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Interview: Gordon Discusses Thinking Behind Not Issuing Stay-At-Home Order

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon’s approach to restricting the movements of Wyoming residents to slow the spread of coronavirus has been based on the idea that most will follow advice intended to keep them healthy, he said Tuesday.

Gordon, in an interview with Cowboy State Daily, said he and the governors of South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska all agreed that given the chance, their residents would act in their own best interests without “stay-at-home” orders.

“(We) have all kind of taken the approach that you tell people what’s important and you ask them to do the right thing and they’ll exhibit the common sense that we know they have,” he said.

Gordon and fellow governors who have resisted adopting the more restrictive rules had been criticized by some, but Gordon noted that even Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the key advisors to the White House, endorsed the approach.

“It was nice to have a conversation with Dr. Fauci where we went through that and he said ‘You’re doing all the right things,’” he said. “And he even said it nationally.”

Wyoming was the last state to see a death attributed to coronavirus and the last state to see more than 300 cases of the illness.

“We’re not out of the woods, but I feel so far our efforts have been successful,” Gordon said.

Gordon has faced pressure not only at the national level, but from his constituents for his actions.

On Monday, he spoke with a group of protesters demanding that the state lift the restrictions it imposed in March. Meanwhile, some residents have said they would rather the state issue a “stay-at-home” order to restrict the movements of state residents and prevent the spread of the disease.

In March, Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, issued three orders to try to slow the spread of coronavirus. One closed schools and businesses where 10 people or more are likely to gather, another closed businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, and the third prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.

The state has not ordered the closure of “non-essential” businesses or required that people remain in their homes.

Gordon said his approach embodied a balance state officials knew would have to be reached to both protect the public’s safety and allow the economy to continue operating, where possible.

 “In Wyoming’s case, we really had to find the balance because we had the virus arriving late … it hit us in a sort of unpredictable way,” he said. “So we tried to find a course that could balance that.”

The result was that rather than being shut down, most of the state’s major industries have been able to continue operations.

Gordon said he also understood the opinions of those who want to lift all the restrictions immediately rather than leave them in place until at least April 30.

“What I heard yesterday was frustration that I think almost everybody in Wyoming is feeling,” he said. “We need to get moving again. We need the country to get moving again.”

State officials are working this week on developing a process which can be used to guide how the state gradually reopens its businesses, he said. 

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Pinedale Bar Finds Loophole to Open Back-Up as a Bar

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If you keep trying hard enough, you might find a way around Gov. Gordon’s COVID-19 regulations.

At least that’s what a bar in Pinedale did and it appears to have worked.

The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office announced on Tuesday that the Cowboy Bar’s plan to operate an outside bar is allowable.

Here’s how it will work:

A patron can place an order at the outside bar area.  A bartender will fulfill the order while a separate individual will handle the monetary exchange.

If patrons stay 6 feet apart and no more than 10 individuals are in the outside bar area at one time, things are good to go.

That doesn’t mean the sheriff’s office is happy with it.

In a Facebook post, the department says the plan is not advisable and they do not “condone the practice.”

“We encourage the public to stay home when you can and adhere to proper social distancing and the state health orders in effect,” the post reads.

One commenter was nonplussed about the announcement.

“Yeah, that’s been going on forever now,” said Greg Miller.

Forever or not, the sheriff’s office offered a reminder as to what is illegal and enforceable, including:  social gatherings of 10 or more people, taking open alcoholic containers into public areas, taking alcoholic drinks to go, going inside a bar and failing to maintain social distancing of at least six feet.

Calls to the bar for comment were unsuccessful. The prerecorded answer announced that “the telephone you are calling cannot receive calls.”

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Wyoming Coronavirus Cases Up By Eight

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Eight new coronavirus cases were reported in Wyoming on Sunday to bring the state’s number of confirmed cases to 370.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said seven of the new cases were reported in Fremont County.

As of Sunday afternoon, Laramie County had 85 cases; Fremont had 83; Teton County had 64; Natrona County had 39; Campbell County had 14; Sheridan County had 12; Johnson had 11; Converse and Sweetwater had 10; Albany, Carbon, Lincoln and Uinta had six; Crook and Washakie had five, and Goshen had three. Big Horn, Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties had one each.

The number of confirmed and “probable” recoveries, meanwhile, increased by eight on Sunday as well to total 342, including 248 laboratory-confirmed recoveries and 94 “probable” recoveries.

Wyoming Coronavirus Case Count Grows by 17 in One Day

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s confirmed coronavirus case count grew by 17 to total 349 on Friday and officials said much of the increase could be traced to increased testing in Fremont County and on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said 13 new cases were reported in Fremont County on Friday. New cases were also seen in Crook, Laramie and Teton counties.

Mike Jones, the public information officer for the Fremont County Incident Management Team, said much of the increase in his county was the result of increased testing and contract tracing by medical staffers at Fremont County and reservation clinics.

“With this increase, we will see a larger than average increase in positives listed on the state (daily update),” he wrote in a news release. “We expect 10 or more positives to show up.”

As of Friday afternoon, Laramie County had 83 cases; Fremont County had 66; Teton County had 64; Natrona County had 39; Campbell County had 14; Sheridan County had 12; Johnson Coujnty had 11; Converse and Sweetwater had 10; Albany, Lincoln and Uinta had six; Crook and Washakie had five; Carbon had four, and Goshen had three. Big Horn, Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.

The number of confirmed and “probable” recoveries also increased, the department said, growing by 42 on Friday to total 321 — 235 confirmed by laboratories and 86 considered “probable.”

Wyoming Coronavirus Case Count Grows by Six

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming grew by six on Thursday to total 332.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said new cases were detected in Fremont, Laramie and Natrona counties on Thursday.

As of Thursday afternoon, Laramie County had 81 cases; Teton County had 63; Fremont County had 53; Natrona County had 39; Campbell County had 14; Sheridan County had 12; Johnson County had 11; Converse and Sweetwater had 10; Albany, Lincoln and Uinta counties had six cases each, Washakie County had five; Carbon and Crook had four cases and Goshen County had three. Big Horn Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.

The number of recoveries, meanwhile, increased by four during the day to total 279 — including 203 confirmed by a laboratory and 76 recoveries considered “probable.”

Seventh Wyoming Coronavirus Death Recorded

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A seventh Wyoming resident has died as a result of coronavirus, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Wednesday.

The department announced the patient was an older male Teton County resident who was hospitalized in another state after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

The man had existing conditions that put him at a higher risk for coronavirus complications, the department said.

No other details were immediately available.

Four deaths in Fremont County on Monday were attributed to coronavirus. 

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Wyoming Coronavirus Cases Up By Four To 326; Probable Cases at 121

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming increased by four on Wednesday to total 326.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, reported that new cases had been reported in Converse, Laramie and Teton counties.

Laramie County had 78 cases; Teton County had 63 cases; Fremont County had 51 cases; Natrona County had 38 cases; Campell County had 14 cases; Sheridan County had 12, Johnson County had 11; Converse and Sweetwater counties had 10; Albany, Lincoln and Uinta counties had six; Washakie had five; Carbon and Crook had four, and Goshen had three. Big Horn, Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette had one case each.

The department’s count of probable cases, meanwhile, was set at 121. A probable case is one where a patient has not been confirmed as having the coronavirus, but has shown symptoms and has been exposed to someone who does have a confirmed case.

Recoveries, both confirmed by a laboratory and “probable,” also increased during the day, rising to 275. The number included 200 laboratory-confirmed recoveries and 75 “probable” recoveries.

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Four Members of Northern Arapaho Tribe Dead from Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Four members of the Northern Arapaho tribe died Monday due to complications from the coronavirus, a tribal official confirmed Tuesday morning.

In an 8-minute video streamed to Facebook on Tuesday morning, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter extended his condolences to the family members of the four people who passed away.

Two of the victims were elderly. All four had tested positive for the virus and died at various points on Monday.

“These tribal members were our family members, but we can’t mourn together,” Spoonhunter said in the address. “Because of the restrictions put in place, we can’t mourn together and give our people the traditional Arapaho protocols.”

These four deaths now bring Wyoming’s coronavirus fatality count up to six, tripling the count in just one day. As of press time Tuesday, 317 cases of the virus had been confirmed in the state.

Following his confirmation of the deaths, Spoonhunter then pivoted to address the tribe’s younger members, reminding them to stay home and continue practice social distancing.

“Many of you refuse to consider safeguards and you’re putting your family at risk,” he said. “Don’t be out in public places, possibly exposing yourself and your loved ones to a deadly disease.”

While Spoonhunter agreed that it was difficult to continue self-isolating, the difference could mean life or death for the elderly and high-risk tribe members.

“Our story is a story of perseverance,” Spoonhunter said. “Please do your part to preserve our story as we work to protect our people.”

Gordon also extended condolences to the deceased’s family members, adding that these four deaths are poignant examples of how insidious the virus is and how it can show up in the most unexpected places.

“No one expected it to show up in Lander, at a senior care center of all places,” the governor said. “There was no idea how it got there and immediately it had spread because of how contagious this is. We’ve got to be cautious.”

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What Are Platte and Weston Counties Doing Right?

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily 

On paper, Weston and Platte counties have escaped the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, but local health officials said they think confirmation of coronavirus cases is only a matter of time. 

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming are up past 300 with reports of the virus in 21 of the state’s 23 counties, but neither Platte nor Weston counties have reported a case as of press time Tuesday.

Platte County

Two popular state parks and the prominence of Interstate 25 commerce in Platte County made the area a likely hotspot for infections, but Nicole Sticka, the county’s public health nurse manager, said so far, the county has dodged the bullet.

“I don’t have any idea why we haven’t picked up any cases from I-25,” Sticka said, explaining county officials expected the interstate to be the virus’ main vector into Platte communities. “For a little bit near the beginning, our state parks in Glendo and Guernsey were full of people from out of state possibly trying to escape the pandemic or just make the most of social distancing.” 

Despite the influx of visitors, however, the county’s COVID-19 numbers remained flat. Sticka said she was not involved with efforts to remove the visitors, but to her knowledge, they were expelled after Gov. Mark Gordon closed campgrounds in state parks March 30.  

Attributing the county’s lack of cases to the public’s adherence to Gordon’s stay-at-home advisory, Sticka said she has not seen much pushback from the community.

“Everybody did what they were supposed to do right away,” she explained. “I really feel like we’ve escaped this.” 

Even though no cases have been confirmed, Sticka said COVID-19 could be present in the community and will likely flare up in the coming weeks.

“Currently in our county, we’re not seeing a huge influx of people of being sick and wanting to be hospitalized, which I would expect to see if we had a significant COVD-19 presence,” she said. “I would like to be able to say it would miss us. But in reality, I do believe it will come through Platte County if it’s not here already.”

Platte County is home to more than 8,500 people and about 30 percent of them are older than 65 — nearly double the rate of surrounding counties, Sticka said. While no official ventilator count was available for the county, she said the area’s only hospital and two health clinics do have access to state inventories if the need arises.

“We’ve learned some lessons from other counties that have already gone through this,” Sticka said. “I feel like we are prepared as much as we can be for if or when this does hit us.”

Weston County

Hugging Wyoming’s eastern border, Weston County is relatively off-the-grid compared to Platte County.

“I think our rural nature is helping us,” said Dr. Mike Jording, the Weston County public health officer. “The people that live here tend to stay to themselves a bit more than you might see in other counties.”

About 7,000 people live in the county, which is dominated by the Thunder Basin National Grassland. 

Weston County residents were also quick to adhere to Gordon’s advisories and proactively restricted visitation to nursing homes and elder care facilities, Jording said. 

Although the state has struggled with obtaining testing supplies, he said he believed the county’s lack of cases was not a result of the test shortage.

“I think we’ve had adequate testing of individuals who are sick,” Jording said. “We’ve had three entities in (Newcastle) that are seeing people that are ill and testing those who need it.”

Only two ventilators are available in the county, however, and both are designed for transporting patients to larger hospitals outside of the county, he said.

Despite the county’s good fortune, Jording said he believed COVID-19 cases would start appearing soon.

“If we’re really lucky, maybe the rest of these nearby sites are going to have decreases in their number, which could decrease the volume we see in our own community,” he explained. “I think everything that we’ve done — from closing down visitation to reminding our residents to wear masks — has been instrumental in keeping the virus out up until now.”

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Gov. Gordon Calms Angry Back-To-Work Protestors at Wyoming Capitol

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A meeting between protesters demanding an end to restrictions on businesses in Wyoming and Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday was by turns confrontational and civil as the protesters shouted chants at the Republican and later thanked him for his time.

Gordon appeared unexpectedly at Cheyenne’s Rally for the Choice to Work, engaging the 50 or so protesters who gathered in front of the Capitol to express frustration over the state’s health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The protest was the third held in Wyoming to urge the state to lift the restrictions on schools and businesses that were put in place in March to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, issued one order closing schools and businesses where more than 10 people are likely to gather, one prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people and one closing businesses that offer personal services, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors. Gordon later issued an order for all out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Wyoming.

The crowd started to gather more than an hour before the rally began at noon Monday, but there was no expectation that Gordon would come out to address the gathering or even respond to questions from the crowd. 

As the governor descended the stairs of the Capitol to speak, protesters shouted various versions of their message: “Reopen Wyoming now.” 

After Gordon offered a prayer for the group, he was peppered with questions from the protesters, turning the rally into an impromptu question-and-answer session. 

Many of the people who questioned Gordon were angry, with other rally attendees having to quiet them in order for Gordon to respond. A number of times, it was difficult to hear Gordon over rally participants yelling as he spoke.

The governor mentioned he’d just come from a meeting with other officials about when to begin loosening restrictions on gatherings, essentially allowing the state to “get back to normal.” 

The crowd members began to chant “today,” but Gordon noted that he was still unsure when he would lift the statewide restrictions, which he said appear to have been successful in limiting the spread of coronavirus.

“I relied on the great people of Wyoming who I knew would do the right thing and I am looking at steps to reopen businesses and do it safely,” he said. “You will see that.”

This wasn’t the answer many in the crowd wanted and they made their displeasure known.

“If we choose to go back to work and expose ourselves, isn’t that our choice?” one woman asked. 

Others argued that by closing schools and some businesses, the governor put children’s lives and the state’s economy at risk.

“You just destroyed the future of every kid growing up here,” one man yelled. “You just added $5 trillion dollars to an unsustainable debt.  They are not going to survive.  There are businesses that are not going to reopen. They will not.  And that’s on you.”

“The only food [numerous] children get are in school and they get neglected at home,” yelled another. “How many of those children are going to die because of this shutdown? The numbers are going to outweigh whatever the stupid virus is.”

Gordon, who remained even-tempered during the rally, pointed out he was one of the few governors to avoid enacting a stay-at-home order, something the crowd agreed with and cheered him for. 

“We have kept people working in this state,” Gordon said using a bullhorn.  “Every state around us with the exception of Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota have put in place shelter-in-place ordinances. I did not do that.”

But ultimately, the attitude of most of the rally members was of frustration at the lack of a firm date for the lifting of the restrictions.

One man did thank Gordon for coming out and speaking with the crowd, however. 

“Not every governor in this country would choose to respond to us, but you did, so thank you for that,” he called to the governor.

In response, Gordon thanked the rally attendees for their efforts to adhere to the public safety orders.

“Every one of you have done the right thing and that’s why we have the lowest number of deaths and the fewest cases,” Gordon responded. “But we are having real difficulty in getting testing supplies and personal protection equipment. When we go back to work, we want to make sure we can continue to work.”

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