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WyoMovies Closes Theaters Until Further Notice

in Coronavirus/News
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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

in Coronavirus/News
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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

in Coronavirus/News
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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

in Coronavirus/Mark Gordon/News
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

in Coronavirus/News
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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’s Smoking Age To Rise To 21

in Legislature/News
cigarettes tobacco
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s legal age for consuming nicotine products will match up with the federal government’s under a bill signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday.

Senate File 50 was one of 29 bills from the Legislature’s recent budget session signed into law. It would prohibit the sale of any products containing nicotine, including vaping materials, to people age 21 and older.

Prior to the bill’s approval, the legal age for people to use nicotine was 18. When the federal government set the age at 21 earlier this year, there was no way for Wyoming authorities to enforce the law because Wyoming’s law set the age at 18.

Under the law, anyone caught selling or delivering nicotine products to a person under the age of 21 could be fined up to $250 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

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

in Coronavirus/News
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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.

UW Undergraduates To Finish Out Semester Online

in News/University of Wyoming
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

All undergraduate courses at the University of Wyoming will be offered only online for the rest of this semester, the university announced Monday.

The university earlier had decided to extend its spring break by one week to give officials time to develop a plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

On Monday, acting UW President Neil Theobald announced the plan to teach classes remotely.

“This response plan seeks to allow the university to best address the larger public health needs of the university community, Albany County and the state of Wyoming,” Theobald said in a news release. “We are invested in keeping our campus community members as health as possible.”

Theobald said students would be asked via an online survey to assess their limitations with and accessibility to the technology needed to take courses online.

Classes are scheduled to resume on March 30, allowing students to continue building credit toward graduation.

About 9,000 undergraduate students are enrolled at the university.

The university also urged students remaining in its residence halls to leave as quickly as possible and for those who have already left to plan not to return to campus after spring break.

Students who have no other housing options will be allowed to remain in the residence halls, Theobald said.

He added university employees would continue to work as usual.

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

in Coronavirus/News
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 Total Up to Three

in News
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The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) has been notified of the third known case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) among state residents.

The patient is an adult male Sheridan County resident who is linked to a previously identified Sheridan County case. Testing was performed in Colorado, where the man is visiting.

WDH is continuing to follow up to learn more about the person’s exposure risk and to identify and communicate with anyone who may have been in close contact with the patient. Known contacts will be monitored for symptoms and tested if needed.

Recommended personal actions that can help avoid the spread of COVID-19 or similar illnesses include:

·         Avoid close contact with sick people.

·         While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.

·         Stay home if sick.

·         Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

·         Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.

·         Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Symptoms reported with this disease are familiar: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Experts believe COVID-19 spreads mostly between people who are in close contact and through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People are thought to be most contagious when they are most ill with obvious symptoms.

More updates will follow on Cowboy State Daily.

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