Governor announces plans to further ease COVID-19 restrictions

CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday he plans to allow many restrictions to ease when the current statewide public health orders expire May 15.

Barring any data that prevents the change, restaurants statewide will be allowed to have dine-in services, with people dining at least six feet apart from each other. These restrictions mirror similar directives from county variances submitted to the state. Restaurant staff that are going to be within six feet of customers also will be required to wear a mask.

In addition to restaurants, Gordon plans to further ease restrictions on personal service businesses such as barber shops and salons.

“We are moving as quickly as we can, and I really want to thank you for your forbearance and your patience as we go about this,” Gordon said during a news conference. “As I said two weeks ago, we do not want to surrender the ground we have gained.”

He said he’s relying on business owners to implement these measures, and he trusts they will do so because no business wants to be responsible for a COVID-19 outbreak or spread.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said as more data is collected, they may start to allow more people to gather in a room at the same time, as long as the appropriate six-feet-apart spacing requirements are met.

Gordon is also allowing his 14-day quarantine order for people who are entering Wyoming from out-of-state to expire Friday. He said while that allows out-of-state travel to resume, he’s asking people to do so judiciously.

Gordon said he’s also looking at modifying the statewide order to allow for larger group gatherings, which would allow churches to resume in-person services and movies theaters to begin viewings. He said the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Department of Family Services are currently reviewing possible changes to child care center operations, as well.

He said these changes are dependent on what the statewide data shows, and he will have an update on these matters early next week.

“We still believe working from home when you can is a valuable strategy,” Harrist said. “We still believe that gathering in large groups carries increased risk of spreading the virus. And we still believe that people who have a higher risk of serious illness and complications from COVID-19 should limit their contact with other people as much as possible. Those are the people that we can’t forget moving forward.”

Statewide, there are 483 laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases, 152 probable cases and seven deaths, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. On Wednesday, Wyoming saw a spike in cases, with 24 people testing positive for the novel coronavirus in Fremont County, Gordon said.

In Laramie County, there are 109 confirmed cases, with 54 probable cases, according to the state Health Department. 

For the six statewide metrics being used to asses COVID-19 – new cases, community spread, percentage of positive tests, COVID-19 hospitalizations, hospital bed availability and intensive care unity bed availability – all categories are identified as stabilizing except for new cases, which remains concerning.

Harrist said it’s important for people to realize that these new modified orders aren’t “turning back the clock” to the way things were before the pandemic. It continues to be vital that people wear face coverings in public, such as a cloth face mask, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

People who are without symptoms can still spread the virus to those around them, Harrist said, noting she’s been seeing more and more people wearing face coverings, which is “a really great thing.”

The governor agreed.

“I know there’s a lot of concern about rights, and rights also imply responsibilities, and the reason I often wear a mask, especially when I’m outdoors or in public, is because I have the responsibility to protect others’ rights to good health, and that mask, the cloth mask, will provide safety to those around me,” Gordon said.

As Wyoming starts to ease and modify its restrictions, it’s also important that those who have COVID-19 symptoms seek health care to get tested for the virus. This ensures there is accurate data to guide Wyoming into the next steps of opening up the state.

“We want to use testing to diagnose as many people with COVID-19 symptoms as possible,” Harrist said. “Identifying people with COVID-19 helps us put public health measures in place, such as isolation and quarantine. We realize that those can be tough for people, but they’re very important. Please don’t avoid getting tested out of fear. Knowing what’s going on locally helps us control outbreaks and helps prevent spread within communities. That’s good for all of us.”

She said testing is more available now than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. She said anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should contact their health care provider.

Now, the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory is able to run tests on any symptomatic person in the state due to increased laboratory staffing, equipment efficiency and procedures. 

Harrist said Wyoming is now getting regular shipments of the media and the swabs – which were difficult to get at the beginning of the pandemic and are necessary to collect testing samples – and distributing those out to the counties.

“So, we’re at a point now where I really do encourage people who have symptoms to contact their providers,” she said. “I know that at the beginning of the outbreak, we did have a message that if you’re mildly ill, please stay home because we might not have a test for you. I think that the situation is different now, and we want to test as many people as we can so that we can implement those control measures.”