.CHEYENNE – Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced updated public health orders Monday that include a statewide mask mandate in certain indoor public places, tighter restrictions on gathering sizes and a reduction in hours for certain businesses.
“Our state and those surrounding us are facing a hospital capacity crisis that now compels us to take additional action,” Gordon said in a statement Monday afternoon. “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.”
The orders will take effect this Wednesday, Dec. 9, and are set to expire Jan. 8. Along with the mask mandate, the updated orders also further reduce permitted gathering sizes and prohibit bars, restaurants and cafes from serving in house between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“Science tells us limiting gatherings of groups and using face coverings are effective in slowing trans- mission of this virus,” Gordon said in the news release. “With these actions, we can avoid taking the more drastic step of closing schools and businesses.”
Previously, Gordon had left decisions on mask requirements at the county level, and 16 counties in Wyoming, including Laramie County, have enacted mask mandates for certain public spaces.
“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,” Gordon said. “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.”
Like with county-level mandates, the mask requirement announced Monday requires people to wear masks when inside of or in line to enter any retail or commercial business, when obtaining health care and when using public transit. Staff members of those businesses will also be required to wear face coverings when interacting with the public.
In a press briefing after the orders were announced, State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said COVID-19 is “helping cause the death of people who could’ve had more times with their families,” making it necessary for the state to ask its residents to do the right thing. In total, 280 deaths related to COVID-19 have been confirmed in Wyoming, with 23 of those announced Monday.
“We are always trying to balance the impact of all our actions, and it has become clear, at this point, that the previous steps have not been sufficient,” Harrist said.
While the mask mandate will be effective statewide starting Wednesday, counties will be able to opt out of the requirement if local conditions move to safer levels in line with White House metrics, which currently show all but one of the state’s counties with either “high” or “very high” transmission levels.
Harrist said Monday that the number of newly reported cases and the local positivity rate would be the main two indicators of whether a county can request such an exemption.
“We would want to see sustained low levels of transmission over a period of time,” Harrist said.
The updated orders also will limit many indoor and outdoor gatherings to 10 people starting Wednesday – down from the 25-person limit announced by Gordon last month. Like previous ones, the orders still allow for indoor venues to hold up to 100 people, or 25% of a venue’s capacity, as well as up to 250 people, or 50% capacity, for outdoor venues.
The orders also restrict the hours of operations of bars, restaurants and cafes in Wyoming, prohibiting them from serving from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day. Harrist said Monday that state officials were working with the restaurant industry to help any businesses that might be impacted by the restriction.
Monday’s announcement was supported by the Wyoming Medical Society, the Wyoming Primary Care Association, the Wyoming Hospital Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. The state’s three-member congressional delegation also sent a statement of support by email.
“Governor Gordon is committed to protecting Wyoming and his health orders reflect that. We’ve lost 280 people in Wyoming and more than 280,000 Americans to this virus so far. It’s a real and significant threat,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Liz Cheney, all R-Wyo. “We’re especially worried about protecting our most vulnerable population from this deadly disease. It’s not a cure all, but wearing a mask and practicing social distancing goes a long way in stopping the spread. These actions will help protect our family, friends and neighbors while still allowing us to keep our state open and working.”
The new orders were seen as 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,” Gordon said.
“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,” Gordon said. “Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to mitigate the economic damage and social costs to the state, but how we emerge on the other side is in large part up to us.”
This story was originally published online at WyoNews.com and on the WyoNews app at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7.
Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.