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Wyoming Coronavirus: Gov Gordon to Form Five Coronavirus Task Forces

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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.

Wyoming Coronavirus: Gov. Gordon, Superintendent Balow Recommend All Wyo Schools Close

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Due to the unprecedented circumstances facing our state, Governor Mark Gordon and State Superintendent Jillian Balow recommend that all schools remain closed to students through at least April 3.

This is a recommendation to local superintendents and school boards, who will make the final decisions on closures. Additionally, decisions relating to the requirement for school district staff to report to work remain with local school boards of trustees. Governor Gordon and Superintendent Balow will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments throughout this three-week period, with the goal of getting students back to classrooms as soon as safely possible.

This recommendation is not necessarily based on epidemiological best practices but is an attempt to allow schools and communities to prepare to operate in a way that mitigates community spread of COVID-19 and minimizes negative economic impacts locally and statewide.

“This is Wyoming, where we are all neighbors,” Governor Gordon said. “While social distancing should be a priority for all of us, it should not keep us from helping out our neighbors. I am thinking of our first responders and healthcare workers on the frontlines who may be without child care. This is a time, if the risk is low, to help one another out.”

The Governor and State Superintendent urge district leadership to work within their schools and communities to ensure the continuity of learning and essential services as determined locally. “In the midst of this pandemic, communities need the latitude, empowerment, and support to make difficult decisions that affect education, economy, and essential functions,” Governor Gordon continued. “While we safeguard the health of every person we must also do our best to continue our daily work for the economic security of our state and nation.”

“Evidence of community spread in Fremont County, two confirmed cases in Sheridan County, and pending tests from across the state have led us to this,” Superintendent Balow said. “Wyoming has over 90,000 square miles where schooling is an essential function in each community – the decision is difficult.”

Social distancing, basic hygiene, and heightened disinfection efforts continue to be the primary means to contain COVID-19 spread. We strongly encourage everyone to continue these practices. Local school districts continue to be empowered to make decisions in consultation with the State Department of Health and local health care officials as to closure and other containment strategies.

Governor Gordon, Superintendent Balow, the State Health Officer, and others will continually evaluate COVID-19 data, guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other reliable information to make additional recommendations.

-CDC guidance and other resources are available at https://edu.wyoming.gov/. The State Superintendent is exploring her ability to hold districts harmless from any financial reduction as a result of this ten instructional day loss. In addition, the Wyoming Department of Education has received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools to offer student meals during school closures. For more information, visit: https://edu.wyoming.gov/educators/covid-19-resources/

Wyoming Coronavirus: 2nd Case Of COVID-19 in State, All Extracurricular School Activities Halted

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A second case of the coronavirus COVID-19 has been detected in Wyoming, according to the state Department of Health.

The department, in a news release Friday, said the person infected with the illness is an older adult male in Fremont County who is currently in the hospital.

Health Department officials were trying to determine who the man might have had contact with and how he came to be infected.

“Known contacts will be monitored for symptoms and tested if needed,” the department said.

The first case of coronavirus in the state was confirmed Wednesday in a Sheridan County woman.

The Health Department said the risk for transmission of the disease in Wyoming remains low.

The Health Department’s announcement came shortly after the Wyoming High School Activities Association suspended all extracurricular activities statewide until at least March 28.

The WHSAA, at the direction of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, on Thursday canceled the state Class 4A and 3A basketball tournaments being played at the Casper Events Center and Casper College.

“We understand the tremendous disappointment this decision is for our student athletes, especially our seniors, but please realize that we must be a responsible state organization and that our highest priority is ensuring the safety of our students, schools and communities,” the WHSAA said in a news release.

Other events across the state were canceled as well in the face of the spread of the illness, including the state Spelling Bee set for March 28 in Rock Springs.

Wyoming Coronavirus: Gordon Asks Citizens Not to Panic

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Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday urged Wyoming’s residents not to panic over the impacts of the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

“I think people need to exercise judgment,” he said. “Panic is not judgment. I’d like people to be mindful of the needs of their fellow citizens. This supply system will start to ramp up.”

Gordon’s comments came after he signed an emergency declaration for the state in the face of the spread of the illness and in the wake of reports from across the state that grocery store shelves have been left empty by people buying large amounts of food and supplies.

Gordon asked residents to think of others — particularly those who may be elderly and must rely on others for their supplies —as they shop.

“I would think people should be a little more patient and a little more mindful in how they acquire their supplies,” he said. “That would help us all.”

Gordon’s emergency declaration was made at the same time as President Donald Trump issued a national emergency declaration. The governor said the state’s declaration would help small businesses access Small Business Administration funds freed up by Trump’s declaration.

“This does not represent an escalation of concern, it represents being proactive and being on-point,” he said of his declaration.

Gordon also recommended the rescheduling of large gatherings around the state, a slight change from the “suggestion” he made Thursday that such gatherings be carefully studied.

“From ‘suggest’ to ‘recommend’ is really reflecting the concerns that people are sharing with us daily,” he said. “If people are asking us, it makes more sense to make it a recommendation.”

But Gordon stressed that “social distancing” remains an important part of the strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said the state still has just one person whose test for coronavirus has been positive — a Sheridan woman.

Harrist said the woman’s test was one of 21 that have been handled by the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory.

Harrist said the Health Department has worked hard to improve the efficiency of the testing and has managed to double the number of people whose tests can be processed in a day from five to 10, largely by reducing the number of samples needed from each patient.

She added it is likely that the lab’s testing capacity will increase as time goes on.

Harrist said at this point, it is likely some undiagnosed cases of COVID-19 exist in the state.

“We have been prioritizing testing the higher risk individuals who, based on travel or exposure toother cases, have a higher likelihood of having COVID-19,” she said. “I have a feeling we will identify more cases of COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks.”

Gordon Declares State of Emergency

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Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday declared a state of emergency for Wyoming in the face of the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

Gordon said the declaration would allow the state to move more quickly to activate the Wyoming National Guard if necessary and allow state businesses to apply for federal funding from the Small Business Administration.

“Although we have only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Wyoming, I have taken this action to ensure we are prepared in the event additional steps need to be taken,” Gordon said. “We continue to be most concerned about our state’s elderly and vulnerable populations and want to ensure we are taking all necessary steps to address what we may face going forward.

The order was issued shortly after President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency because of the virus.

Gordon’s order directed the state Health Department, Adjutant General and Office of Homeland Security to take all necessary steps to provide assistance where it may be needed to protect public health, safety and welfare.

Gordon Rejects Across-The-Board Cuts to Staff, Spending

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A section of the state budget directing Gov. Mark Gordon to make personnel cuts of $2 million over the next two years was vetoed by the governor Thursday.

Gordon, in a message to legislators, said he expects to reduce staff in state government, but objects to “across-the-board” cuts such as those proposed in the footnote to the $3 billion biennium budget approved by the Legislature.

“The cuts my administration makes will be targeted to the programmatic level,” he wrote. “Across the board cuts of generally funded positions may well have outsized unanticipated consequences depending on the agency and their dependency on federal funding. These consequences could tilt agency governance away from a state-run initiative towards a more federal or ‘other’ funded program mandate.”

The footnote, one of several vetoed by Gordon, ordered him every six months to identify state positions paid for by the state’s “general fund,” its main bank account, that could be cut to save $500,000 for a total savings of $2 million by June 30, 2022.

Gordon also vetoed a section of the budget requiring him to work with state agencies to identify budget cuts of 1 percent that could be made during fiscal year 2022.

In his veto message, Gordon said he agreed that further spending cuts will have to be made in the future, but such cuts must be made in a thoughtful manner.

“I believe we must be thoughtful in our decisions o reduce state spending, examining programs and services strategically instead of implementing hasty across-the-board reductions, which fail to consider any resulting ramifications,” he wrote.

Other items vetoed included calls for studies that Gordon said were similar to ones conducted in the recent past and one calling for an update of the revenue information system at the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“This provision legislates from within the budget, and even for a project I wholeheartedly support I am impelled to exercise my veto authority,” he wrote

Gordon also pointed out a few programs he will not support in future budgets, including subsidies to programs such as “We the People,” “Ag in the Classroom” and “Centennial Farm and Ranch,” which he said fall outside the normal scope of state government.

“These programs have merit, but should be able to stand on their own merits,” he wrote. “I urge others to donate to these programs, enabling them to carry on independently in the future.”

However, overall, Gordon said he was pleased with the Legislature’s budget.

“I believe the bill you enrolled and delivered to me on March 9 … crafts a sound fiscal plan,” he wrote.”This budget urges government to use our limited resources prudently to advance the needed services our citizens depend on.”

Wyoming Coronavirus: Community Colleges Extend Breaks, Prepare for Online Classes

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Six of Wyoming’s seven Wyoming colleges have announced changes to their spring break schedules to address the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

Casper College, Western Wyoming College in Rock Springs and Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne also said that when the spring break extensions of one to two weeks end, most classes would be delivered online.

“After spring break, all classes will resume Monday, March 30 … via remote instruction or as otherwise communicated by your instructor,” Casper College said in a statement. “Remote instruction will be in effect through Sunday, April 12, but may be extended if necessary.”

At Sheridan College, officials announced spring break would be extended by two weeks, until April 5.

“This important step will allow us time to prepare for alternate delivery options as needed, to assess the impact of this pandemic on our colleges and ultimately minimize impacts to our local health care personnel and health care facilities,” said Walter Trimby, president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District.

Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington extended its spring break by one week and Northwest College in Powell added several days to its break.

The University of Wyoming has also extended its spring break by one week and ordered faculty and staff to look offering classes online, if necessary.

Gordon Says Final Closure Decisions Because Of Coronavirus Will Be Made Locally

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Posted by Governor Mark Gordon on Thursday, March 12, 2020

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Decisions to close local facilities such as schools or cancel events in the face of the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 will be left in the hands of local officials, Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said while the state will work with local officials as they deal with the illness, the decisions on actions taken will be handled at the local level with input from the state.

“The Superintendent (of Public Instruction Jillian Balow) and I have both discussed the importance of local control on these issues,” he said. “We ask … that as decisions … are made that it be communicated with our office.”

“Every community has the capacity to make great decisions when done in conjunction with local, county and state health departments regarding closures, hybrid education, homebound education, etc.” Balow said.

However, Gordon also encouraged residents to carefully consider whether they want to proceed with plans to hold events that would be attended by large numbers of people.

“With an overabundance of caution and as a proactive measure to protect the residents of Wyoming, I am recommending that we consider carefully whether large community gatherings and events of over 250 people should take place,” he said. “We want to be proactive in our approach and I encourage anyone planning large events to contact their county health officers, to work with their elected officials to make sure their county officials are fully in that loop.”

Gordon’s news conference came one day after the state Department of Health announced that one Wyoming resident, a Sheridan woman, had tested positive for COVID-19.

It also came on the heels of decisions by the University of Wyoming. Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington and Northwest Wyoming College in Powell to extend their spring breaks by one week to give officials more time to determine how to respond to the coronavirus.

Also on Thursday, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department canceled the state Class 4A and 3A basketball tournaments in Casper, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, said the state was not involved with the decision to cancel the tournament.

Gordon and other officials at the news conference stressed that the risk of the spread of coronavirus in Wyoming remains low.

“However, every state’s situation is different,” Gordon said. “At any given time, things are evolving rapidly.”

Gordon also announced that the Department of Health and Wyoming Office of Homeland Security were working to establish a “unified command center” where officials can coordinate planning and response efforts.

“We’ll be having all state agencies that will be working in support of this effort joining us there,” said Lynn Budd, the office’s director. “We’ll be having doing regular meetings. It’s just to establish a … ‘battle rhythm’ or a planning committee cycle so we’re all on the same page and we have all the information that we need. It helps to have everybody in one place.”

Gordon made a point during the news conference of urging people to follow the Health Department’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the illness, such as washing hands thoroughly, staying home if sick and avoiding sick people.

He also urged people to follow the state’s advice to have enough supplies at home for two weeks — within reason.

“We started this year talking about being two weeks ready,” he said. “Being two weeks ready does not mean you need to stock up on a year’s supply of toilet paper.

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