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

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Mark Gordon Jillian Balow
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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.

UW Extends Spring Break Due to Coronavirus Concerns

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The University of Wyoming has extended its spring break by one week in response to concerns about the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

In a message to the UW community today (Thursday), Acting President Neil Theobald says a decision will be made later regarding whether face-to-face classes on campus will resume Monday, March 30. UW’s regular spring break starts at the end of classes Friday, March 13.

“The extended break is designed to provide time for faculty to better prepare for online-only teaching, should that be necessary,” Theobald says. “We will continually monitor the situation and make a decision about moving more fully to online classes.”

No confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported at UW, but the spread of the virus around the country — including the fact that Wyoming’s first case was reported Wednesday evening in Sheridan County — prompted the university’s action.

During the extended spring break, UW will remain open, although employees with chronic health conditions or compromised immunity are allowed to consult with their supervisors to possibly work from home. UW’s residence halls remain open for students who don’t leave for spring break.

At this point, no limitations are being placed on the ability of people who’ve traveled in the United States to return to campus, but Theobald notes that is subject to change based upon public health agency guidance and directives. Meanwhile, anyone who has traveled from Europe, China, South Korea or Iran should self-monitor and self-isolate for 14 days before returning to campus.

“We ask that you try to understand how difficult it is to make these decisions and request your patience as we seek to make the best decisions possible to keep everyone in our community healthy and safe, while also doing our part to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Theobald says.

To see his complete message to the UW community, go here.

Wyoming State Basketball Tournaments Canceled

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Closeup of basketball
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

State high school basketball championships in Casper were canceled on Thursday as public health officials expressed concern over the possible spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

Dr. Mark Dowell, Natrona County’s health officer, ordered closure of the Class 4A and 3A boys and girls basketball championship games being played by 32 teams at the Casper Events Center and Casper College.

“Our Natrona County health officer decided to cancel the events to help reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus,” said Hailey Bloom, the department’s public information officer. “We don’t currently have any (cases) in Natrona County, but he recognizes that the tournament brings all sorts of people to Natrona County from all across the state.”

Health officials had originally proposed closing the tournament to specators and allowing the teams to play, but decided instead to close the entire tournament, Bloom said.

“Things are evolving here minute-by-minute,” she said.

Bloom said Natrona County Health Department officials followed the lead organizations are taking nationally, such as the decision by NCAA officials to bar spectators from the NCAA basketball tournaments and the decisions of the NBA and NHL to suspend play.

“We’re just really trying to slow this down as much as we can,” she said.

Also canceled were the state speech championships, also being held in Casper.

Wyoming Coronavirus Update: UW Cancellations, No Cases Reported Yet

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Coronavirus
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Some summer study-abroad and “alternative spring break” trips sponsored by the University of Wyoming have been canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, the university has announced.

At the same time, the state Department of Health announced that testing for the illness is now available from the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory.

Officials stressed no cases of coronavirus have been detected in the state.

In a series of messages sent to university faculty, staff and students, the university announced Monday that its summer study-broad trips to China and South Korea would be canceled and its “Alternative Spring Break” trips — trips with an element of public service — to several foreign trips and other states have also been canceled.

“This was an extremely challenging decision to make and comes only after following news for the past several weeks, reviewing the decisions of and consulting with other institutions, considering numerous potential challenges that could arise during the trips and reflecting on the mission and values of the Alternative Breaks program,” Richard Raridon, program coordinator for the university’s Service, Leadership and Community Engagement offices. “Our primary concern is for the health and welfare of our students and our community partners.”

Students participating in the alternative spring breaks were to travel to New Mexico, Utah, California and Jamaica to take part in public service activities related to issues such as immigration, affordable housing, homelessness and community development.

UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said the cancelation of the spring break programs would probably affect several dozen students.

Summer program to China and South Korea were canceled because of the federal “do not travel” warnings issues for the countries. The university also said it would not allow students to travel to Iran or Italy as part of university activities because of federal travel warnings in effect for those countries. Faculty, staff and scholars wishing to travel to the countries were told they would need to obtain permission from the university’s president.

Faculty, staff and students were also told that anyone returning to the United States from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy would be asked to “self isolate” for 14 days.

Meanwhile, state Department of Health officials announced that COVID-19 testing is now being conducted by the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory.

Officials said even though no cases of the illness have surfaced in Wyoming, the spread of coronavirus is becoming more concerning.

“We believe it’s likely the disease will spread to this state at some point, but do not yet know how widespread the illness will be over time after it does arrive,” Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state health officer, said in a news release.

The department continued to advise people to avoid close contact with sick people, stay home if sick, clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with germs and wash hands thoroughly.

However, the department advised against the use of facemasks by healthy people.

“Facemasks should be used by people who are ill to help prevent the spread,” the department’s news release said. “Facemasks are also important for health workers and others taking care of infected people.”

Gov. Mark Gordon also urged residents to take precautions to prevent the spread of the illness in a news release that also announced several Wyoming legislators attended a national conference in Maryland that was also attended by a person who has since been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“At this time it does not appear that any members of the Wyoming Legislature had contact with this individual,” he said. “Our state health officer has been notified and has identified these legislators as low risk.”

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