CHEYENNE – Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday that he will be releasing modifications to the existing public health orders next week to allow more county-by-county flexibility when it comes to reopening certain businesses and public spaces.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Gordon said the modified orders will run through May 15. The original orders are set to expire April 30.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 332 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 121 probable virus cases and seven deaths from the virus statewide, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
“We’ll be taking very slow, incremental and thoughtful steps on how to ease these restrictions in Wyoming,” Gordon said. “I want to reiterate that this will be a balanced approach that will be driven by two guiding principles: public safety and allowing our people to get back to work.”
Gordon said Wyoming needs to slowly relax the restrictions to get people ready for the “new normal” of business in 2020. With the current orders expiring next Thursday, Gordon said he plans on modifying them so the state can move into the next phase.
These orders will ease restrictions on certain businesses and let local county health officers submit plans to the state requesting variances to those orders on a county-by-county basis, Gordon said. This allows counties to adjust orders based on the health needs in that area.
This means some counties might have more lenient restrictions, and some might be more strict, Gordon said.
Gordon said his new orders will likely include barber shops, cosmetologists and gyms reopening. He said as of right now, they’re currently reviewing and refining plans concerning bars and restaurants.
State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said if Wyoming doesn’t make thoughtful choices, there’s a risk of a much worse situation occurring here. She said Wyoming can’t afford that in terms of health, business and other areas this would impact.
“First, let me say that I realize many people are weary of this pandemic, and the toll it’s taken on our lives,” Harrist said. “I want you to know that I do understand, but at the same time I have to be honest and remind everyone that it’s not over yet. And it’s not going to be over when our current orders expire on April 30.”
During the news conference, Harrist outlined the six metrics state officials will be analyzing as they decide which restrictions can be eased and in which locations. Officials will assign one of three values to the metrics: improving, stabilizing or concerning.
The metrics include:
• New cases – Have there been fewer cases over time? (Currently listed as stabilizing statewide)
• Percent of cases attributed to community spread – Is the percentage the same or less? (Currently listed as concerning)
• Percent of all tests that are positive – Is the percentage the same or less? (Currently stabilizing)
• Total COVID-19 admissions reported by hospitals – Has there been a sustained reduction in total COVID-19 hospitalizations? (Currently concerning)
• Total hospital bed availability – Is bed availability in Wyoming hospitals stable? (Currently stabilizing)
• Total ICU bed availability – Is ICU bed availability in Wyoming hospitals stable? (Currently stabilizing)
• None of the categories currently fall into the “improving” classification.
As far as testing capacity, Harrist said Wyoming recently got more testing supplies, so now people who weren’t originally outlined in the priority testing categories – such as people with underlying health conditions and those who’ve been exposed to the virus – can get tested.
Wyoming has been able to get more swabs to collect testing samples from people, and the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory has gotten more materials so they can now expand the number of tests they process daily, Harrist said. She said how long these testing supplies will last will depend on the number of people getting tested and if they continue to get supplies, but for now she feels confident.
When the virus first reached Wyoming, Harrist said she recognized concerns that there wasn’t testing as early as they would have liked, and testing availability has been an ongoing issue due to supply. She said the overall lack of testing is a concern as the state makes decisions about Wyoming’s next steps because she knows there have been more COVID-19 cases in the state than they’ve been able to identify.
She said this is one of the reasons Wyoming needs to be cautious moving forward.
As far as outpatient elective or non-urgent surgeries/procedures, Harrist said people may start to proceed with those. While there was never an order barring those procedures, they were discouraged in order to preserve medical supplies amid the pandemic.
Physicians statewide have experienced financial strain that they foresee continuing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release from the Wyoming Medical Society and Wyoming Telehealth Network.
About 70% of respondents said there has been an increase in cancellations, 46% said there have been administrative interruptions, and 62% said they’re experiencing or anticipate cash flow problems.
There have also been an issue with physicians getting medical supplies, with about 84% saying there have been disruptions in the supply chain for personal protective equipment, with 86% saying there aren’t alternatives to get this equipment, according to the news release.
Gordon said if people look at the history of 1918 in Cheyenne, the governor then put similar restrictions in place, but then decided that they didn’t want those restrictions and quickly reopened business. Within a few weeks, Wyoming was devastated by the Spanish Influenza.
“We are working every day to make sure that we allow the people in Wyoming the respect they want to have,” Gordon said. “I have relied on their common sense and their sense of responsibility not to endanger their neighbors, not endanger their congregations or others. And so we have been successful in relying on that, and I anticipate that Wyoming will continue to look to these metrics ... we will continue to lead the nation as we come out of this.”