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Wyoming Third in Nation for Social Distancing; Grade Soars to Solid D+

in Coronavirus/News

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Wyoming, once ranked among the worst states in the nation for social distancing, has moved all the way up to third place — but largely because the rest of the country is doing so poorly.

Unacast, a company that tracks the movements of people through the cell phone signals, gave Wyoming a “D+” in its latest “social distancing scorecard” for its efforts to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wyoming is topped only by Montana and Alaska in Unacast’s latest report, which is based on data collected from late February through June 29. It shares the “D+” grade with those two states, along with New Mexico and Vermont, which placed fourth and fifth in the latest report.

The majority of states, 34, received a grade of “F.”

Unacast uses cell phone signals to track human movement to detect patterns in traffic and where people gather.

Using that technology, Unacast has been ranking states for their success at social distancing based on how much people have reduced the distance the country’s first diagnosed coronavirus case in late February. 

The company’s grade also takes into account how many people travel to “non-essential” locations such as restaurants and department stores and how many interactions people have with others.

When the company’s first scorecard was issued, it looked only at the distances people traveled. Wyoming, with its long distances between communities, came in near the bottom of the scorecard.

But when the study began taking human interactions into consideration, Wyoming’s sparse population played in its favor.

The latest report gave the state an “A” for a 94% decline in encounters between people from the beginning of the pandemic.

The state still received an “F” for trips to non-essential destinations and for reducing travel distances by less than 25% since March.

Crook County topped Unacast’s ranking of the state’s counties with a grade of “C,” however, the county’s ranking does not include data from visits to non-essential destinations.

Laramie County, with a grade of “D-,” comes in last with grades of “F” for failing to reduce average distances traveled by more than 25% and for reducing visits to non-essential destinations by less than 55%

The county did get a “C” for reducing encounters between people by 74% to 82%.

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94-Year-Old Illinois Man Killed In Albany County Crash After Falling Asleep

in News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An elderly man from Illinois was killed in a collision on Interstate 80 last week after falling asleep while driving his car.

Raymond Battersby, 94, was driving a Cadillac sedan westbound on I-80 at a high rate of speed around 11 p.m. on July 1 when the car exited the roadway to the left. Once off the road, Battersby overcorrected his steering to the right, which caused the car to re-enter the roadway, where it crossed both lanes and exited the road.

Once off the roadway, the Cadillac struck a rock cliff face on its passenger side and front end. The collision caused the vehicle to rotate clockwise.

The car then rolled onto the driver’s side.

Road conditions were dry and the weather was clear. Battersby was wearing his seatbelt, but succumbed to his injuries.

This was the 44th fatality on Wyoming highways in 2020.

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23 New Coronavirus Cases Recorded Sunday in Wyoming

in Coronavirus/News

The number of laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases seen in Wyoming since the illness was first detected in the state grew to more than 1,300 Sunday with the reporting of 23 new cases.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said new cases were found in 11 counties to bring the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 1,312.

New cases were reported in Albany, Big Horn, Campbell, Fremont, Goshen, Lincoln, Natrona, Park, Sweetwater, Teton and Uinta counties. Campbell County saw the largest increase in cases at seven.

As of Sunday, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases seen since the pandemic began in mid-March was 328 in Fremont County; 184 in Laramie County; 147 in Uinta County; 122 in Natrona County; 108 in Teton County; 97 in Sweetwater County; 57 in Campbell County; 55 in Park County; 34 in Albany and Washakie counties; 30 in Lincoln County; 19 in Big Horn and Sheridan County; 16 in Converse and Johnson counties; 15 in Carbon County; nine in Hot Springs County; seven in Crook County; six in Goshen County; three in Platte and Sublette counties; two in Weston County, and one in Niobrara County.

The Department of Health’s total case figures account for all cases seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming. They do not take into account the recoveries or the 20 deaths caused by the coronavirus.

The number of probable cases seen since mid-March was set at 322 as of Sunday. A probable case is one where a patient shows symptoms of coronavirus and has been in contact with someone with a confirmed case but has not been tested for the illness.

The number of recoveries seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming stood at 1,172 on Sunday, including 919 recoveries among those with laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus and 253 among those with probable cases.

The number of active coronavirus cases on Sunday was 444. Of those, 375 involved patients with confirmed cases and 69 involved those with probable cases.

Almost 2,300 Businesses Get $73 Million In State Assistance

in Coronavirus/Economy/News

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Almost 2,300 Wyoming businesses have collected more than $73 million in aid funds under a program designed to help companies recover from the coronavirus pandemic, according to state figures.

Figures posted on the Wyoming Transparency Platform show that as of Thursday, just over $73 million had been sent to 2,277 companies under the Business Interruption Stipend program.

And more assistance is on the way.

While the program originally set aside $50 million to provide grants of up to $50,000 for businesses, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday he would make another $50 million available for the program.

“This global pandemic continues to have significant impacts on the economy and on the lives of people in Wyoming,” Gordon said in a news release. “These grants keep people employed and help small business owners stay resilient while respecting the health orders that protect lives.”

The Wyoming Business Council, which manages the program, said in a news release Friday that by the application deadline of midnight Thursday, 4,211 applications for a total of $104.6 million had been received.

The WBC said it would continue to process applications for the program as quickly as possible.

The Business Interruption Stipend program was one of three approved by the Legislature to help Wyoming businesses affected by the pandemic. Funding for the programs comes from $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus assistance funds sent to the state.

The Business Interruption Stipend program is designed specifically for businesses employing 50 or fewer people.

Grants range from $1,000 to $50,000 and as of Thursday, 547 businesses had received the maximum grant.

Many of the companies receiving the maximum grant are involved in the hospitality industry — such as hotels and restaurants — and the entertainment business. However, requests came from other industries, such as building contractors and communications-marketing companies.

The busiest day of the program so far has been June 25, when 440 businesses received $11 million.

The state’s other two relief programs are scheduled to start later this month.

One program, the Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend, will provide up to $300,000 for companies that employ fewer than 100 people that were forced to shut down or curtail operations because of state health orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The other, The Coronavirus Mitigation Fund, is designed to compensate businesses for expenses they faced directly related to the coronavirus, such as the purchase of cleaning products, personal protective equipment and the cost of hiring new employees to comply with public health orders.

Wyoming Cities Have Different Responses To Severe Tax Declines

in Coronavirus/Economy/News

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By Wendy Corr, Ellen Fike and Mari Heithoff — Cowboy State Daily

Like Wyoming’s counties and the state itself, Wyoming’s cities are having to reduce their spending in the face of declining tax revenues.

Officials in different communities are taking different steps to make their budgets balance, from spending cuts to hiring freezes.

The mayors of Lander, Cody and Cheyenne told the Cowboy State Daily that their coffers had already been squeezed by tax income declines even before the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in business closures.


Lander had already been forced to make budget cuts of $650,000 and may have to reduce spending by another $300,000 by the end of the year, said Mayor Monte Richardson and Treasurer Charri Lara.

The city has seen a significant drop in revenues with the collapse of coal and oil prices, the two said, along with the reduced sales tax revenue.

“The projected sales tax decline was around 20%,” Lara said. “We’ve dropped below that and we’re not sure how far it will go.”

The cuts will ultimately have an impact on Lander’s citizens in the form of reduced services, Richardson said.

“We’ve cut the police department, the Parks and Rec Department, the cemetery,” he said. “We’ve cut most of our part-time summer help. The differences we’ll see are like a pyramid. If the city has to make budget cuts, we just won’t be able to provide the same services we have before.” 

Complicating the issue is a possible reduction in the amount of money the Legislature makes available to Wyoming’s cities. With the state facing a $1.5 billion deficit, some believe the those payments to the cities may be reduced or eliminated.

“The Legislature dictates supplemental sums to the city, and we don’t know yet how big those cuts will be, but Wyoming has to cut $1.5 billion over the next two years,” he said. “That’s 750 million a year, which is a huge amount to cut.” 


Cody started economizing some time ago, said Mayor Matt Hall, by not filling jobs that came open through retirement and by consolidating positions to give more responsibilities to fewer employees.

“We have asked, and we continue to ask, employees to wear a couple of different hats now, to troubleshoot things that they wouldn’t normally have to do had we been able to hire another person,” he said. “So we’ve lowered the amount of people working for the city, but when you have less people, things start slipping through the cracks.”

He said the personnel reductions would make themselves felt in areas such as maintenance to city parks and possible skipped days on garbage pickup. 

“New technology and IT stuff we’ve had to put off,” he said. “We’re putting off maintenance things, that, if we keep putting them off, we’ll end up re-doing, which costs an order of magnitude higher than just by doing some basic maintenance.”

Cody has already tapped its reserves for emergencies for about the last 10 years, Hall said.

“Essentially we’re using reserves to balance the budget,” he said. “The auditors recommend that we have a certain amount in reserves, to cover big expenses for emergencies, but for the most part, we are slowly whittling away the reserves that we’ve set aside for emergencies.


Heading into the new fiscal year knowing tax income would decline significantly, Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr asked her department heads to prepare a budget 20% below current levels.

The end result was a budget with percentage cuts ranging from the single digits in Public Safety to a cut of 19% in Orr’s office, she said.

“I’m feeling pretty optimistic,” she said. “We made cuts early in the budgeting process, so I don’t think we’ll have to do cuts, layoffs or furloughs in the future.”

Officials had initially believed sales tax income would decline by 25% in the coming year, but Orr said new information indicates the decline might be closer to 11%.

She added there has also been some good economic news for the city with increases in large consumer purchases such as cars and recreational vehicles.

However, Orr expressed concern about a reduction in the amount of money given the state’s cities by the Legislature, which she said has amounted to about $4 million on past years.

If the state does not provide those payments, the city may have to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase, she added.

“Because I don’t know where we’d find $4 million extra in our budget,” she said.

The city’s latest budget did take the cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days into account, Orr said.

“But it will be interesting to see overall how the spending patterns come,” she said. “Maybe we’ll see tourism in a different way in the city and county.”

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Coronavirus Doesn’t Dampen Cody Stampede Enthusiasm

in Coronavirus/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

In Park County, confirmed cases of the coronavirus have skyrocketed in the last few days. As of Friday, 54 cases have been reported – that’s up from just 11 a little more than a week ago.

But the threat of the virus isn’t curbing the enthusiasm of rodeo fans.

Mike Darby, co-president of the Cody Stampede Board, said fans and participants are excited to catch some rodeo action at the 101st annual celebration.

“The town is behind us, and it’s been a great process,” he said. “The contestants are ecstatic, they’re thanking us profusely that we’re having a rodeo. Some of the contract personnel are so appreciative, this is the first time they’ve worked since Houston [in early March].”

However, Darby said rodeo officials are taking as many precautions as they can.

“We’re … COVID checking the cowboys as they come in every morning, everybody has passed,” he explained. “We wristband them, temp-check them, log them in, and everybody is so cooperative, it’s been just a great process.”

A big part of the annual Stampede Celebration are the parades – three, to be exact. Leanne Reiter is the chairperson for the Stampede Parade Committee. She said although very few people wore masks at the first parade on Thursday, rodeo officials are encouraging families to follow CDC guidelines. 

“[Regulations say there should be] 6 feet apart between family groupings, so consider grouping your family up perpendicular to Main Street, put the little guys up front, the older people in the back, and that way we can maximize the access to Main Street,” she said. “If you cannot maintain the 6 feet social distancing between family groups, make sure you bring along a face covering with you.”

The Fourth of July rodeo usually sees a sold-out crowd of about 5,000 people. This year, the rodeo is allowed by state orders to seat just under 3,000. 

However, Darby pointed out that those 3,000 tickets for Saturday’s Fourth of July performance have already sold out, adding that the opening night events on Wednesday drew a crowd of over 2,000 — just 500 fewer than last year’s opening night.

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With 34 New Cases, Wyoming Sees 13th Day Of Double-Digit Coronavirus Growth

in Coronavirus/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw its 13th consecutive day of double-digit growth in new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, with 34 new cases reported from almost half of the state’s counties.

The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus report, said 11 counties reported new laboratory-confirmed cases: Albany, Campbell, Carbon, Fremont, Goshen, Laramie, Lincoln, Natrona, Park, Sweetwater and Uinta. Sweetwater County had the highest number of new cases at eight.

The increase, the second-largest seen since the illness reached the state in mid-March, brought the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases seen since the pandemic began to 1,267.

As of Friday, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases seen since March was 323 in Fremont County; 184 in Laramie County; 145 in Uinta County; 116 in Natrona County; 103 in Teton County; 91 in Sweetwater; 54 in Park; 45 in Campbell; 34 in Washakie; 32 in Albany; 28 in Lincoln; 19 in Sheridan; 17 in Big Horn; 16 in Converse and Johnson; 14 in Carbon; nine in Hot Springs; seven in Crook; five in Goshen; three in Platte and Sublette; two in Weston, and one in Niobrara.

The Department of Health’s total case figures account for all cases seen since the illness was first detected in Wyoming. They do not take into account the recoveries or the 20 deaths caused by the coronavirus.

The number of probable cases in Wyoming, those where a patient has coronavirus symptoms and has been exposed to the illness but has not been tested for it, was set at 315 seen since mid-March.

The number of recoveries recorded since the pandemic began increased by 15 on Friday to total 1,154, including 903 among patients with confirmed cases and 251 among those with probable cases.

The number left the state’s total of active cases at 410. Of those, 346 involve patients with laboratory-confirmed cases and 64 involve patients with probable cases.

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Wyoming Counties Differ on Strategies For Budget Shortfall

in Coronavirus/News

By Ike Fredregill, Ellen Fike, Wendy Corr and Mari Heithoff, Cowboy State Daily

Most of Wyoming’s counties are experiencing budget difficulties because of declines in tax revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but the extent of the impact varies from county to county, according to officials.

Jeremiah Rieman, executive director for the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, said  different counties are finding different ways to deal with the sales tax income slump that came with the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.

“The impacts really show diversity,” he said. “In some instances counties are able to balance the budget. Others are taking cuts of varying degree.”

Fremont County

As an example, Fremont County commissioners cut the county’s budget by $4.5 million, said commission Chairman Travis Becker.

“No department has been spared,” he said. “All of our social services are not funded this year.”

Among other things, the county reduced its contribution to its libraries and reduced funding to senior service centers, Becker said.

“And not a single dime of general fund money is able to go to the museums,” he said. “They’ll be trying to fund programs through self-generated dollars.”

Becker said the cuts will have a direct impact on the county’s residents, but they had to be made so the county could maintain funding for mandated services such as the county clerk’s office and sheriff’s department.

“People think we can cut somewhere else, but we can’t cut the mandated essential stuff completely,” he said. “Believe it or not, I’ve had people say we should not give the sheriff’s department so much money, but I’m not going to do that. I have to do what the state mandates, and I can’t cut some things completely.”

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Park County

In Park County, Joe Tilden, chairman of the county commission, said officials expect cash carryover from the current fiscal year to total around $2 million, covering most of the $2.2 million shortfall predicted with tax income declines.

Commissioners will also urge all agencies in the coming year to avoid unnecessary expenses, and are proposing a fifth penny sales tax.

If approved by voters, the extra 1% sales tax would bring in $3 million to $3.5 million annually.

“Now, what we hope to do with that is use a portion of it for general fund and it’ll put us in a position where we can prioritize things in the future,” he said. “So for the foreseeable future, five to six years down the road, we should be in pretty good shape – as long as we can keep our expenses under control, which we’ve learned how to do, and we’re doing a good job. You know, our expenses are coming in less than inflation the last ten years, that’s big.”

Laramie County

Laramie County commissioners told county departments to cut their budgets by 20% more than one month ago, said commission Chairman Gunnar Malm.

“We’re able to have a balanced budget with those reductions in costs and can put money into reserves, which are pretty healthy due to years previously not spending oil and gas money and banking it,” he said. “(The county) will have 20 million in reserves after we pay for the sixth penny projects.”

In addition, none of the county’s employees have seen their hours cut or have lost their jobs, Malm said.

The county expects a financial impact from the cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days, but the extent of that impact is not yet known, Malm said.

Rieman said bigger concerns are looming for all counties with anticipated drops in property tax income.

“The big thing we’re all bracing for is the reverberation into the next fiscal year where we’ll begin to see impacts on  property taxes,” he said. “This is not going be a short cycle. It will have impacts long term, and we don’t quite understand what that will look like.”

Shortages faced by the state government may also force cuts in assistance for counties, Malm said. 

“There’s always the looming question of what the Legislature will do with money for towns and counties and what that could do for our bottom line if that was reduced in any way,” he said.

Rieman said impacts in the future will depend largely how long the economy will be affected by the coronavirus.

“The real concern is the length of this pandemic, whether that’s another wave or continuing at the steady pace that prohibits us from opening the economy,” he said. “If this pandemic continues to linger, it’s going to put additional pressure on the government to continue services as well as pressure on the state and federal government to provide some sense of relief here, so we don’t have a complete collapse of our economy.”

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Wyoming’s Economic Health in April Worst in 15 Years

in Coronavirus/Economy/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economic health in April was at its lowest level seen in 15 years, according to a state agency.

The state’s Economic Analysis Division, in its June report on the state’s economic indicators, reported that the state’s economic health in April was given a score of 95.2, the lowest score recorded since the measurement was first taken in January 2005.

A score of 100 indicates the state’s economic health is equal to conditions seen in January 2005. A higher score indicates improvement and a lower score indicates worsening conditions.

The EAD, a division of the state Department of Administration and Information, said the four economic indicators used to determine the state’s economic health all declined significantly in April from March, when the economic health index was set at 104.3. Unemployment was the biggest contributor to the decline, the report said.

“This large drop in the index from March 2020 was primarily due to a sharp increase in unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

The economic health index in April of 2019 was set at 105.9.

The index is determined by reviewing the state’s monthly unemployment rate, monthly total non-farm employment, sales and use tax collections from the mining sector and sales and use taxes from lodging.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate increased significantly in April from March, growing to 9.6% from 3.8%.

Non-farm employment dropped by 24,000 in April to total 262,400, sales and use tax collections from the mining industry fell by $2.7 million to total $6.4 million and lodging tax income totaled $640,000, a decline of 50% from numbers posted in April of 2019, the report said.

“This 50% year-over-year decline ties the largest decline for any month over the past 15 years,” the report said. 

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State To Consider Occidental Land Purchase Monday

in Government spending/News/public land

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s top five officials on Monday will consider offering a bid for about 1 million acres of private land in southern Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the state’s top five elected officials, meeting as the State Loan and Investment Board, will decide whether to offer a bid to Occidental Petroleum for the purchase of the land and about 4 million acres of accompanying mineral rights.

Occidental had originally set a deadline of July 1 to accept any bids for the land, but Gordon said the company extended the deadline by a week because of complications created by the coronavirus.

He added members of the public will be able to comment on the proposal during Monday’s meeting. If a bid is made and accepted, triggering a start to negotiations, a series of public meetings will also be held where input will be accepted, he said.

“I want to assure the people they will have every opportunity to understand the details of this bid and not only that, they will have a chance to comment,” he said.

He added the decision of whether to offer a bid will depend entirely on whether the purchase makes sense as an entry into the state’s portfolio of investments.

“This is strictly a case of will this investment pay dividends back to the state,” he said.

The Legislature, during its general session, approved a bill authorizing the executive branch to look into the purchase. Gordon vetoed the bill because he said it imposed too many restrictions on the executive branch, but he vowed to continue reviewing the possible deal and to keep both the Legislature and members of the public informed as to its progress.

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