County attorney seeks to officers to enforce health orders

LARAMIE — Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent is aiming to add three part-time positions to her office — public health advocates that would aid in communicating and enforcing statewide or local health orders.

Approval of these new positions — and allocation for the corresponding $59,000 price tag — is now in the hands of the State Loan and Investment Board, which could rule on Trent’s proposal at its Aug. 6 meeting.

“State statute and the statewide health orders do not designate an agency that is charged with the education and enforcement of statewide health orders,” Trent said. “The orders do indicate that it is a crime if you do not comply, but jurisdictionally, it doesn’t really direct who’s in charge of investigating, inspecting and enforcing those orders.”

The public health advocates would not have the power to charge or cite businesses for noncompliance, though they would sometimes be tasked with investigating instances of noncompliance which could then result in charges brought by the county.

“If it comes to the point where a business is refusing, then that gets referred over to me for criminal prosecution,” Trent said.

Most of the advocates’ role, however, will be communicating health orders and assisting businesses comply.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist have issued numerous public health orders, detailing new restrictions or allowances for businesses, schools, annual events and more.

Trent said the sheer volume of orders — and their ever-evolving nature — can make them difficult to follow, even for those trying to keep up.

“The order is constantly changing, almost every two to four weeks,” Trent said. “And there needs to be an agency or someone to reach out to businesses to educate them on compliance and there’s no staff that we already have in our county to be that conduit or that liaison with businesses.”

The advocates would work rotating shifts so that at least one is always on duty. The request asks for funding for the three positions for five months, lasting through December.

The State Loan and Investment Board is composed of Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials — Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Auditor Kristi Racines, Treasurer Curt Meier, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. The board manages permanent land funds and administers some grant and loan programs, including relief funding from the national CARES Act.

Trent is hoping some of that funding will cover the health advocates’ salaries and expenses related to their education efforts.

“If we receive approval from SLIB, it would be our intent to immediately hire these positions, to have them in place prior to students returning on August 24,” she said. “So, we’re going to move pretty rapidly.”