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Gordon Keeps Mask Mandate But Relaxes Other Health Orders

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday announced that many of Wyoming’s statewide public health orders would be relaxed on March 1, although the statewide mask mandate will continue until at least March 15.

This is the fourth time the mask order has been continued since it was enacted in December to slow the spread of coronavirus.

However, Gordon announced that beginning Monday, restrictions on the operations of barber shops, nail and hair salons and other personal care service would be eliminated completely, while limits on gatherings would be relaxed.

Gordon cited improvements in the state’s overall coronavirus picture in announcing the relaxation of the rules.

“If we continue on our current trajectory, I expect us to be able to continue to remove orders as we safely return to a new normal,” he said in a news release.

In addition to the elimination of restrictions on personal care service, the rules for attendance limits at events will be relaxed again, as will protocols for restaurant and theater operations.

Facilities hosting indoor gatherings that incorporate social distancing and face coverings will be allowed to admit up to 25% of capacity up to 1,000 people, while outdoor gatherings of up to 2,000 people will be allowed.

Restaurants will also be allowed to seat up to groups of 10 at one table — an increase from previous limits of eight — and open buffets and other self-service options.

In addition, sporting events and artistic performances will see participation limits eased. 

“The efforts made so far have allowed us to maximize attendance safely at larger events like the state high school wrestling championships this weekend and the state high school basketball tournament that was canceled last year,” Gordon said.

Additional changes to statewide protocols are expected to continue as metrics allow, Gordon said.

Vaccination efforts are expected to help accelerate that process.

As of Thursday,  more than 16% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine dose – one of the highest rates in the country.

All Wyoming counties are now in phase 1B of the phased distribution plan, which includes adults 65 and over, frontline essential workers and individuals with medical conditions that put them at higher risk. 

While the statewide orders have been relaxed, four Wyoming counties have won variances to be exempted entirely from the orders because of improving conditions within their borders.

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State Removes Mask Order for Johnson County; Capacity Orders Also Eliminated

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Johnson County was exempted from all statewide health orders this week, with residents joining those of Washakie County in no longer being required to wear a mask in public places, although it’s still encouraged.

The county was granted four variances Monday by state Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, responding to a request made by Johnson County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Schueler because of the dropping number of coronavirus cases over recent weeks.

As of Thursday, the county had no active coronavirus cases.

In addition to the lifting of the mask requirement, the variances allow restaurants, bars, gyms and other places where people might gather to operate without restrictions and allow more people to gather for inside and outdoor events than are allowed to gather under current statewide rules.

Other reasons for Harrist approving the variances included the fact that Johnson County Healthcare Center had an adequate supply of coronavirus tests, there were no coronavirus cases in any of the local nursing or assisted living facilities and that there was also an adequate supply of personal protective equipment in case of a spike.

Gov. Mark Gordon implemented a statewide mask mandate in December and it is in place until at least the end of the month.

While these two counties received variances this week, Niobrara has led the state in no longer requiring mask use. The county received a variance from the state in late December, although private business owners could implement their own mask rules to be followed if they wish to do so.

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Washakie County Mask Order Rescinded; Capacity Limit Mandates Also Dropped

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Washakie County has received multiple variances from public health orders and its residents are now no longer required to wear masks in all public places, although it is still encouraged.

The county was granted four variances by state Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, responding to a request made by Washakie County Public Health Officer Dr. Amber Moss because of the dropping number of coronavirus cases over recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, Washakie County reported only five active COVID cases.

In addition to the lifting of the mask requirement, the variances allow restaurants, bars, gyms and other places where people might gather to operate without restrictions and allow more people to gather for inside and outdoor events than are allowed to gather under current statewide rules.

Other reasons for Harrist approving the variances included the fact that Washakie Medical Center had an adequate supply of coronavirus tests, there were no coronavirus cases in any of the local nursing or assisted living facilities and that there was also an adequate supply of personal protective equipment in case of a spike.

However, mask use will still be required in county schools and day care centers.

Gov. Mark Gordon implemented a statewide mask mandate in December and it is in place until at least the end of the month.

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21 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 638 Active

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of active coronavirus cases increased by 33 on Wednesday as the state reported 44 new laboratory-confirmed and probable cases.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said it saw 21 new confirmed and 23 new probable cases on Tuesday, while it received new reports of recoveries among 11 people with confirmed or probable cases.

The numbers left the state with 638 active cases, an increase of 33 from Tuesday.

Fremont County had 91 active cases; Teton County had 86; Sweetwater County had 85; Carbon had 61; Natrona had 53; Laramie had 47; Uinta had 38; Lincoln had 32; Sheridan had 31; Park had 20; Albany and Campbell had 18; Platte had 13; Converse had 11; Big Horn and Goshen had nine; Washakie and Weston had five; Sublette had three; Hot Springs had two, and Johnson had one.

Crook and Niobrara counties reported no active cases on Wednesday.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

New confirmed cases were reported in 12 counties. Lincoln County had the highest number of new cases at six.

The increase in confirmed and probable cases brought the total number of Wyoming residents diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic began to 53,988.

Of those, 52,679 have recovered since March, according to Department of Health figures.

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More Wyomingites Eligible to Pre-Register for COVID Vaccine

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Health is expanding the eligibility pool for Wyomingites who can pre-register to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

People who are 65 years of age and older, those with certain medical conditions and their caregivers who may be otherwise ineligible for vaccination can now pre-register to receive a vaccine.

The expansion includes people who have specific diagnosed illnesses or conditions that put them at greater risk of more serious COVID-19 disease.

“As the pandemic has continued we have seen that people with certain health challenges are clearly more likely to become severely ill when they are infected with COVID-19,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH. “These vaccines can help protect these individuals.”

Health conditions considered to put people at higher risk for COVID include cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, pulmonary conditions, compromised immune systems and neurological disorders such as strokes or dementia.

Certain groups of frontline essential workers who interact with the public and are unable to consistently physically distance from others are also now eligible to register for vaccination.

Vaccinations for these groups will mostly be arranged through employers, who should expect to be contacted by local public health agencies to schedule vaccinations for their workers.

“It’s very important for people to understand counties are moving through the priority groups at different paces based on the number of people in each group and uptake at the county level,” said Angie Van Houten, Community Health Section chief with WDH. “This means there are differences in progress and availability based on where you live.”

Specific registration processes also vary from county to county within Wyoming.

At least 92,000 Wyoming residents have received at least their first doses so far when state and special federal counts are combined.

Van Houten noted shipments of Moderna doses delayed by national weather last week arrived on Monday. Moderna shipments expected for this week’s allocation may arrive later in the week than usual as distributors work to catch up.

The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which began last week with several Walmart locations in Wyoming, is expanding this week to include Walgreens in Casper, Riverton, Laramie, and Gillette and NorthStar Pharmacy in Cheyenne.

Important reminders about COVID-19 vaccines include:

  • The currently authorized vaccines require two doses for maximum protection.
  • The vaccines are free.
  • Insurance is not required to receive a vaccine.
  • Some people may be asked to show Medicare or insurance cards so professionals giving shots can get reimbursed.
  • For most people it is best to receive vaccines in the county where they live.

Wyoming’s phased approach is needed because there aren’t enough vaccines currently for everyone who wants them.

Priority groups are based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the WDH medical ethics committee.

Harrist said it remains important to continue wearing masks, to keep social distancing and to stay home when ill unless seeking medical help while vaccination efforts continue.

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34 New COVID Cases In Wyoming Tuesday; 605 Active

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming fell by more than 60 on Tuesday as the number of reported recoveries more than doubled the number of new cases.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, reported 34 new laboratory-confirmed cases and 10 new probable cases.

At the same time, the number of recoveries reported among those with either confirmed or probable cases increased by 101, leaving the state with 605 active cases, a decline of 66 from Monday.

Fremont and Sweetwater counties had 86 active cases; Teton County had 84; Carbon had 61; Natrona had 47; Laramie had 42; Uinta had 37; Lincoln and Sheridan had 28; Park had 19; Albany had 17; Campbell had 15; Big Horn and Platte had 11; Converse had 10; Goshen had eight; Washakie had five; Weston had four; Hot Springs and Sublette had two, and Johnson and Niobrara had one.

Crook County remained the only county in the state with no active COVID cases.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

New confirmed cases were reported in nine counties. Sweetwater County had the highest number of new cases at 12, while Laramie and Uinta counties had six new cases.

The increases in confirmed and probable cases brought to 53,944 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in March.

Of those, 52,668 have recovered since the pandemic began, according to Health Department numbers.

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Nine More COVID Deaths Brings Wyoming’s Total to 671

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Nine more coronavirus-related deaths among Wyoming residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have been confirmed, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The deaths included:

  • An older adult Big Horn County woman died last month. She was hospitalized, was a resident of a local long-term care facility and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An older adult Converse County man died earlier this month. He was a resident of a local long-term care facility; it’s unclear whether he had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An adult Fremont County woman died earlier this month. She was a resident of a local long-term care facility and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An older adult Goshen County woman died earlier this month. She was hospitalized and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An older adult Laramie County man died earlier this month. He was a resident of a local long-term care facility and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An older adult Natrona County man died last month. He had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An older adult Natrona County woman died earlier this month. She was a resident of a local long-term care facility and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • An older adult Natrona County man died earlier this month. He was hospitalized and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.
  • Another older adult Natrona County woman died earlier this month. She was a resident of a local long-term care facility and had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.

In the descriptions, “adult” includes those ages 19-64. “Older adult” includes those over 65.

Deaths among Wyoming residents are added to the state’s total based on official death certificate information and location of permanent residence. If death certificates do not describe COVID-19 as either causing or contributing to a death, those deaths are not included in the WDH count.

Among Wyoming residents, there have now been 671 coronavirus-related deaths, 45,780 lab-confirmed cases and 8,164 probable cases reported since the pandemic began.

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93 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Monday; 671 Active

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming continued to see-saw on Monday, dropping by more than 30.

The Wyoming Department of Health’s daily coronavirus update said the state saw 93 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID and 12 new probable cases on Monday.

Meanwhile, the number of new reports of recoveries among those with either confirmed or probable cases grew by 136 over Sunday, leaving the state with 671 active cases, a decline of 31 from Sunday.

The total of confirmed cases went up and down most of last week, reaching a low of 689 on Tuesday and a high of 762 on Friday.

As of Monday, Fremont County had 92 active cases; Teton County had 91; Sweetwater County had 78; Carbon had 66; Uinta had 57; Natrona had 54; Laramie had 45; Park and Sheridan had 29; Lincoln had 28; Albany had 25; Campbell and Converse had 14; Platte had 13; Big Horn had 11; Goshen had 10; Washakie had six; Weston had three; Hot Springs and Sublette had two, and Johnson and Niobrara had one.

Crook County remained free of active COVID cases as of Monday.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

New confirmed cases were reported in 18 counties. Sweetwater County had the highest number of new cases at 27, followed by Fremont County with 14.

The increase in confirmed and probable cases brought to 53,900 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in March.

Of those, 52,567 have recovered since the pandemic began, according to Health Department figures.

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Wyoming 211 Saw 285% Increase In Rental Assistance Requests In 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a 285% increase in rental assistance requests and a 95% increase in utility assistance requests in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal report.

The latest federal emergency rental assistance program report released by the office of Gov. Mark Gordon’s office said the state had 2,717 rental assistance requests and 2,913 utility assistance requests in 2020 as recorded in calls to Wyoming 211.

Wyoming 211 is a central number people can call to find out where they can go to obtain assistance through various state and federal programs.

The spike in demand for rent and utility assistance has continued this year, the report said, with requests received by 211 in the first six weeks of 2021 amounting to more than double the average of requests received during a six-week period in 2020.

So far this year, Wyoming 211 has seen 668 rental assistance requests and 678 utility assistance requests.

Around 40%, 899, of applicants to the state rental assistance program were denied, though, the report said.

“We believe that the federal program will apply to a wider net of families in need,” the report said.

A survey of landlords across the state showed they were owed an average of $6,800 in past due rent, totaling $458,000 owed to 72 respondents.

The respondents also reported an average of $583 owed in past due utility bills, totaling $34,000.

One utility company reported $1.6 million owed in past due utility bills from its customers since April.

Earlier this month, Gordon issued an executive order to allow the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute federal emergency rental assistance.

The federal government has provided the state with $200 million in funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

One county relief agency reported providing financial assistance to 349 area families unable to cover rent in the final quarter of 2020, even though 77% of such households were at least partially employed.

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70 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming on Sunday; 702 Active

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming fell by 60 on Sunday as the state received reports of more than 170 recoveries over the weekend.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its coronavirus update, reported 70 new laboratory-confirmed COVID cases since Friday, along with 42 new probable cases.

The department has stopped releasing updates on Saturday, so the report Sunday was the first issued since Friday.

Since Friday, the department said it also received new reports of 172 recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus, leaving the state with 702 active cases, a decline of 60.

Fremont County had 106 active cases Sunday; Teton County had 89; Carbon County had 68; Sweetwater County had 61; Natrona had 60; Uinta had 54; Laramie had 52; Lincoln had 40; Albany had 34; Park had 32; Sheridan had 27; Converse had 18; Campbell had 15; Platte had 13; Big Horn had 12; Goshen had nine; Washakie had four; Hot Springs, Sublette and Weston had two, and Johnson and Niobrara had one.

Crook County had no active cases as of Sunday.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

Fourteen counties reported new confirmed cases Sunday. Fremont County had 19 new cases and Sweetwater County reported 15.

The increase in confirmed and probable cases brought the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the illness was first detected in Wyoming in March to 53,795.

Of those, 52,431 have recovered, according to Department of Health figures.

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