Wyoming begins easing COVID restrictions, Teton not quite there

JACKSON, Wyo. — Governor Mark Gordon announced the beginning stages of easing restrictions in Wyoming in order to breathe some life into the economy.

The governor was insistent on two things, however. As he has in the past, he took exception with the notion that under his direction, Wyoming has “shut down.” In that sense, Gordon explains, there is nothing to be “reopened.”

The governor added that economy woes Wyoming is facing and will be for some time are more tied to global and nationwide downturns, and less so anything the state has done or not done.

“We are ahead of many of our neighbors. But it’s important not to jeopardize the progress we have made,” Gordon said in a press conference Tuesday. The governor stressed that right now people around the nation feel Wyoming is a “safe” place to be due to low numbers associated with the virus and he doesn’t want to risk losing that moving forward when tourism resumes.

“I want visitors to know we are a safe place to come. If we get this wrong it will be devastating to Wyoming. We’re going to have to get our head in the game,” he said.

During the press conference, Gordon shared that he spoke with President Trump and told him “Wyoming stands ready to lead the nation back. We’re a thoughtful people that don’t need to have regulation. We need to have the opportunity to do what we know how to do right; and that is the right thing, right away, and in the right way,” he said.

With guidance from state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, the governor announced some areas of industry where rules may begin to be relaxed once current health orders expire on Thursday. Fitness centers, barbershops, hair and nail salons, massage therapists, and tattoo parlors were among those businesses identified as being able to operate as long as certain conditions are met including limiting occupancy to 5 or less at a time.

Harrist said statewide health orders would be extended through May 15 for all other businesses like restaurants, bars, and non-essential retail stores where the gathering of more than 10 people is the norm.

“If we aren’t purposeful we could risk the recovery of health and economy in the state of Wyoming,” Harrist said.

Harrist also outlined a process for each county to make its own rules and exceptions to state orders. She highlighted county health officers and said they have some leeway in drafting orders they feel are best suited for their counties.

“Countywide variances different than ours may be less or more restrictive than state orders,” Harrist said. “County health officers have a role in making these requests, and I’m hoping for a thoughtful and measured approach from each county.”

Even as some counties in Wyoming are asking for variances allowing them looser restrictions to open more facets of the economy for business, Teton County is again requesting it be permitted to go it alone when it comes to most health orders restricting commercial business and other gatherings.

Teton County Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said he will formally request a variance from statewide orders to allow Teton County to enact its own policies. Riddell and other county officials pushed hard for more restrictive health orders from Cheyenne earlier in the pandemic, and it is anticipated the county will again pursue a more cautious timeline for ‘reopening.’

“I can say with absolute certainty there will be new orders in place,” Riddell said at a community update Friday afternoon.

Teton District Public Health Order #20-4 that restricts gatherings to only individuals within the same household is set to expire at midnight on April 30, 2020. Effective May 1, 2020, Teton County residents will follow the guidance in the third continuation of Statewide Public Health Order #2, limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Additional recommendations regarding gatherings will be issued in the coming days by the Teton County Health Department for the continued protection and safety of the community.

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