State passes new health order in light of increased COVID pressure

WYOMING — On Wednesday state health orders will go into effect requiring masks in certain public areas and limiting when bars and restaurants will close throughout the state.

Originally, Governor Mark Gordon had said that there would be no mask order in Wyoming. But with Wyoming hospitals seeing record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and rising deaths, Gordon has announced a new approach that he says will protect the public and keep schools and businesses open.

The actions taken by state health officials include changes to current health orders along with a new order entirely.

Changes to existing health orders include requiring bars and restaurants to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for onsite consumption and aiming to reduce group sizes by limiting gatherings of up to ten people.

The new order (Order #4) requires face coverings in certain indoor public settings in all counties. Similar to Teton County’s mask order that has been in effect since July, there are exemptions for the mask order including cases where medical proof is not required to skip wearing a mask.

Counties can also opt-out of the requirements if local conditions move to safer levels in accordance with White House metrics.

“Our state and those surrounding us are facing a hospital capacity crisis that now compels us to take additional action. All through the fall, Wyoming has seen a rise in serious cases of COVID to a point where every county is facing critical and dangerous levels of spread of the virus. Too many people have died,” Governor Gordon said. “Science tells us limiting gatherings of groups and using face coverings are effective in slowing transmission of this virus. With these actions we can avoid taking the more drastic step of closing schools and businesses.”

The new health orders signed by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist take effect Wednesday, December 9 and extend through January 8, 2021. Sixteen Wyoming counties already have county-level orders requiring face coverings. Little will change in those counties, as local officials continue to have authority to administer the face-covering requirement in their community.

“I want to thank the majority of Wyoming counties who have taken the lead, and the people who are working hard to protect their friends, neighbors, and colleagues by wearing face coverings. They will make a big difference but it will take time. We stand behind the local actions that are in place. These new orders are meant to support local leadership and we should all know that in Wyoming these mandates are not about citations, but about caring for others,” Governor Gordon said.

The Governor’s previous steps to address the rising number of hospitalizations included reducing the size of allowed gatherings, accepting federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and providing additional financial and staffing support to hospitals in the state. With federal CARES Act funding scheduled to expire at the end of the month, the Governor said the use of face coverings is a cost-effective tool that can help reduce hospitalizations and keep businesses and schools open until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available. Wyoming reported 128 COVID-19 deaths in November, the highest number since the pandemic began in March.

“We have said from the beginning that we will follow the science. We are at a critical juncture for our state,” the Governor said. “These next few months are going to be challenging for our businesses, citizens, families, and our healthcare workers. This is a necessary step to ensure a happy and healthy holiday season and a safer and Merry Christmas, and set ourselves in good stead for the new year. The deployment of the vaccine in the coming months will help put this awful virus finally at bay and bring us back to some semblance of normal.”

The decision to extend the face covering requirement statewide was endorsed by the Wyoming Medical Society, the Wyoming Primary Care Association and the Wyoming Hospital Association.

“Wyoming’s physicians and PAs are deeply grateful that the Governor has taken this critical action in leading our state to the other side of the pandemic,” said Sheila Bush, Executive Director of the Wyoming Medical Society. “Everyone wearing a mask is the simplest and most effective way to reduce the state’s rate of transmission, enabling us to safely keep schools and businesses open until we reach the other side.”

“We realize that masks are not the cure for COVID, but we know they can be effective in slowing the spread of the virus,” said Eric Boley, CEO of the Wyoming Hospital Association. “Hospitals are reaching capacity and nursing homes are seeing increases in infection rates. Medical staff are exhausted and are wearing thin as they battle this disease. We need to slow the spread and flatten the curve until the vaccine is readily available. It is all worth it if one life is saved by wearing masks. Thank you Governor for your leadership on this issue.”

A fact sheet is attached providing details on the new orders, along with the orders themselves, and these can also be found on Wyoming’s COVID-19 website.

“Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to mitigate the economic damage and social costs to the state,” the Governor continued, “But how we emerge on the other side is in large part up to us.”

Changes to the current health orders can be found here.

The current state health orders are listed below:

Health Order #1 – Regarding Bars, Restaurants, Theaters, Gymnasiums, Child Care Facilities, K-12 Schools, Colleges, Universities, and Trade Schools.

Health Order #2 – Regarding Gatherings of More Than Ten (10) People.

Health Order #3 – Regarding Nail Salons, Hair Salons, Barber Shops, Massage Therapy Services, Tatto Body Art and Piercing Shops, and Cosmetology, Electrology, and Esthetic Services.

Health Order #4 – Requiring Face Coverings in Certain Places, With Exceptions.

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