Revised rules allow for larger gatherings

CASPER — As many as 250 people can gather in certain indoor settings beginning next week, according to revised public health orders released Wednesday that continue the state’s rolling wave of relaxed coronavirus-related restrictions.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced the changes in a news release Wednesday afternoon. The new orders, effective June 15, allow for 250 people to gather in indoor events where social distancing is possible. In more confined indoor settings, up to 50 people can gather. The newly relaxed restrictions, originally put in place in mid-March, also allow for schools, colleges, trade schools and the University of Wyoming to reopen for in-person instruction for as many as 50 students in a group.

School districts across the state, including in Natrona County, have been drafting their reopening plans for the fall. Officials in Casper said earlier this week that the state Department of Education will release a reopening plan template next month. On Wednesday, the university’s board approved a plan to reopen campus in the fall. The university will require $25 million to do mass testing, reopen facilities and take other measures intended to keep the coronavirus at bay.

“Wyoming has made outstanding progress to date,” Gordon said in the news release announcing the new orders. “Folks need to remember that it is important to remain vigilant, but because we have been so successful, I am confident we can continue lifting the very few remaining public health restrictions.”

For the non-confined spaces, both indoor and outdoor, that can have up to 250 people, the order requires social distancing. The events that would qualify include “rodeos, speedway motor races, outdoor concerts, sporting events, track and field races, farmer’s markets, fireworks shows, weddings” and other similar events. Groups of separate households must be kept apart, staff must wear face coverings and other protective equipment, and attendees must be screened for coronavirus symptoms, among other restrictions.

Previously, groups of 25 were allowed indoors, though theaters and venues that could social distance were exempt from the limit.

The new orders, effective through the end of June, largely extend previous restrictions, including those mandating social distancing, sanitizing and mask-wearing at restaurants, barbershops, tattoo parlors and other public-facing businesses.

The updated orders allow for parades to happen, provided appropriate social distancing takes place. However, that won’t change things for the Central Wyoming Fair & Rodeo parade, which was canceled last month at the same time as the rodeo and carnival.

Tom Jones, the general manager of the Casper event, said there were still too many restrictions to reasonably hold the parade, which he said can draw a crowd of 30,000.

He also said the parade wouldn’t be the same without being able to host the annual fair and rodeo, which is canceled this year amid the pandemic.

“The parade to us is the kickoff to our fair,” Jones said. “If we can’t have the fair, why do it?”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had confirmed 768 cases of the novel coronavirus, along with 212 probable cases. Of the combined 980 known and likely patients, 804 have recovered. Eighteen Wyomingites have died from COVID-19.

Of the six metrics that the state tracks to gauge the severity of the virus’ presence in Wyoming, five are marked yellow for stabilizing. Those five are new cases, percent of cases attributed to community spread, total hospital admissions related to the virus, hospital bed availability and ICU bed availability.

The sixth metric — percent of all tests that are positive — is rated as green, for improving. Of the more than 30,000 tests processed by state and private labs, just 2.5 percent have been positive.

The new orders are the most significant loosening of orders yet, with larger crowds and gatherings now allowed indoors. In-person schooling has been prohibited since mid-March, after Gordon recommended and state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist later ordered that K-12 buildings be closed. The university and several community colleges all also announced that they were moving their instruction online.

The wave of loosened orders began a month ago, when Gordon and Harrist allowed barbershops, tattoo parlors and other, similar businesses to reopen in limited capacities. They’ve since reopened restaurants to indoor and outdoor dining, allowed for larger outdoor and indoor gatherings and cleared the way for religious services, among other things.

To limit the virus’ spread, Gordon and Harrist began implementing tight restrictions in mid-March, including the closures of schools and many businesses and limitations on gatherings. The state did not, however, issue a shelter-in-place order, as most other states did.