NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020

Larger crowds allowed under modified orders

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Wyoming’s current public health orders have been extended through Aug. 31, with a modification allowing for larger outdoor gatherings, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday morning.

The main change to the three orders, which have been in place since June 15, after earlier restrictions were loosened, allows for outdoor gatherings of no more than 50% of a venue’s capacity, with a maximum of 1,000 people. The previous order limited most outdoor gatherings to 250 people.

The extension of the three orders comes after Wyoming has seen a slight dip in its number of active COVID-19 cases in recent days.

“We are seeing promising trends, but we want to continue to exercise caution as schools around the state prepare for reopening,” Gordon said in a statement. “We have seen outdoor events occur safely this summer, and we want to ensure that schools are able to host spectators for their outdoor activities this fall.”

Under the orders, indoor gatherings in a confined space are still limited to 50 persons without restrictions and 250 persons if social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.

Though Wyoming has seen a slight drop in its two-week average of new COVID-19 cases, the state is not far removed from some of its highest testing numbers. In late July, Wyoming twice reported its single-day record for new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.


Gas prices up in last month

GILLETTE (WNE) — Gas prices in Wyoming are 7.6 cents per gallon higher than a month ago, going up 1.2 cents in the past week.

But at an average of $2.16 a gallon, that's still 51.4 cents lower than a year ago, according to according to GasBuddy.

Reported prices in Campbell County at $1.967 were among the lowest in the state. Other counties on the lower end of prices were Converse ($1.944), Albany ($2.001) and Goshen ($2.029).

Among the highest were Teton ($2.547), Sublette ($2.459), Uinta ($2.249) and Sweetwater ($2.299).

The demand for gas fell slightly last week, which kept oil prices steady.

"However, as summer begins to fade, demand recovery may be limited, and there's a possibility we may see more downside potential in the last quarter of the year," said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. "Traditionally, gasoline demand weakens into the autumn, and as the coronavirus situation keeps more kids home and more parents from work, we may see a drop in gas prices as we progress through fall"

The cheapest station in Wyoming priced gas at $1.78a gallon while the most expensive is $2.79 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.

The national average is down 3.5 cents per gallon from a month ago and stands 47.7 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.


Phoenix man killed in motorcycle crash

SUNDANCE (WNE) — A motorcycle crash near Sundance claimed the life of a 58-year-old motorcyclist on Aug. 6. The fatal crash took place near milepost 183 on I-90, west of Sundance.

Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were notified of a crash involving a motorcycle at 6:08 p.m. The 2016 Harley Davidson had been headed eastbound on the interstate and exited the right side of the roadway, colliding with a delineator post before overturning further off the road.

The driver has been identified as Aaron Hall of Phoenix, Arizona. According to Wyoming Highway Patrol, he was wearing a helmet and succumbed to his injuries at Sundance Memorial Hospital.

The incident is still being investigated for contributing factors. 

According to Sheriff Jeff Hodge, between August 5 and 10, a total of four motorcycle accidents have taken place in Crook County.


B-T Forest limits fires to designated campsites

JACKSON (WNE) — Dispersed campers in the majority of the Bridger-Teton National Forest no longer have the luxury of a campfire to warm their bones in the evenings for the foreseeable future.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 13, fires will be allowed only at designated campsites and picnic areas within established fire rings or grills. That means open flames are a no-no at places ranging from jam-packed Shadow Mountain to sleepy, remote corners of the 3.4-million-acre forest.

“With the increased use as well as with our wildfire indexes coming into high and moving toward very high, we felt it was the right time to do it,” Bridger-Teton spokesman Evan Guzik told the Jackson Hole Daily.

The restrictions, he said, are a “little bit early” from a historical perspective, but follow suit with more southerly national forests in Wyoming and the Rockies that moved into fire restrictions weeks or months ago.

Unprecedented crowding, Guzik said, was taken into account in making the decision.

“The main factors are the [wildfire] indexes, the fuel moisture, the predicted weather coming in, and the availability of firefighting resources, nationally and locally,” he said. “There’s also a social aspect to it. What have we seen so far? There have been a large number of abandoned or unattended campfires as well as the increase in visitors that we are seeing.”


Keyhole investigated for algae bloom

GILLETTE (WNE) — The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is investigating potentially harmful bacteria in the water at Keyhole State Park.

The bacteria in question, harmful cyanobacterial bloom, is a blue-green algae that blooms on the surface of water, usually during hot summer months and produces potentially harmful toxins into the surrounding water, according to a park press release.

An early August visitor notified parks workers that a dog had become very sick and died after visiting the park and playing in the water. The visitor said she knows of three other dogs that also were ill and went on antibiotics following visits to Keyhole, said Wyoming State Parks Deputy Director Nick Neylon.

It is unclear if the death and illnesses are directly connected to the park, but the department is doing its due diligence to learn whether bacteria is present in the water, Neylon said.

“They (Department of Environmental Quality) told us they would get somebody out there as soon as possible,” Neylon said.

Once the water is tested, the results come in fairly quickly, Neylon said.

The water in the area of the park near the upper end of Cottonwood Bay is the only section being investigated, which may affect the Pronghorn, Tatanka, Arch Rock, Cottonwood and Homestead campgrounds nearby, the press release said.

Satellite images recently taken of the area do not indicate HCB and visual inspections conducted by park staff have not spotted any signs of an HCB bloom.