JACKSON — Nearly 2,000 people have signed a petition asking Wyoming state government to approve Teton County’s request for a stronger community stay-at-home order.
The request, being broadcast on Change.org, specifically asks Gov. Mark Gordon and State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Alexia Harrist to review the county’s April 1 request for a policy that seeks to stem local spread of COVID-19. The local directive to residents was initially turned down by the state, but after negotiations was accepted with allowances that more businesses could stay open.
Wilson resident Tom Patricelli said he was so bothered by the state’s rejection of Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell’s order that he came out of retirement to spearhead the petition.
“It seems to me that the governor is just digging in out of stubbornness,” Patricelli told the News&Guide. “Teton County, we’re not like the rest of the state when it comes to COVID-19. We have 3.8% of the population and 20% of the cases in the state, and that’s not sustainable. At this rate, cases are doubling every six days.”
The data confirms the higher per-capita rates of the novel coronavirus infection in Jackson Hole. Teton County’s 41 confirmed COVID-19 cases — the second most in the state — translates to 178 positives per 100,000 people, which is nearly double the rate in Fremont County and more than triple the rates in Wyoming’s most populated counties, Natrona and Laramie.
Riddell has not asked Cheyenne to revisit the original stay-at-home order he requested a week ago, but said that he blessed Patricelli’s petition and would welcome the state taking another look.
“Honestly, I think we came to a reasonable compromise,” Riddell said. “But would I like to see something stronger in place? Absolutely. Would I like to see something statewide in place? Abso-frickin’-lutely, but that’s out of my hands.”
Teton County’s standing order prohibits residents from interacting with people they don’t live with except when engaging in six activities: obtaining health care; shopping for groceries; delivering necessary supplies; recreating outdoors while maintaining 6 feet of separation; caring for pets or family members in other households; and, in a departure from recent orders, traveling to and working at businesses if work can’t be done from home.
Gordon has defended keeping company with six other states that have resisted statewide stay-at-home orders. The others, according to a Monday evening CBS News report, were Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.
No other Wyoming counties have asked for a stay-home requirement, according to the governor’s staff.
Gordon said at a press conference Friday that stay-home requirements like those imposed by Colorado, a state that’s “supposedly locked down,” aren’t deterring Centennial State residents from driving into Wyoming daily. The governor suggested that personal responsibility can effectively take the place of a mandate.
“The headline shouldn’t be ‘governor’ and ‘shelter in place,’” Gordon said. “The headline should be what we’ve told you over and over and over again: Stay at home, practice good hygiene, maintain that 6 feet, limit your trips to the store and do everything you can to protect your fellow citizens.”
Traffic data, the governor said, supports that people are heeding the advice, evidenced by “precipitous” declines in use of highways and backroads.
“We are seeing people take this seriously,” he said.
The governor’s communications chief, Michael Pearlman, deferred an interview request to the Wyoming Department of Health, where officials weren’t available for an interview before press time.
Although traffic has declined in Wyoming during several weeks of the COVID-19 quarantining in United States, it’s fallen more in states that are on mandatory lockdowns.
To Patricelli, recommendations aren’t enough.
“Who knows what it’s going to take to move the governor,” he said. “Maybe hospitals being overwhelmed and people dying? And that is coming. We have zero deaths so far, but it’s delusional to think we’re going to stay anywhere near that, and we’ve got to do everything we can to lessen the surge and flatten the curve.”
Through Tuesday evening, Patricelli had not heard back from Gordon’s office. He wrote the governor’s most senior policy advisors apart from the petition, asking them to approve the more stringent Teton County stay-at-home order.
About 90 percent of the 1,799 people who had signed the Change.org petition through Tuesday evening were local residents, Patricelli estimated.