Restaurants and bars across Wyoming that have been closed since mid-March opened their doors on Friday as Wyoming’s legislators met in an historic special session to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus.
A handful of lawmakers took their seats in the Legislature on Friday morning to tackle legislation giving Gov. Mark Gordon authority to spend $1.25 billion in federal funds received through the coronavirus relief program and directing how some of that money should be spent. Most of the legislators attended via teleconference.
One of the five bills under consideration would set up a relief program for renters who have been unable to pay their rent because they lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Another would establish three programs to help Wyoming businesses hurt by the pandemic through grants and low-interest loans.
Also under consideration is a bill giving property owners and businesses immunity from lawsuits that may be filed by people claiming to have been exposed to coronavirus on the property or in the business. The immunity would not be provided if the exposure “resulted from an intentional action of exposing an individual to coronavirus.”
The Legislature is using special rules to allow it to approve the bills quickly by speeding up the process of bill review and restricting the time for comments.
Meanwhile, restaurants and bars in Laramie, Fremont and Teton counties were opening their doors on Friday, joining similar businesses across the state that have slowly been reopening for the past week.
The statewide health orders that forced the closure of restaurants and bars in March to slow the spread of coronavirus were relaxed on Friday, allowing those businesses to open if they follow a list of safety rules, such as keeping groups of patrons at least six feet apart, requiring staff members to wear masks and disinfecting the businesses regularly.
The other 20 counties in Wyoming had sought and received state approval to open their restaurants and businesses over the past week. The “variances” from the statewide health orders were granted on the condition that the businesses follow the same safety requirements.
Teton County officials had adopted county-wide orders earlier that were more stringent than the state’s health orders, but Dr. Travis Riddell, the county’s health officer, announced Thursday that he would allow the county’s restaurants and bars to open with the relaxation of the statewide orders.
The number of coronavirus cases detected in Wyoming since the illness was first detected here in March grew by six on Thursday to total 529, with new cases detected in Carbon, Fremont, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties.
As of Thursday, Fremont County had 193 cases; Laramie County had 112; Teton County had 68; Natrona County had 39; Campbell had 16; Converse and Sweetwater had 14; Sheridan had 12; Johnson had 11; Lincoln had nine; Albany had eight; Uinta had seven; Carbon had six; Crook and Washakie had five; Goshen had four, and Big Horn had two. Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.
The number of recoveries among both those with confirmed cases of coronavirus and those with suspected cases since the virus was first discovered also grew slightly on Thursday to total 487. The number includes 352 recoveries among those with confirmed cases and 135 among those with probable cases.
The number of active cases in Wyoming as of Thursday was 214. The number is reached by adding the number of confirmed and probable cases — 172 — and then subtracting the total number of recoveries.
In other developments:
Survey says: The number of Wyoming residents supporting the closure of businesses and schools to protect against the spread of coronavirus is declining, according to a University of Wyoming survey. The survey by the university’s Survey and Analysis Center showed that of the 473 Wyoming residents questioned, 70 percent support the closure of schools — a decline of 15 points from six weeks ago — and 59 percent support the closure of restaurants — a decline of 23 points. The Survey and Analysis Center has conducted coronavirus-specific surveys since the pandemic began.
Eviction doubts: Some landlords in Cheyenne are expressing reservations about a plan under consideration that would provide relief for renters who have found themselves unemployed during the pandemic. Members of the Cheyenne Landlord Association are questioning the program under review by the Legislature. Under the program, landlords would be compensated for any rental revenue they have lost due to coronavirus. But Julie Gliem, president of the Cheyenne Landlords Association, said the program has several flaws as proposed and needs further refining. She also wondered if the $10 million proposed for the program could be better used elsewhere.
Medical staff infected: Four staff members at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper have tested positive for coronavirus since the disease was first detected in Wyoming. The staff members, including an emergency room doctor, were all wearing proper protective gear, followed infection control protocols and complied with contact tracing and isolation guidelines, according to WMC spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer. She added the doctor did not work with patients or in the hospital during the time when his illness would have been contagious or after testing positive for the disease.
Parks open: Wyoming’s state parks will open for overnight camping for Wyoming residents only on Friday. All overnight campers will have to reserve campsites through the state’s new reservation system. The system is being used to make sure only Wyoming residents camp at the park and that camping spots are far enough away from each other to allow social distancing to take place.
EWC opening: Eastern Wyoming College is seeking state approval to open its doors on Monday. EWC President Lesley Travers said the college is seeking a “variance” from the statewide order requiring schools to remain closed until May 31. “We want to work with our welding and cosmetology students to ensure they graduate and get the board certifications they need,” Travers said. She added the variance request proposes bringing students to the college back “in shifts.”
Festivals canceled: Major music festivals scheduled for Grand Targhee Resort this summer have been canceled. Grand Targhee recently announced its 33rd annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival, 16th annual Targhee Fest and 15th annual Targhee Music Camp will jot be held this year. “We’re taking away something that the valley loves in order to keep the public safe and keep our employees safe,” said Jennie White, director of marketing for Grand Targhee Resort.