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Wyoming Legislature Passes Bills To Spend $1.25 Billion To Help Businesses, Renters

in Coronavirus/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Three pieces of legislation providing relief from coronavirus impacts for businesses and renters in Wyoming were approved by the Legislature during its two-day special session.

During the session, which ended Saturday, legislators approved bills authorizing Gov. Mark Gordon to spend $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds and specifying how some of the money will be spent.

One bill set aside $325 million for three programs to provide businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic with relief in the form of grants.

One program, the “Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend” program, will provide grants of up to $20,000 to businesses affected by closures ordered by the state to slow the spread of coronavirus. The businesses would also receive $2,000 for each full-time employee and $1,000 for each part-time employee.

The bill set aside $50 million for the program.

Another program, the “Coronavirus Business Relief Stipend” program, will provide businesses with grants of up to $300,000 to provide relief for losses they may have experienced during the pandemic. The money can be used to pay for payroll costs, business supplies, business equipment and other business expenses such as rent and utilities.

The bill set aside $225 million for the program.

The third, the $50 million “Coronavirus Mitigation Stipend” program, will provide reimbursement of up to $500,000 for expenses directly related to the coronavirus, such as the purchase of special equipment or additional cleaning to deal with the disease.

Another bill approved would set aside $15 million to reimburse landlords for any losses they may have experienced because tenants were unable to pay their rents during the pandemic.

The program is one Gordon proposed to discourage the eviction of tenants who may have lost their jobs or had their pay cut during the pandemic. The program will reimburse landlords who have not evicted their tenants for non-payment.

The same measure also clears the way for those infected by coronavirus to receive workers’ compensation payments if the company they work for participates in the program. The premiums of employers will not be raised if an employee submits a claim for coronavirus.

Under another section of the bill, businesses that adhered to the health recommendations of state and local officials during the pandemic will be immune from lawsuits by anyone claiming they were infected with COVID-19 through the actions of that business.

The third measure approved provides Gordon with the actual authority to spend the federal funds, up to $450 million immediately, another $400 million on July 15 and another $400 million on Sept. 15.

In addition to the spending instructions spelled out in the legislation, Gordon is to use the money to meet four priorities: Programs to reimburse entities for COVID-19 expenses; relief aid to state and local programs to support businesses, families and individuals; economic development projects designed to boost employment, and the replacement of lost revenue to public entities caused by the pandemic.

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Wyoming Strip Club Is One Of The First To Reopen In America

in Coronavirus/News

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The State of Wyoming has a lot of firsts. 

Everything from granting women the right to vote to electing the first female governor to having the first national park, national monument, and national forest.

There are some more arcane firsts, such as being the first state to have a school football game played at night under artificial lighting (in Midwest in 1925).

Now there’s another first for Wyoming’s history books: one of the first places in the country to reopen a strip club during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Den” — a strip club south of Cheyenne — reopened its doors on Friday night and it was so newsworthy that USA Today sent a reporter to cover the historic moment.

What was it like?

Like anywhere, some people wore masks, some did not.

The employees all had face coverings while the customers — perhaps thinking they were immune from the virus — did not deem them necessary.

All of the dancers interviewed said they were happy to be working again.

Adult performers were not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program but could qualify for the $1,200 stimulus check. Outside of that, most said they didn’t receive any government assistance.

“The stimulus money was nice but that’s going to run out and I don’t like to feel like I’m dependent on the government,” said one dancer.

While many Americans shifted to working from home, it’s difficult for those in the adult entertainment industry. Lots of competition, they say.

“You’re competing with millions of other girls,” she said. “And it’s harder to do — you have to talk, text and be a pretzel.”

But now with the “clothes-off, masks-on” opening night behind them, the dancers don’t have to worry about texting and talking. They can just be pretzels.

As for fears of the virus affecting business, the owners said it was almost as busy as any “normal” Friday night.

That could serve as a good omen for the rest of Wyoming’s economy.

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Herd Immunity For COVID-19 Unlikely Because Not Enough People Would Take Vaccine, UW Study Says

in Coronavirus/News

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

So many Americans would be unlikely to take a vaccine against COVID-19 that one would probably be ineffective in stopping a pandemic, according to a study by University of Wyoming economists.

The latest study conducted by members of the university of Wyoming’s College of Business found that about 20 percent of Americans would probably decline to be immunized against coronavirus even if a vaccine existed, making it impossible to create the “herd immunity” necessary to stop a pandemic.

“The challenge to extinguish the novel coronavirus does not end with finding an effective vaccine,” the study said. “The implementation of the vaccine program will be important.”

The study was conducted by economist Linda Thunstrom, graduate student Madison Ashworth, Professor David Finnoff and Assistant Professor Stephen Newbold. It is based on based on data collected in late March, when 3,133 people were questioned about whether they would vaccinate against the coronavirus if a vaccine was widely available.

The survey found that depending on the scenario, from 13% to 30% of those questioned — an average of 20% — would not, due to general vaccine hesitancy, distrust of vaccine safety and the fact the vaccine would have only recently been developed.

The study said “herd immunity” — the point at which an epidemic is impossible because too few people are subject to infection — can only be achieved if 60% to 80% of the population is immune, either through vaccination or by previous infection.

The study said taking all factors into account, it appears a national vaccine program would probably not result in herd immunity.

Chances for herd immunity could improve, however, if those who have recovered from COVID-19 become immune to the illness. It is not yet known whether that is the case.

The study, the latest in a series of coronavirus-related papers prepared by the group, recommended a national communication program to convince people of the need to be vaccinated, should a vaccine become avaialble.

“This might involve tailored public communication programs to persuade vaccine-hesitant individuals to take the vaccine, or increased efforts to ensure that the vaccine updake level among the remainder of the population is as high as possible, or both,” it said.

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Poll: Majority of Wyoming Back Coronavirus Closures, But Support Slipping

in Coronavirus/News

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While a majority of Wyoming residents questioned for a University of Wyoming survey continue to support the closure of schools and businesses as a way to slow the spread of coronavirus, that level of support has fallen in recent weeks.

The UW’s Survey and Analysis Center, in its latest coronavirus-specific survey, reported that almost 70% of the 473 Wyoming residents questioned support the decision to close public schools. However, that support has fallen from the end of March, when more than 85% supported the action.

Likewise, while almost 82% of those questioned in late March supported the decision to close restaurants and bars, that number had fallen to 59.2% in the latest survey.

The survey of random Wyoming residents was conducted over 24 hours on Monday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent. It is the fourth such survey the center has conducted.

The latest survey came as state health orders that closed restaurants and bars for about six weeks were relaxed on Friday. State officials will allow such businesses to open if operators observe health safeguards, such as maintaining social distancing among patrons, requiring staff members to wear masks and disinfecting the businesses several times a day.

Support for a “shelter-in-place” order, which was never issued in Wyoming, has fallen to less than 40%, the survey said, from 54.4% in March.

Also changing since March was the overall attitude toward the coronavirus.

The survey found that 38.8% believe “the worst is yet to come” from coronavirus, compared to 63.3% who felt that way in March.

Meanwhile, the number of people who feel coronavirus is a real threat declined this week to 54.4% from March figures of 63.8% and the percentage of people who feel the virus threat is being “blown out of proportion” increased from 24.2% to 39.7%.

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Public Can Watch Wyoming Special Legislative Session On YouTube

in Legislature/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Although only legislators, staff members and media will be allowed in legislative chambers during the Legislature’s upcoming special session, members of the public will be able to watch the proceedings online, according to state officials.

Gov. Mark Gordon has called the Legislature to a special session beginning Friday, primarily to determine how to spend $1.25 billion provided to the state through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislative Service Office, which handles administrative duties for the Legislature, announced that while legislators will take part in the session through an online video meeting app, members of the public can watch all the debate at the Legislature’s YouTube site

Members of the public can express their concerns or raise questions by using the Legislature’s online hotline or by contacting their legislators directly.

The session is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Friday and resume at 8 a.m. Saturday if a second day of work is needed.

Four measures authorizing Gordon to spend the money and laying out specific guidelines for spending some of it have already been filed for legislative consideration. Legislative leaders have adopted special rules to allow those bills to be reviewed quickly in both chambers.

The Senate and House will begin with identical versions of the bills. After approval in one chamber, the bills will be sent to the other for a review of changes made. Any differences in the two versions of the bills will be resolved by a joint conference committee. The result will be one bill that will be submitted for final approval by both chambers.

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Here’s Today’s Schedule of the Wyoming Air National Guard Statewide Flyovers

in Coronavirus/News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Air National Guard will perform an “aerial salute” to health care professionals and essential workers on the “the frontlines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic” on Friday.

The Guard will fly two of its C-130s over each hospital in the state, beginning on Friday morning in Wheatland and ending Friday afternoon in Cheyenne.

The schedule is as follows:

  • Platte County Memorial Hospital in Wheatland, 9:15 a.m.
  • Community Hospital in Torrington, 9:25 a.m.
  • Niobrara Health and Life Center in Lusk, 9:35 a.m.
  • Weston County Health Services in Newcastle, 9:55 a.m.
  • Crook County Hospital in Sundance, 10:05 a.m.
  • Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, 10:20 a.m.
  • Johnson County Healthcare Center in Buffalo, 10:30 a.m.
  • Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Sheridan, 10:40 a.m.
  • Sheridan VA Health Care System in Sheridan, 10:40 a.m.
  • Washakie Medical Center in Worland, 10:55 a.m.
  • South Big Horn County Hospital in Basin, 11:05 a.m.
  • North Big Horn Hospital in Lovell, 11:10 a.m.
  • Powell Valley Healthcare in Powell, 11:20 a.m.
  • Cody Regional Health in Cody, 11:25 a.m.
  • Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital in Thermopolis, 11:45 a.m.
  • SageWest Health Care in Riverton, 11:55 a.m.
  • SageWest Health Care in Lander, noon
  • Sublette County Rural Health Care District in Pinedale, 12:15 p.m.
  • Sublette County Rural Health Care District in Marbleton, 12:20 p.m.
  • St. Johns Medical Center in Jackson, 12:35 p.m.
  • Star Valley Health in Afton, 12:50 p.m.
  • South Lincoln Medical Center in Kemmerer, 1:05 p.m.
  • Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston, 1:15 p.m.
  • Evanston Regional Hospital in Evanston, 1:15 p.m.
  • Aspen Mountain Medical Center in Rock Springs, 1:35 p.m.
  • Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Rock Springs, 1:35 p.m.
  • Memorial Hospital of Carbon County in Rawlins, 2 p.m.
  • Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, 2:25 p.m.
  • Wyoming Behavioral Institute in Casper, 2:25 p.m.
  • Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Casper, 2:25 p.m.
  • Summit Medical Center in Casper, 2:25 p.m.
  • Memorial Hospital of Converse County in Douglas, 2:35 p.m.
  • Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie, 3 p.m.
  • Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in Cheyenne, 3:15 p.m.
  • Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 3:15 p.m.

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Wyoming Gets Limited Supply Of Coronavirus Treatment Drug “Remdesivir”

in Coronavirus/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has received a limited supply of a drug that has shown some promise in the treatment of coronavirus symptoms, the state’s health officer has announced.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, speaking during a news conference Wednesday, said the state had received a shipment of Remdesivir, a drug that has had some success in speeding recovery from coronavirus.

Harrist said the drug will only be available to seriously ill patients who are already in the hospital. Health care providers seeking the drug must contact the Department of Health to apply for it.

“In order to ensure that Remdesivir is available to severely ill patients, (the Wyoming Department of Health) asks that providers request the medication for patients who have laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, who are worsening despite supportive measures or are unlikely to improve with supportive measures alone, and who are likely to require hospitalization for at least five days, the length of the shortest possible course of treatment,” Harrist said.

According to the memo, the state received 200 vials of the drug, enough to treat 18 to 33 patients, depending on the dosage used.

Harrist said the state has been told that it can expect the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ship more of the drug to Wyoming.

“But we do not have details of when or how much we will receive,” she said.

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Sheridan Police Say They Didn’t Threaten Closure of Restaurant But Non-Compliance Could Lead to Closure

in Business/Coronavirus/News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sheridan police did not threaten to shut down a Sheridan restaurant because its employees were not wearing face masks, a spokesman said Thursday.

Instead, Police Chief Rich Adriaens and another officer met with Smith Alley Brewing Co. co-owner Tiffany McCormick to explain the health rules that are in place as restaurants and bars begin to reopen across the state, said Lt. Tom Ringley.

“We never threatened to close the restaurant,” he said. “But closure could be a consequence of non-compliance. As far as we know, she’s in compliance of all of the mandates.”

On Wednesday, McCormick broadcast a 24-minute livestream on Facebook, telling viewers about how 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.

Last week, Sheridan County was given exemption approval to open its bars and restaurants before statewide orders were to begin relaxing on May 15. The exemption was granted by the state on the condition that restaurants follow 21 health safeguards, including one requiring staff members to wear face masks. The conditions are similar to those that will be in place when all the state’s restaurants and bars reopen Friday.

Of the 21 mandates, McCormick declined to require her employees to wear face masks, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

HIPPA guarantees the privacy of health care records and information. The ADA guarantees equal employment opportunities for the disabled.

“I, myself as an employer, cannot ask my employees why they refuse to wear a face-covering. I cannot ask them to do that,” McCormick said in the video.

Ringley said Adriaens and another officer met with McCormick after the department received a complaint about Smith’s employees not wearing masks around 12:40 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re trying to seek compliance through education, warnings and citations as an absolute last resort,” Ringley said. “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.”

Adriaens brought a second officer to the discussion because that officer was carrying a body camera and could record the entire encounter.

Later Wednesday night, an officer on foot patrol in downtown Sheridan checked in on the brewery and saw that employees were wearing masks, complying with health orders.

Ringley explained that he empathized with McCormick’s situation as a small business owner and understood why she might have complaints. But ultimately, the Sheridan police have no desire or authority to close any bar or restaurant, he said.

Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily in an email that a brewery wouldn’t be a fully-covered entity under HIPAA like the Health Department or a hospital would be.

“Beyond that, we will decline to interpret how privacy rules would or should be applied to a particular business,” Deti wrote. “The statewide and county public health orders in effect are lawful; enforcement is primarily left to the discretion of counties.”

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State Public Health Officer: Social Distancing & Wearing Masks Still Necessary

in Coronavirus/News

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Just because the State of Wyoming will be reducing restrictions on public health orders on Friday that doesn’t mean social distancing and wearing face coverings are a thing of the past, according to the state’s public health officer.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, in a press conference on Wednesday, said she was pleased that the state could lessen some public health safeguards but stressed the need for Wyoming citizens to stay vigilant.

“Social distancing remains critical for now and will for a while to come,” Harrist said. “Keeping our distance from each other helps us slow and limit the spread of this disease so businesses can remain open.”

She said businesses should screen their employees and recommended the continuing use of face coverings.

“Cloth face coverings can also slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus — who don’t know it — from transmitting it to others,” she said.

“The use of these coverings in certain businesses and community situations is clearly described within the revised orders,” Harrist said.

The requirement for employees to wear face masks was something that the owner of a brewery in Sheridan decided not to enforce. That led to the chief of police visiting her establishment on Wednesday evening and threatening to close the restaurant down.

The owner, Tiffany McCormick, subsequently posted an emotional video on Facebook protesting the requirement.  Later, in a Facebook post, she said her employees were all wearing masks because they “didn’t want her to lose her license.”

Harrist also cautioned county health officers to be realistic in applying for further exceptions to the new public health orders.

“I will continue to give every exception request a fair review.  But these new orders make significant changes already to restrictions that we’ve had in place,” Harrist said.

“I don’t want to create an expectation among people that everything they may request will be approved,” she said.

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Antibody Testing Shows No COVID-19 In Weston County

in Coronavirus/News

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Alexis Barker, News Letter-Journal

Weston County has so far escaped COVID-19 since the disease first hit Wyoming in March. But that is no reason to let down your guard and abandon precaution, according to county health providers.

Not a single case of the new coronavirus has been reported in the county (Platte County shares the same good news). Widespread sentiment and/or rumor throughout the community has been that  perhaps it is due to an unknown outbreak of disease in the community in the months before the first actual confirmed case. 

According to public health officer Mike Jording, M.D., these sentiments have proved to be unfounded after Hometown Medical Clinic and provider Ashley Tupper began offering antibody testing. 

“This is a blood test that determines whether there has been past exposure to the virus,” Jording said. “There is sentiment around the community that maybe it was here before and we weren’t attune to what was going on.

“There has been testing done, and those have been negative. Although we had the hunch that there was something around that we didn’t know about, the tests have not proved that to be the case as far as COVID-19 is concerned.” 

Testing for the antibodies will continue, Jording said, but, to date, the community has not seen any recent or past exposure to the coronavirus associated with COVID-19, not even on an acute level. 

According to Tupper, with the help of LabCorp, Hometown Medical Clinic was able to begin providing the antibody testing on April 27. She said the blood test looks for immunoglobulin G antibodies that are built up when the body is exposed to an antigen. 

“The interesting thing about this virus is another antibody testing has had little support because it is not showing a high rate of conversion for the other antibody,” Tupper said, resulting in a high rate of false negatives. 

The conversion rate into immunoglobulin antibodies with this coronavirus is happening at a faster rate than with other illnesses, including mononucleosis, which takes six to eight weeks for the conversion to be evident in the blood. 

“With COVID-19, we are seeing conversion in eight to 10 days since exposure. This test is to be taken 10to 14 days post-symptom onset. That is the main criteria,” Tupper said. “You have to have had symptoms in the past, believe you have been exposed or be a health care worker.” 

If patients meet the criteria to be tested, Tupper said, they must visit the clinic, where their blood will be drawn and sent to LabCorp. 

“We have been getting our results back in two days,” Tupper said. 

She is slightly shocked and honestly disappointed in the lack of positive results in the community, she said. 

“I am a little bit surprised. I was hopeful. I am disappointed we don’t have any positives. It was a nice thought that it had already made its way through the community, but this is a great opportunity to remember that we have to be cautious,” Tupper said. “We still have to be careful.” 

Jording echoed Tupper’s advice, reminding the community to remain vigilant in protecting others and themselves from the disease. He said that he suspects the virus has made its way into the community and has not yet been detected. 

Anyone who suspects they may have COVID-19, Jording said, should contact their provider or the triage line through Monument Health to discuss the need for testing. 

“The ability to get the testing done hinges upon a visit with a provider,” Jording said. 

Weston County public health nurse Linda Bickford said that the  community must be cautious because of the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in the state and communities surrounding the county. 

“It is a false sense of security to believe COVID-19 cannot reach Weston County. Please continue to follow the public health precautions in place to keep Weston County safe. We need to remember that the reason we do not have an outbreak in our community is because we are following the safety precautions and those efforts are working,” Bickford said.

“Our behavior is key to reducing and preventing the risk of COVID-19 in our communities. We thank you for everything you are doing to protect yourself and others.” 

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