her staff will work from home. In person meetings are being postponed and rescheduled. Public speaking engagements to groups larger than 50 people, as well as visits to schools and nursing homes, are being postponed. Public information officer Michael Skinner will serve as the point of contact for communication regarding the coronavirus. Daily briefings will be sent to the media and posted to social media outlets. 

City attorney: The city attorney’s office will work from home with the exception of the prosecuting attorney, who will attend appropropriate municipal court hearings. 

Municipal and juvenile court: Municipal court hearings will continue as scheduled. It’s being taken into consideration that fines and fees be reduced if paid online to incentivize people not to pay in person. Juvenile court hearings are being taken care of on a case-by-case basis. 

Engineering: New engineering plan reviews and projects will be accepted electronically. All questions and interaction of staff will occur over phone or email. Engineering plan and development reviews will be completed electronically as required. 

City engineer Tom Cobb or deputy engineer Wes Bay will attend the city council, finance and public services meetings. Construction inspectors will be provided as needed and contacted via cell. Construction project management will be handled remotely and through email if possible. Attendance may be required for processing pay requests, on-site questions and more. 

GIS personnel will be provided on an as needed basis. The department will remain flexible to accommodate requirements as needed. 

Treasury: The treasurer’s office will work remotely with the exception of various payroll functions and the payable for the city council meeting on March 23. No customer invoices will be run until city offices are reopened. Purchasing pre-bid and bid openings will be postponed. 

Planning and development/Metropolitan Planning Organization: The department will operate remotely. Both offices will be closed to walk-up customer traffic. During this time, both offices will continue to focus on review of existing projects and answering public questions. New projects will be accepted electronically. Staff will contact anyone with a pending application. 

Community recreation and events: The Botanic Gardens is closed to the public for two weeks. Volunteers, seasonal and part-time staff aren’t currently working. Events and rentals for this time period have been cancelled. Full-time staff will either work from home or at the gardens to tend to the plants. 

Forestry’s full-time staff will tend to essential duties that are primarily outdoors and have limited public contact. Part-time staff aren’t working. 

The recreation division’s programs, classes and buildings have been cancelled for the next two weeks. Credits will be given on a pro-rata basis. Full-time staff will work with little public contact. Part-time staff aren’t working. 

The Ice and Events Center will be closed for two weeks, as well the Kiwanis Community House. 

The Cheyenne Aquatics Center’s pool was already closed for maintenance, but this will continue for another week. 

The Cheyenne Civic Center has cancelled all shows until April 4. Full-time cemetery staff will continue working, but large gravesite services are suspended for the time being. 

City clerk: The office will be closed to walk-up customer traffic. Business license and permit applications, if submitted electronically, will be accepted online and will be processed when the city offices reopen. City clerk Kris Jones or deputy clerk Kylie Soden will be present for certain public meetings. 

Human resources: The department is prepared to work from home. 

Youth Alternatives: Counseling and court staff will work remotely and will maintain phone contact with clients in the interim. The Mayor’s Youth Council activities have been cancelled through April 6. 

Board of Public Utilities: Crews will continue to work as needed throughout the community.

Wyoming Coronavirus: Most Wyoming Schools Close In Response To Governor’s Recommendation

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Most of Wyoming’s schools closed on Monday, extending their spring breaks by one to two weeks, in response to a recommendation by Gov. Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Officials with schools in Powell, Gillette and Lusk said they would decide by Monday whether to close schools and officials in Kemmerer said they would keep classes open.

“The district does put student safety and what is best first,” the district said in a statement on its Facebook page. “We are monitoring the decision to have school daily. This decision was made in coordination with our local hospital leaders. The district along with local health and community leaders will be discussing the situation daily. The Governor’s statement does not replace the responsibility of the local district to make the decision.”

Gordon and Balow on Sunday issued a recommendation for schools to close to give school officials time to develop plans to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The two emphasized the decision to close schools would be made at the local level.

“In the midst of this pandemic, communities need the latitude, empowerment, and support to make difficult decisions that affect education, economy, and essential functions,” Gordon said.

The University of Wyoming on Monday announced that when spring break ends on March 30, undergraduate students will take classes online only. The move came after the UW extended its spring break by a week.

Online classes will also be the primary teaching method at Laramie County Community College when its spring break ends April 1.

All seven of the state’s community colleges by Sunday had announced a one- to two-week extension of their spring breaks, with classes not set to resume in most cases until the end of March or early April.

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