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260+ Staff, Residents From Natrona County Health Facility To Be Quarantined

in Coronavirus/News
4590

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than 260 residents and staff from a Natrona County long-term care facility will have to be quarantined due to a coronavirus exposure this week.

The Casper-Natrona County Health Department was notified of an additional positive coronavirus case late Wednesday night.

Through contact tracing, the new case was identified as a person living at a long-term care facility in Natrona County.

The source of the resident’s exposure is currently unknown.

On Thursday, Natrona County health experts and Wyoming Department of Health officials notified the facility.

Due to the communal and high-risk setting, all staff and residents identified as being associated with the facility will be tested as soon as possible.

The majority of the people will be tested on Thursday. In total, around 265 staff and residents will be tested and quarantined.

Due to the large number of staff required to quarantine, individuals who are asymptomatic but awaiting test results will be allowed to work only with appropriate personal protective equipment to ensure resident safety.

Following the return of the Thursday test results, the health department will follow up with anyone who might need additional testing.

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Wyoming Tourism Focuses on In-State Citizens First

in News/Tourism
4591

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The best way to prime the tourism pump? It might be to focus internally first.

That’s the strategy the Wyoming Office of Tourism is taking.

Instead of a broader appeal to out-of-state citizens who — in many, many cases — would still be hunkered down at home, the office is luring in-staters to enjoy their home state with a new video advertisement.

Diane Shober, the executive director of the Office of Tourism, said this campaign is focused on urging residents to “get out and support all local businesses.”

The 30-second ad has a youthful feel to it featuring a mixture of hipsters, cowboys, baristas, and brewers.

It’s more of a soft-sell spot. You won’t see many car dealerships doing something like this.

No spoken words. Soft music. Slow-motion. Gentle lighting. All with reassuring words superimposed on the screen.

“We’ve all been keeping our distance,” it says. “But now it’s time to strap on our boots. To reunite our communities and reawaken the economy.”

As for the more easily identifiable locations in the video, the town of Saratoga and Buffalo are present as well as more iconic scenes such a river, a hiking trail, and a barn.

“Wyomingites should be the first to return to the main streets and mainstays,” Josh Dorrell, from the Wyoming Business Council said.  “[It’s] an important step in reclaiming our local economy.”

Don’t worry, the wonderfully effective #ThatsWY isn’t going anywhere. Shober said this is an “interim approach” to the overall #ThatsWY brand platform.

The campaign, which also features radio spots and a social media component, is scheduled to run for a month.

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Gordon Signs $1.25 Billion Federal Coronavirus Bills

in Coronavirus/Mark Gordon/News
4589

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Three measures authorizing Gov. Mark Gordon to spend $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds and spelling out how some of that money should be spent have been signed into law.

Gordon on Wednesday signed all three pieces of legislation, approved during the Legislature’s special session May 15-16, but he vetoed one piece of language to expand eligibility for one of the business relief programs.

The “Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend” program is designed to provide grants of up to $50,000 for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that lost money because of the pandemic. The grants will be to compensate businesses for actual losses.

As written, the smallest grant that could be provided would be $20,000. 

Gordon said many small businesses lost less than $20,000, however, under the rules for the distribution of the federal money, businesses are to be reimbursed for no more than actual losses.

As a result, Gordon removed the reference to a minimum grant of $20,000 to allow those with lower losses to apply for the program.

“The line-item vetoes I have implemented fairly preserve the eligibility of any applicant, while making it clear that applicants must be able to point to attested losses consistent with the language of the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act,” he said in a letter explaining the veto to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.

Gordon praised the Legislature for work on all three bills.

“You wrestled with complicated programs in challenging times under trying circumstances and demonstrated what we in Wyoming do so well — work together to find solutions,” he said in his letter. “We all agree that the support of Wyoming’s small businesses is a priority as we reawaken our economy and fortify the state for the year ahead.”

In addition to the bill setting up three business relief programs at an initial cost of $325 million, the Legislature approved a plan to reimburse landlords who forgive past due rent payments by tenants who may have lost their jobs or had their wages cut during the pandemic.

Also created was language to make businesses immune from lawsuits that may be filed by people claiming to have been infected with the coronavirus by the actions of the businesses. The language says that if a business adhered to all recommended safety guidelines, such as requiring staff to wear face masks, then it will be immune from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The language began life as a separate bill filed for consideration the day before the special session began, but eventually was turned into an amendment of one of the three bills approved.

“Ambush legislation rarely results in good legislation, but in this case, the resulting amendment was a reasonable extension of other protections already in statute,” Gordon wrote.

Legislative leaders have said another special session will probably be held later in the year to deal with revenue shortfalls expected to affect the state’s biennium budget approved in March.

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Travelers Flock to Yellowstone

in News/Yellowstone
4584

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By Ruffin Provost, Yellowstone Gate

OLD FAITHFUL, WYO. — Grand Prismatic Spring is a favorite attraction in Yellowstone National Park.

The largest hot spring in the U.S., its rainbow colors are a natural wonder that draws such large summer crowds that the parking lot overflows onto the road, and tourists stand three rows deep along the boardwalk, straining for a glimpse.

On Tuesday morning, Jeremiah and Ashley Meyer had Grand Prismatic Spring all to themselves.

The Star Valley, Wyo. couple are Yellowstone regulars, and like many other locals, have made a tradition of trekking to the park when it first opens each summer, often staying at the Old Faithful Inn.



The Inn was the site of one of their first dates, and they have returned several times over the last dozen years, often staying in the same room, where they can watch Old Faithful Geyser erupt from their window.

But in all their trips to Yellowstone, they had never had a private view of Grand Prismatic Springs.

“For nearly a half an hour, we were the only ones there. It was amazing,” Jeremiah said. “We were just blown away.”

Only the South and East gates into Yellowstone were open Tuesday, the first full day the park has been open this season, as Montana continues to quarantine out-of-state arrivals.

So crowds, while sizable in some places, were at times limited compared to a normal spring opening, which usually falls on a weekend and sees visitors streaming in through five gates.



That put some pressure on the Wyoming gates serving Jackson and Cody, where new, minimal-contact payment processing systems were in place as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Only restrooms and self-service gas stations are open, and public traffic is allowed only on the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road.

The limited access didn’t seem to bother many visitors, including Jill Craig and her boyfriend, Nate Kieffer, who were traveling from California with Craig’s father on a road trip that included stops in Utah, Colorado and Idaho.

The group had seen a moose in Grand Teton National Park and were hoping to next see a grizzly bear as they were leaving Artist Point in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Craig’s father, who declined to give his name out of concern his employer might require him to quarantine upon return, jokingly said the view of the Lower Falls “was worth risking my life for. That’s a bucket list view, and this is my third time here.”

The trip to Yellowstone was Kieffer and Craig’s first, and was during what was scheduled to have been Craig’s graduation from nursing school. But her classes were closed after the viral outbreak, and she must now repeat her final semester in the fall. The trip was a chance to get outside after a long time in lockdown.



Like most visitors in the park Tuesday, the three weren’t wearing masks, but took what they called common-sense precautions, including keeping their distance from other visitors.

“We have never felt like we’ve put ourselves in jeopardy,” while traveling, Kieffer said. “We’ve been doing a lot of things outdoors and staying away from crowds.”

Whether the normal summer crowds will show up in Yellowstone this summer remains a matter of concern in gateway towns that rely on tourist spending for a major portion of the local economy.

If Tuesday is any indication, a strong contingent of out-of-state visitors are eager to visit Yellowstone, as evidenced by a majority of license plates from far-flung destinations.

The Wyoming towns of Cody and Jackson stand to see a short-term boost to their tourism economies, as overnight lodging is not yet available in the park, and the Montana gates remain closed.

Park managers have said they will coordinate with Montana officials on when to open gates in Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Cooke City.

Meanwhile, some locals and regular visitors sheepishly confess they wouldn’t mind a quieter, scaled-back summer in Yellowstone, which hosts 4 million annual visitors, most arriving between June and September.

“We always have a picnic basket and a blanket, and it’s more fun to be here when it’s not so crowded,” said Kathryn McFarlane, who made the trip from Tennessee to visit her mother, Mildred Haynie, for Mother’s Day. Jim Wildman, Haynie’s son, joined his sister and mother in Yellowstone on Tuesday after traveling from Ohio.

“Coming from Ohio, I’m less concerned about being here because there are less people and they’re farther apart,” Wildman said. “Plus, I’ve never been here this early, so it’s fun to see the lake still frozen and all the snow.”

Haynie, 99, lives south of Cody and for years has been the driver and tour guide. This year, she was content to let the kids take the wheel.

McFarlane said she wasn’t worried about being limited to the lower loop, and was confident their day in the park would yield wonders without too much planning or worrying.

“Yellowstone will provide. It always has something wonderful,” she said. “You just have to be aware of it all.”

For more great Yellowstone coverage, visit our friends at Yellowstone Gate. All photos courtesy of Ruffin Provost at Yellowstone Gate.

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Tourist Forgets to Social Distance From Bison — Gets Head-Butted in Yellowstone

in News/Yellowstone
4581

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Coronavirus or not, tourists at Yellowstone continue to act like tourists.

This incident is a little bit more surprising considering all of the social distancing people — across the globe — have supposed to have been doing.

Not many details are known about this latest incident in Yellowstone except a woman was approaching a bison in the Old Faithful Upper Geyser Basin area and it didn’t like it.

The bison let the woman know by head-butting her to the ground.

Thankfully for the woman, her injuries were not significant enough to be taken to the hospital.

This is the first incident between a human and a bison in 2020 and with the Park only open for three days, it could be a banner year. Perhaps records will be broken.

The Old Faithful area has seen a lot of action so far this year. Just last week a woman — who entered the Park illegally — fell backwards into a thermal feature in the area sustaining burns.

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Gordon Will Veto Part of Bill To Expand Business Relief Program

in Coronavirus/News
4578

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will veto a part of the business relief bill approved by the Legislature last weekend to let more businesses receive funds under the program, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon, during a news conference, said he would change the “Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend” program to allow businesses that lost less than $20,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic to apply for the program.

As written and approved, the program would allow businesses with 50 or fewer employees to obtain a grant of $20,000 to $50,000. However, Gordon said businesses that lost less than $20,000 should also be able to apply for assistance.

“We want to be sure that every small business owner will be eligible for assistance as this virus has affected businesses of all sizes,” he said.

Gordon praised the work of the Legislature during its two-day special session on May 15 and 16, especially given the conditions of the session. Most legislators attended through a video meeting app.

“I was very proud of our Legislature for dealing with very difficult issues in a very challenging environment … working under enormous amounts of scrutiny and stress.

“This is an unprecedented time and we have to make sure that we are working together, and we are,” he continued. “We are building Wyoming back.”

Legislation included three relief programs for businesses at a cost of $325 million, including one compensating businesses that were forced to close by statewide health orders and another to repay businesses for direct costs related to the illness, such as the purchase of special equipment.

The programs are to be administered by the Wyoming Business Council and Josh Dorrell, the WBC’s CEO, said the council is working now on the rules and guidelines for the program and hopes to begin accepting applications for the Business Interruption Stipend program by June.

“We must work as fast as possible to deliver on the vision of getting the money to these businesses with as little red tape as possible,” he said.

Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, also urged members of the public to continue to observe the health safeguards that have been recommended since the illness first reached Wyoming in March, including wearing face masks and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

“I just want to ask everyone to make smart decisions and follow the basic advice and recommendations we’ve been sharing all along,” Harrist said. “Let’s all do our part to keep Wyomng on the right path and stay focused on the goals of slowing and limiting the spread of disease in our state.” 

Harrist also new coronavirus testing rules for nursing homes and assisted living centers, seen as a way to head off any outbreaks before they occur. 

Under the new rules, officials at facilities with no coronavirus cases would be asked to test 20% of the facility’s employees staff and residents twice a week. At facilities with coronavirus cases, all staff and residents will be tested weekly.

On other issues, Gordon said he still did not know exactly what the state’s revenues would look like for the coming biennium, but he said the state must look forward to serious reductions in income.

“I can say it’s going to be profound,” he said. “It’s going to be a big deal.”

Legislative leaders plan to meet in a special session later this year to review the biennium budget they approved in March in the light of anticipated steep declines in mineral revenue.

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Sheridan Police Release Body Cam Footage In Brewery Incident

in Coronavirus/Food and Beverage/News
4570

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Sheridan Police Department has released body camera footage detailing an encounter with a brewery owner last week.

On May 13, Smith Alley Brewing Co. owner Tiffany McCormick hosted a Facebook livestream where she told of an incident she had with Sheridan police earlier in the day.

McCormick told viewers that Police Chief Rich Adriaens and another uniformed officer told her that if her business didn’t comply with health regulations, it would be fined and its license could be revoked.

This was due to the fact that Smith wasn’t requiring her staff to wear face coverings, one of the 21 mandates required by Sheridan County and the state for restaurants and breweries to reopen.

In her original video, McCormick stated she wouldn’t ask her staff to wear masks, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

On Thursday, a SPD spokesman countered that neither police officer threatened Smith with closure.

“We’re trying to seek compliance through education, warnings and citations as an absolute last resort,” Lt. Tom Ringley said to Cowboy State Daily. “When we got the complaint on Wednesday, Chief Adriaens and the second officer went and met with the owners to educate them on what the standard was and how they weren’t in compliance.”

In the video shared by SPD on Wednesday, Adriaens and the officer enter the brewery and begin talking with a manager, letting her know they received a complaint about staff not wearing masks. The manager confirms this and isn’t wearing a mask herself.

Soon, McCormick joins the conversation, asking Adriaens how he’s able to enforce and fine business owners. When he asks if she’s read the county order, she confirms she has.

“If you want me to write you a violation, if you want me to shut you down, that’s great,” he says. “We don’t want that. We just want you to comply with the order.”

When McCormick asks for clarification of which order Adriaens is referring to, he cites the variance issued for the county that allowed restaurants and bars to open.

She also inquires about HIPAA and ADA laws, stating that if an employee refuses to wear a face covering, she can’t question them or require them to do so. The police chief responded that McCormick also didn’t have to employ anyone who refuses to wear a mask.

The chief reiterates that if McCormick didn’t follow the rules, she would be in violation of the variance order and could be shut down.

In an interview last week, Ringley noted that the same day McCormick’s Facebook video was posted, a Sheridan officer on foot patrol checked in on the brewery and saw employees were wearing masks.

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Eleventh Coronavirus-Related Death In Wyoming Reported

in Coronavirus/News
Coronavirus
4568

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The number of Wyoming deaths related to coronavirus went up to 11 on Wednesday with the death of a Fremont County man, the Wyoming Department of Health announced.

The department said the man had earlier been confirmed by a laboratory as having coronavirus.

“No words can describe the losses we continue to suffer due to COVID-19,” the Northern Arapaho tribe wrote in a Facebook post. “The Northern Arapaho Business Council would like to express our sincere condolences to … another tribal member and his family. Our hearts go out to you in your time of sorrow. Sharing in your sorrow is also our Northern Arapaho Tribal Employees affected by this profound loss.”

The man had an existing condition that put him at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus, the department added.

No further details were available.

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Wisconsin Man Killed Near Lyman In Semi Rollover

in News
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wisconsin truck driver was killed Tuesday in Uinta County when his semi-truck rolled over.

Kevin Smith, 43, was driving a Kenworth combination unit eastbound on I-80 in the right lane near Lyman. He failed to negotiate a slight right-hand curve. The truck crossed the left lane and exited the roadway into the median.

The truck flipped onto the driver’s side. Although Smith was wearing his seat belt, he was partially ejected and pinned under the vehicle.

Fatigue and/or inattention is being investigated as a contributing factor.

This was the 27th fatal injury on Wyoming highways this year.

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Girl Scouts Of Montana And Wyoming Relaunch Cookie Program

in Food and Beverage/News
4553

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming have decided that the region needs a little more sunshine, or maybe a Samoa or two, to brighten its days.

On Friday, the regional council for the Girl Scouts relaunched their famous cookie program, distributing pre-ordered cookies and allowing for sales for the next couple of months.

Varieties up for grabs include Samoas, Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, Trefoils, Lemon-Ups, S’mores and Toffee-tastic. Most of the cookies cost $4 per box.

GSMW spokeswoman Kristi Osterlund recommended finding a local Girl Scout to buy cookies from or checking out the council’s website for information on how to purchase cookies. It’s suggested that a credit card be used to pay for the cookies rather than cash.

There are around 9,200 Girl Scouts participating in the sales in both Wyoming and Montana.

While booth sales, where scouts sell boxes in front of stores such as Walmart, technically relaunch on Friday, there are likely going to be some changes to this approach, Osterlund said.

“A lot of stores have changed their procedures and the girls can’t set up booths outside of them right now,” she said. “The girls are going to have to get creative and figure out how to sell while taking proper precautions. We don’t know how things will change, but our first priority is the girls’ safety.”

She noted that the council ordered a large amount of cookies earlier in the year for scouts to sell door-to-door or through booth sales, so there are still “plenty” available to disperse throughout the two states. Osterlund added she wouldn’t be surprised if girls continued selling through the summer, due to the ready supply of cookies.

Customers were “very satisfied” with the relaunch over the weekend, with some finally receiving cookies after ordering them in early February, Osterlund said.

Although the program has relaunched and people are excitedly lining up to buy cookies, Osterlund wanted to remind buyers that there’s more to the purchase besides them receiving some delicious treats.

“I really hope people will think outside the box, literally and figuratively, when they’re buying these cookies,” she said. “But the money actually goes back to the scouts and provides programming for them. We also provide financial aid for girls who may not be able to afford certain things in scouting. We believe the Girl Scouts is an amazing experience for girls, so the money coming in from the cookie sales is going towards so much more than people can imagine.”

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