GOSHEN COUNTY – A pair of variance proposals for Goshen County submitted to Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist’s COVID-19 public health orders that will allow restaurants, bars and churches to reopen their doors with lessened restrictions have been approved by the State of Wyoming.
The variances, which were drafted by Goshen County Attorney Eric Boyer with input from county health officer Marion Smith and the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation, effectively give those establishments a way to open while observing social distancing guidelines.
“The state reissued the orders and allowed the counties to request variances,” Boyer said during the Goshen County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday. “That requires a whole application process. This county reached out to partnering groups, like GCEDC, because they have lists of all of the businesses by industry, which is how variances are usually approved at the state level.”
Boyer said the GCEDC provided a list of bars, churches and restaurants, and collected feedback from those businesses. The state didn’t provide a wealth of guidance on how to submit variance proposals, Boyer said, but the local proposals were sent to the state around 7 p.m. Monday night.
“Yesterday, we said ‘let’s yank the Band-Aid off,” Boyer said. “We will propose two variances to the state, one being to open religious organizations as much as the state will permit, the second being to open up, as much the state will let us, bars and restaurants.”
Originally, the plan set forth by the county officials was to receive feedback until Wednesday, but Chairman John Ellis said that as feedback came in, it was apparent the county had to act faster.
“It got to the point where I knew we had to do something,” he said. “We really worked on it and got it to the point where it is today.”
Boyer said Tuesday the proposals had been viewed by Harrist, who made minor changes, and sent them to the AG’s office. They were approved Wednesday morning.
“About half an hour ago I got an email from Dr. Harrist that said she had received them and reviewed the request, made a few changes and sent them up to the AG’s office.”
The finalized variances, which were released Wednesday, will allow restaurants and bars to have patrons in the building, as long as they are seated and observe social distancing guidelines.
The variances require limiting tables and groups of customers to six people, preferably from the same household, and that groups should be at least six feet apart. All tables and chairs must be disinfected between customers, and drink refills must be served in different containers.
Restaurant staff will need to observe revamped sanitation protocols, including more frequent hand washing, and will be checked for symptoms before shifts begin. Bars must also close at 10 p.m., and will not allow pool leagues, dances, events, or karaoke.
The variance governing church gatherings states that individual household groups must stay at least six feet apart. The variance does encourage churches to continue their livestreams and alternate methods.
“Offer the ability to watch or listen from home and encourage those who are willing to do this over attending to keep numbers down and lessen the chance of exposure,” the approved proposal said.
Church staff that must come within six feet of parishioners are required to wear a mask. Hand sanitizer should be made available at the doors, and churches will need to assign one person to operate each door.
All of the standard COVID-19 protocols - frequent sanitation, hand-washing, avoiding touching of the face - are still the rule at church.
“High-risk individuals and those who live or work with high-risk individuals should be encouraged to stay home,” the variance said.
Communion is to be served in individual containers and there should be no other exchanges of food and drink.
Boyer said there haven’t been any new COVID-19 cases in the county in a month, and the county is just waiting to hear back from the state officials.
“That’s where it stands right now,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, at the state level. This whole process is going to continue to evolve.”
To view the entire variances, visit health.wyo.gov and follow the links to the list of county variance orders.